A group of ten boys are eating cheese-covered omelets with sides of bacon at The Corner Café in Abington, Montgomery County while 34-year-old Rebecca Hagelin has lunch with her mom across the restaurant.
“Usually I come here for breakfast,” said Hagelin, who was one of about 75 customers at the 120-seat diner on Wednesday. “They have the best blueberry pancakes.”
But Hagelin is running out of time to enjoy her favorite morning dish as the property manager, King of Prussia-based Kravco Company LLC, is forcing the nearly 14-year-old family business to vacate the 3,600-square-foot space in the Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center.
“They don’t care about mom and pop businesses,” said John Graff, The Corner Café’s co-owner.
During summer 2012, Graff, along with the owners of the other businesses in the shopping center, met with Kravco officials to discuss the complex’s future.
Graff says that meeting was the first time Kravco’s representatives told him the Corner Café would remain at its current location, while several other businesses would not have their leases renewed.
Those shops, like Extreme Karate and Salon En-Jolie, occupied retail space in a mostly vacant portion of the commercial property, which would soon become a new medical center.
“They assured me I was safe,” said Graff, who invested about $100,000 upgrading equipment and remodeling the restaurant over the past two years.
But when Graff contacted his landlord about exercising the 5-year extension option on his lease, they refused.
“They lied to me. They flat-out lied,” he said. “I would not have invested one dime if I knew I had no chance of staying here.”
Despite what the property management firm may have promised during in-person meetings, a clause in the lease allows Kravco to boot the Huntingdon Valley breakfast favorite when the lease expires on Jan. 31, 2015.
“Tenant’s reported Gross Sales for 2013 did not meet the required amount of $2,300,000,” Kravco’s Chief Operating Officer Lisa Fair Plisken wrote in a letter to the small business owner.
The stipulation – known as percentage rent – is common in commercial leases. It grants the landlord extra rent based on a percentage of gross sales.
Kravco representatives declined to comment, but Graff admits gross sales last year were around $800,000, less than half what the contract demands.
Graff, who inherited the lease terms when he purchased the business nearly 13 years ago, insists Kravco is only concerned with the bottom line, missing the importance the local eatery brings to the community.
He has 14 employees, about half who are full-time, that will be out of work.
And customers love the social atmosphere.
"I like the waitresses -- they all know my name," said 64-year-old George Tomezsko, who has visited the diner regularly for 10 years. "It is a friendly, family place."
“We’re devastated,” said 89-year-old Stella Lukiewski, who has lunch at the Corner Cafe with her husband, Edward, five times a week. “I can’t imagine going anyplace else.”
Unwilling to go down without a fight, Graff started a petition, which has already gained 1,700 signatures, and launched a Save the Corner Café Facebook page.
And his customers, many of whom voiced their support to Graff as he doled out change at the register, are prepared to battle alongside the business owner.
“It’ll be tragic if this place closes,” Lukiewski said.
“Where are we going to go to eat?” asked Hagelin. “It is the only good breakfast place in the area.”
Graff acknowledged that the official documents will make this an uphill battle, but says Kravco reiterated their verbal commitment to keeping his business as a tenant as recently as October 2013.
“I was misled,” Graff insists. “I’m finding out big corporate could care less.”