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Recurring Rent Dispute Forcing Eatery to Move : Restaurants: Irvine's Bistro 201 closed Saturday. It will reopen in Newport Beach soon, managers say.


IRVINE — A rent dispute that closed Bistro 201 for a week last year has resurfaced and is forcing the well-known Irvine eatery to move, the restaurant's operators said Tuesday.

Bistro closed Saturday night and will reopen at the former Shane at Newport Beach on Coast Highway as early as Oct. 19, said Frank Licata, Bistro's executive manager.

"We're walking away from the lease," Licata said of the Irvine location. "We have been trying to negotiate with the landlord for a lower rent for a few months but they have refused to negotiate with us."

The landlord, World Trade Center II in Tokyo, padlocked the restaurant in July, 1993, over $230,000 in unpaid back rent. Bistro sought protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court but quickly dismissed its petition when the dispute appeared to be settled five days later. The restaurant then reopened.

Licata said the settlement included a cooling-off period of about three months and a commitment to renegotiate the high-rent lease. But negotiations never took place, he said.

Executives at World Trade Center II could not be reached for comment.

Bistro is owned by West Coast Restaurant Ventures Inc., which also owned Shane and, before that, the Barbacoa Restaurant at the Newport Beach site, just south of Newport Boulevard.

Employees were caught by surprise when they learned of the move Friday. As many as 15 of the restaurant's 45 employees won't be working at the new location because the Bistro won't be serving lunch--a big draw at the Irvine location--when it reopens.

For now, though, all are helping with the relocation. And the parent company is trying to place the luncheon workers at other restaurants it owns or at its catering operation. Four employees have already found positions, Licata said.

The catering company, West Coast Productions, had used the Shane facility for weddings and other events. Bistro will continue to honor the events that have been booked there through the next year and will continue to book banquets and other private parties there, Licata said.

"At the present time, we're not phasing out the catered events and have no plans to resume lunch service, though we may put on Sunday brunch," he said.

Bistro 201 will reopen with much of the decor from its past location, including the booths, paneling and decorations. The goal is to make the place as familiar as possible to regular Bistro customers, said Teresa Boole, newly hired sales promotion coordinator.

The menu also will remain the same, though chef John Sharpe is expected to come up with a few new seafood dishes to fit into the beach scene. The new facility will have about 200 seats, Boole said, and they will be arranged to give all diners a view of Newport Bay.

"We still believe in our concept here," she said.

West Coast Restaurant, however, no longer wants to follow the Southwest cuisine concept that former co-owner David Wilhelm developed at the company's Zuni Grill in Irvine. It changed the menu to home-style cooking and changed the name to Saddlerock Ranch.

Wilhelm, who is now a consultant to Taco Bell Corp., also led the development of other West Coast restaurants, including Kachina in Laguna Beach, Diva in Costa Mesa and Topaz in the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

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