The court-appointed receiver in a complex series of lawsuits over Ashes Cigar Club has shut down the Red Bank restaurant and nightclub and has no plans to reopen it, he tells redbankgreen.
It could take months to find a buyer, says attorney Bunce Atkinson, who stubbed out the last hope of rekindling the business on July 7, when he directed that it be closed for good. Information about the reasons for the shutdown were unavailable until this morning.
Meanwhile, two groups of investors who claim to have had stakes in the bar’s liquor license have been squeezed out, and the state is looking to impose fines over identities having been hidden from regulators, Atkinson says.
“There’s going to have to be a fine paid” to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, he says. “It’ll come out of the sale of the assets.” The former owners won’t see another dime from their investment, he says.
Atkinson, who practices in Red Bank, was appointed by state Superior Court Judge Thomas Cavanagh a year ago to oversee the business affairs of Ashes. He was also charged with keeping parties who had competing ownership claims to the liquor license out of the Broad Street establishment. Conflicts between them and accusations of stealing prompted the judge’s order barring them, Atkinson says.
“Everyone got banned” at the time he was appointed, Atkinson says.
At the same time, the state ABC had begun investigating who owned the license — which was filed under the name HLV Inc. and said to be owned by Aristotle Lekacos and Frank Vozos. But the ABC was looking into whether a Carl Fava, who had a criminal conviction in his past, and a Sandy Masselli were undisclosed stakeholders, in violation of ABC rules, according to court documents [see below].
Ashes was also beset with a growing litany of lawsuits by liquor vendors and other suppliers, and was named as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit and another over injuries suffered in a fight outside the club, says Atkinson.
At that time, the club was under the management of Charlie Mayo and Jimmy Vastardis, who “thought they had a contract” to buy the license and business, Atkinson says. They spent six figures renovating the space and catching up on back taxes and rent to landlord Jack Anderson, according to the receiver.
Mayo and Vastardis, who owns Blue Water Seafood restaurant in East Brunswick and hoped to transform Ashes into a seafood place called Blue 33, were originally among those barred from the premises. Still, Atkinson entered into a deal to sell them the HLV license and business for $850,000, and the court permitted them back in as consultants.
In May, that deal was shot down by the ABC, which claims in a lawsuit that Lekacos and Vozos concealed from the borough and the state the fact that they’d sold HLV shares to Masselli, Fava and others.
A subsequent attempt to transfer to Ashes the former Little Kraut/Oakbridge Tavern license, which landlord Anderson purchased, fell apart. Mayo & Vastardis also backed out of a contract with the receiver to buy the restaurant’s other assets, prompting further litigation, Atkinson says.
The failure of that deal signaled the end for Ashes, he says.
“I closed the business,” Atkinson says. “I didn’t feel it was in the best interests of creditors” to keep it open.”
Atkinson says he is unable to estimate the business’ liabilities, and says it will take months for a successful sale of the license and other assets to be completed. The court, the ABC and the borough will each have a say in the license transfer, he says.
Among the creditors is Anderson, owner of Jack’s Music Shoppe across the street, who claims in court papers to be owed $233,000 since last October 2009.
Despite being owed such a large sum, Anderson tells redbankgreen says he’d rather Ashes hadn’t closed.
“We don’t want the place shut down,” Anderson said. He said there are other prospective tenants for the space, but he didn’t have any problems with the most recent operators, and wants to see them back in business — and soon.
But he’s not optimistic.
“The easiest deal to do is to put them back in there. It’s shut down right this moment, but hopefully, very swiftly, it’ll be back running again,” Anderson said. “I doubt it’s going to be resurrected, but we’re trying.”
Here is the 30-page document detailing the ABC’s charges over the license: ashes_redbank_brief_1
Dustin Racioppi contributed to this report.