BP spill payout could help settle debts of closed Naples Tomato restaurant

Naples Tomato closed April 28 after operating for eight years off U.S. 41 in North Naples.


Naples Tomato closed April 28 after operating for eight years off U.S. 41 in North Naples.

— A settlement with BP Oil might help Naples Tomato settle its debts.

The once-popular Italian restaurant, which closed abruptly in late April, has more than 100 creditors, including employees and vendors, court records show.

The company has assigned the job of paying off those debts to an insolvency expert, Michael Phelan, with Fort Lauderdale-based Michael Moecker & Associates Inc., who will liquidate all of the assets.

Court records show there is the potential for a $190,000 BP Oil settlement, related to the disastrous 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Asked if that settlement would be big enough to pay off all of Naples Tomato's debts, Phelan said, "It appears that it would be."

Exactly how much Naples Tomato owes to its creditors, which include customers with unused gifts cards, has yet to be determined.

A creditor list filed in Collier Circuit Court as part of Phelan's assignment shows more than $52,000 is owed to secured creditors, not including unpaid wages.

More than $28,000 in sales taxes are owed to the state and nearly $14,000 is owed to Merchants Advance LLC, which purchased the restaurant's receivables.

Unsecured creditors include dozens of vendors, who are owed tens of thousands of dollars. Gordon Food Service, one of those vendors, is owed more than $37,000 alone, according to court records.

Former employees will have a priority claim so they're more likely than others to get repaid if enough money is available to settle those debts after the sale of the assets, said Jeffrey Leasure, a Fort Myers attorney who represents Phelan.

In court records, it appears that more than $25,000 is owed to employees.

The company's assets include equipment, more than $10,000 in a bank checking account and an inventory of alcohol valued at about $35,000.

The liquidation is similar to what would happen in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, though there was no bankruptcy filing in this situation, Leasure explained.

One of the goals of the assignment is to stop creditors from filing a flurry of lawsuits and to deal with all the claims in "one place," he said.

Before the assignment, CS Tamiami LLC, the former landlord for Naples Tomato, sued the restaurant for $167,000 in unpaid rent, as well as damages. According to the lawsuit, the owners removed furniture and equipment they should have left behind and trashed the site, off U.S. 41 North near the Collier-Lee county line.

Jack Serfass, the restaurant's former owner, argues he owes nothing to the landlord and that he had the right to take out the equipment, including grills, ranges and refrigerators.

Edmond Koester, a Naples attorney who represents Serfass, said the landlord is wrong.

Even if BP pays Naples Tomato's oil spill claim, he said, he doesn't foresee the landlord getting anything.

__ Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.