Anybody who has siblings has fought with them over dinner. It’s less common to argue with your neighbors over food.
Still, the West Bank’s Teton Pines country club has contested the ability of its neighbor — Persephone’s new storefront in the Westbank Center — to serve dinner, something the restaurant’s owners, Ali and Kevin Cohane, planned to do when the new location opened June 1. So far the Pines’ opposition has kept the new restaurant from doing so.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Ali Cohane said. “We had intended for July 1, at the latest.”
But while the Cohanes’ new storefront has borne the brunt of Teton Pines’ opposition, Persephone is not the only party involved in the dispute. The Cohanes lease their new restaurant space from Miller Ventures L.P., a company that owns two of five lots in the Teton Pines Commercial Area. That zone is designated for commercial use by the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. A covenant signed in 1997 gave Teton Pines, which is neither a signatory on the document nor an owner of one of the lots, the right to approve, in writing, the establishment of any “fine dining restaurant and bar” on those five lots.
In a May 21 email Chris Hawks, an attorney retained by The Pines, refused Miller Ventures’ request to allow Persephone, its tenant, to open for dinner. He noted that, under the terms of its lease with Miller Ventures, the restaurant’s “permitted use” was only for breakfast and lunch. Cohane said Persephone and its landlord are amending the lease to allow for dinner.
But Hawks’ email went further. He requested Persephone revise its breakfast and lunch options and shut down every day at 3 p.m. His email also stated the Pines’ opposition to the Cohane’s wish to sell “spirits” in addition to beer and wine.
But the Pines’ rejection didn’t put the dispute to bed.
“We were trying to come to an amicable solution, and the Pines came back to us with a list of demands that are unacceptable,” Cohane said. “We’re no longer going to find that amicable solution.”
Hawks and Erika Nash, counsel for Miller Ventures, declined to comment for this article.
Persephone volleyed back on May 28, when four of the five lot owners in the commercial area voted to amend the covenant, an action that appears consistent with their rights under the agreement. That document allows its terms to be changed if 80% of the owners sign off on the change.
The owners did so, striking the clause giving the Pines the right to approve any new fine dining establishment from the original covenant.
With the covenant amended, Persephone went forward with its liquor license application, which the commissioners approved unanimously in a June 4 meeting, despite a public comment from Hawks in opposition.
That comment, which was delivered in a May 29 email, spelled out the Pines’ opposition to Persephone’s dinner operations, and contained Hawks’ May 21 email rejecting Miller Ventures’ request, as well as the 1997 covenant.
With the covenant amended and a liquor license in hand, Cohane still plans to open for dinner. On Friday she said that Persephone would announce this week its plans to open Aug. 1.
“We’ve been in limbo for so long,” Cohane said.
Cohane said the Pines is still opposing Persephone’s plans to open for dinner.
The Pines now has the option to seek an injunction to prevent Persephone from opening. If it does so the dispute may have to be resolved in the courts. In his communication to the commission, Hawks said the Pines would “take all actions necessary” to enforce its rights.
In his email to Miller Ventures’ counsel, Hawks also spelled out what appeared to be the primary reason for the Pines’ opposition to Persephone’s operations: competition.
The Pines is flanked by Calico as well as the old Stiegler’s and Roadhouse locations, all of which possess full liquor licenses. The country club expects Stiegler’s and Roadhouse to reopen. Hawks noted that Teton Pines has “no control over those operations,” making “their rights under the restrictive covenant all the more important.”
He also said Teton Pines approved other restaurants that have operated or continue to operate in the commercial area — Starbucks, Elevated Grounds, Butter, Subway and Sudachi — because they “were not perceived as being directly competitive with Teton Pines.”
Like Persephone, Sudachi has a liquor license. It also remains open until 9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, six hours past the time The Pines requested Persephone close.
In Hawks’ letter to Miller Ventures, he expressed his belief that the covenants “have all been uniformly enforced since inception.”