By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Photo by Jack GouldSandwiched between the Sugar Shack and Longboard Pub on Main Street in Huntington Beach is an orange and green storefront. Its windows are mostly covered with brown butcher paper, but it's still possible to peer inside and see an empty room, stacked tables and exposed electrical wiring where drywall should be hanging. There are pretty flowers in the upstairs planter boxes, but they appear to be dying. Instead of a menu hanging in the window, there's a summons from the landlord demanding $40,000 in back rent.
This sad storefront was to be Bella Luna, an Italian restaurant for the thousands of locals and tourists who converge near the Huntington Pier daily. But Bella Luna was doomed before it even got off the ground, mostly because its lead partner was convicted felon and disgraced former Huntington Beach mayor Dave Garofalo.
It would be nice to assume Garofalo learned from his Jan. 9, 2002, felony conviction for benefiting financially from votes he cast on the Huntington Beach City Council. But he didn't. Today, besides facing a lawsuit from one of his Bella Luna partners, Garofalo has been sent a cease and desist letter from the owners of a fledgling Huntington Beach magazine alleging that he stole their artwork and press materials, then passed them off as his own.
In many ways, the cases hearken back to the freewheeling shenanigans that ended Garofalo's eight-year political career and branded him a felon. Bella Luna was supposed to rebuild his image and life. But now the restaurant is in much the same shape as Garofalo—wrecked, financially ruined, a mockery of what might have been.
Supposed to open back in April, the restaurant never served a single plate of ravioli or glass of vino. Almost immediately, say two of his estranged partners, Garofalo tried to seize control over the restaurant even though he had no idea what he was doing.
"He told me, 'This is going to be the finest dining on the West Coast,'" said partner and former restaurateur Ron Quick.
Quick says he was astonished at such nonsense, considering that Bella Luna was conceived as a modest family restaurant. Quick even recalls telling Garofalo at one point that he was "psycho." But having already sunk $35,000 into the joint, Quick stuck it out.
Same story with partner Dennis Boggeln, the building landlord who is suing Garofalo.
"I would describe Garofalo as Napol- eonic," said Boggeln. "He put together everything. He promised us a restaurant for $105,000. Now there's no real hope of completing it. He's not willing to take responsibility. He actually said that if I forgive the $40,000 in rent he owes that we'd be open now."
Quick, Boggeln, Garofalo and two other local merchants formed the Bella Luna LLC in early 2003 with seemingly the best of intentions. But the division of investment and control was unequal. Despite putting in just $15,000—Quick and Boggeln each invested more than twice that amount—Garofalo ended up with 27 percent of the restaurant, which amounted to controlling interest. But he divvied up his share with his two children, leaving him with just 9 percent ownership on paper. Alcoholic Beverage Control refuses to grant liquor licenses to convicted felons who own more than 10 percent of a business.
Quick and Boggeln claim that despite Garofalo's actual ownership of just a small share of the restaurant, he immediately seized power, making decisions without consulting the other partners, including hiring a contractor who did no work. They also allege that when they tried to reassert control, Garofalo took revenge by delaying the restaurant's opening through the summer.
"My perception is he wanted to screw the landlord," said Boggeln, the landlord. "I didn't forgive the rent. So if he can't have a restaurant, then no one can. I don't think his mom ever taught him responsibility."
Garofalo's ambitions have always been just a few steps beyond his abilities. He wanted to be a high-class restaurant owner, but his own ineptitude doomed that. He wanted to be a congressman, but his felony convictions and radioactive name make that impossible. And he wanted to be a big-time newspaper publisher, but now his own recklessness and arrogance is destroying that, too.
As the Bella Luna travesty unfolds, Garofalo has embroiled himself in charges of fraud and theft involving HB Magazine, a new four-color glossy lifestyle publication set to debut in Surf City on Sept. 15.
Carrie Case, the new magazine's publisher, on July 19 e-mailed prospective advertisers media kits, a mock-up cover and a press release that stated, "Each issue of HB Magazine features a unique blend of business trend features, entrepreneur profiles and company spotlights." Everything was going smoothly for the start-up until Aug. 5, when one of Case's partners opened up a new e-mail from Garofalo containing their mock-up cover with his new masthead covering theirs.
"Everything was the same," said Case. "But he replaced HB Magazine with People in Business/People in Neighborhoods/Greater Huntington Beach Area. It's pure plagiarism and theft."
Copies of both covers Case provided show that Garofalo was perfectly happy with the blue and yellow design announcing a main story about "Huntington Beach Captains of Industry" and smaller pieces on "Golf Fitness, Day Spas, Dining Destinations and Fall Fashion."