Restaurant drama plays out on Madame Tong's lawn again - 27 East

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Restaurant drama plays out on Madame Tong’s lawn again

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Southampton School Board President Roberta Hunter and the other board members were presented with the possibility of pushing the high school start time forward 24 minutes, on Tuesday. GREG WEHNER

Southampton School Board President Roberta Hunter and the other board members were presented with the possibility of pushing the high school start time forward 24 minutes, on Tuesday. GREG WEHNER SONY DSC

The portables on the Eastport Elementary School property will be demolished Monday morning. ALEXA GORMAN

The portables on the Eastport Elementary School property will be demolished Monday morning. ALEXA GORMAN

author on May 27, 2009

On Friday afternoon, another chapter in an ongoing dispute between a local restaurateur and an investor played out on the lawn of Madame Tong’s in Southampton Village.

Ed “Jean Luc” Kleefield insists that he is still the proprietor of his four restaurants—Madame Tong’s, Grappa and JLX Bistro in Sag Harbor and Prime 103 in East Hampton—but Lyle Pike says he bought the leases to the four restaurants from Mr. Kleefield last year. For the second time in a month, the police were called to Madame Tong’s on a Friday afternoon as each man claimed ownership of the restaurants and tried to get the other off the property.

A similar event transpired at Grappa a few hours later, but that time Mr. Pike was served with a restraining order preventing him from interfering with either Madame Tong’s or Grappa. The court order also addresses Mr. Kleefield and prevents either man from selling or transferring the leases on the restaurants. It was filed by Perry Weitz and Arthur Luxenberg of the New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg. Mr. Pike said the attorneys have a financial interest in the restaurants.

A secretary at the law firm said all inquiries of Mr. Weitz and Mr. Luxenberg should be made via e-mail. Neither man responded to e-mail messages sent Tuesday.

On May 8, Mr. Pike was at Grappa with a locksmith, changing the locks—something Mr. Kleefield said Mr. Pike has done several times at each of his restaurants in violation of court orders intended to keep Mr. Pike at bay.

Mr. Kleefield said in April, when Mr. Pike pressed charges against him for writing bad checks totalling $295,000, that he would open all four of the restaurants in time for Memorial Day. Madame Tong’s and Grappa opened for business on Friday evening and JLX opened the next day. Prime 103 is slated to open on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, in partnership with a promotion company.

Mr. Kleefield’s workers were scrambling to set up at Madame Tong’s on Friday, with one changing all of the locks. National Grid and the fire marshal were also there inspecting the restaurant. Getting three restaurants up and running for Memorial Day despite his battles with Mr. Pike is a real “victory story,” he said.

Mr. Pike said he came to Madame Tong’s that afternoon to make sure no one was at the restaurant and discovered Mr. Kleefield’s employees were inside. Some time ago, Mr. Kleefield instructed his employees to call the police if they saw Mr. Pike at the restaurants.

It was unclear who called the police Friday. Two Southampton Village Police officers were there, but eventually left without arresting anyone or making either Mr. Pike or Mr. Kleefield leave.

After police left, both men spoke to the media, contradicting each other at almost every turn.

Mr. Kleefield said that his business partners in the restaurants are sick of Mr. Pike, whom he also accused of threatening his employees. Mr. Pike said he met with those partners recently and they all agreed they want Mr. Kleefield out of the equation.

Mr. Pike said there are groups interested in running the restaurants for him and others interested in buying the leases from him outright.

Mr. Kleefield had always characterized the money he received from Mr. Pike as loans to shore up his restaurants last summer. But Mr. Pike said he bought the restaurants off Mr. Kleefield as an investment, starting with purchasing the lease to Madame Tong’s in February 2008, and Mr. Kleefield was supposed to buy them back. Mr. Kleefield, who said he had investors lined up who fell through as the economy dropped off, said Mr. Pike never had “possessionary” interest in the restaurants and is just pretending to. He said Mr. Pike was demanding $1.5 million for the restaurants and a $600,000 annual salary.

Mr. Pike said he had asked for a management fee for himself, but said that if the restaurants were not making any money, neither would he. He said he offered Mr. Kleefield a $1,500 weekly salary to continue to run the restaurants but Mr. Kleefield demanded $6,000.

Mr. Pike would not disclose how much money he handed over to Mr. Kleefield. He said that Mr. Kleefield has passed bad checks all around town and owes 30 to 40 businesses money, as well as former employees. “He’s basically screwing everybody,” he said on Tuesday.

“I want him to be paid back legitimately what’s owed,” Mr. Kleefield said, adding that he paid Mr. Pike $400,000 in September. Mr. Pike said Mr. Kleefield has given him some money but it’s a pittance compared to what’s owed.

Mr. Pike said he is not upset over his dispute with Mr. Kleefield, but, rather, he feels stupid and that he underestimated the restaurateur. He said Mr. Kleefield promises the world and doesn’t make good and uses legal maneuvering to hold on to the restaurants he already signed over.

“Magic comes out of his mouth,” Mr. Pike said. He said we would get excited when Mr. Kleefield would say the money is on its way but then it never materialized.

Mr. Pike said he has no interest in running the businesses himself and he just wants out of the whole matter now—and he wants his money. “I don’t wish the guy any bad luck,” he said. “He creates enough of his own.”

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