In a city where Italian restaurants seem as prolific as Mexican restaurants in SanTana, Basilico’s Pasta E Vino in Huntington Beach has garnered an especially strong community following in its 18 years. Founder Rosemarie Roman (whose maiden name is Basilico, and who named the restaurant to honor her father, an immigrant from Abruzzo) says her home back in Maryland and, later, California was always packed with neighborhood children hoping to enjoy her homemade Italian cooking, so she decided to open the restaurant in 1999. It’s earned praises from The Orange County Register and the Weekly, as well as four and a half stars on Yelp, for whatever that’s worth.
But Roman has faced a tough couple of years as of late. The 73-year-old is on dialysis related to a heart attack and a nearly fatal illness in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Roman says the attack was brought on by a falling out with her two youngest sons, who opened Roman Cucina in Fullerton and three other locations throughout Orange County. “I was heartbroken,” Roman says while fighting back tears, wincing whenever hearing the name of her son’s eateries.
And now she’s fighting for her restaurant’s survival. According to a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, Roman is suing her landlord, EFH Inc. and EFH Investments LP, and others that she accuses of illegally taking away her business. Among the alleged 17 sins: breach of contract, trademark infringement, fraud, aiding and abetting, false promise, defamation, elder abuse, and trade libel.
The lawsuit states that Roman maintained a month-to-month lease after her third five-year lease expired on Aug. 13, 2013. It didn’t seem like a problem at the time: While she recovered from her illnesses, Roman says, she closed her eatery’s doors for eight months yet managed to never miss a rent payment. “It was hard for me to get this place, and I wasn’t going to walk away from it then,” Roman says. “Just like now, I can’t walk away from it.”
To Roman’s surprise, she received an eviction notice in mid-April; subsequently, Basilico’s liquor license was suspended because of the non-renewal, hurting her bottom line. In May, Roman was served another 30-day notice of non-renewal because her rent check for that month was accidentally accepted, moving her eviction date to June 5. Despite receiving another month of tenancy, Basilico’s liquor license still remained suspended after the ABC office was informed of her previous eviction notice for May.
The suit claims Roman was “verbally promised . . . that [the] landlord would renew [the]
But this isn’t your average lease dispute. “Her landlord threw in its lot with a new tenant run by two men convicted of serious felonies,” the lawsuit states. “With the aid and assistance of her landlord, the new
Named in the suit is the alleged new tenant: Madino Inc., owned by James Gus
According to Roman’s lawsuit, the acts of intimidation she and her staff have experienced since receiving the eviction notices are as follows: Basilico’s liquor license being prematurely suspended; receiving an email from Sdrales asking her to consider “a bulk sale of equipment, trade name, liquor license and non-compete within 10 miles”; Sdrales and Meleshes visiting Basilico’s, claiming to be the new owners while questioning employees and offering them employment; an attempt by Sdrales to take over the Basilico’s Yelp account; a liquor license application posted next to Basilico’s with a “deceptively similar trade name, ‘Basilicos Trattoria Italiana'”; and defendants “giving out Basilico’s phone number to the Alcohol Board of Control and vendors as their own.”
The Weekly reached out to Roman’s landlord, Eric Brenn (who’s also named in the suit and was previously sued by another former tenant for wrongful eviction in 2010), and his attorney, Richard B. Blum, for a statement; Brenn declined to comment, and Blum did not return our calls, but a demurrer filed June 29 seeks to strike some of Roman’s complaints and asks for legal fees and “for such other and further relief as the Court may deem just and proper.” Sdrales and Meleshes did not respond to the Weekly‘s request for comment.
Basilico’s remains open while litigation is under way. Roman says she’s grateful to her staff and community for their support throughout the years and during this time of uncertainty. She also says she can’t afford to close her restaurant, as it’s her livelihood and pays for her medical bills.
“I’m tired of being strong,” Roman says, again fighting back tears. “I always have hope. That’s all you can have.”