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Past owners of Buck's Steakhouse sue former landlord, employee

Buck’s Steakhouse and Sports Bar was located across from El Sombrero in Key Center. It is now closed.
Buck’s Steakhouse and Sports Bar was located across from El Sombrero in Key Center. It is now closed. jbessex@gateline.com

The next chapter in the Buck’s saga begins with a lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court by Joni and Clint Pipkin against their previous landlord, Greg Calahan and current owner of Reed’s Restaurant, Kathy Reed.

The Pipkins have filed a suit in the Pierce County Superior Court on March 20 against Greg and Regina Calahan, and Kathy and Ronald Reed for damages in relation to the eviction and closing of Buck’s Steakhouse, 15610 92nd St. KPN, Lakebay. The lawsuit alleges:

  • Calahan breached a contract between himself and the Pipkins in the form of their lease by unlawfully evicting the couple from the premises.
  • Kathy Reed breached a contract between the Pipkins and herself to purchase Buck’s Steakhouse business for $575,000.
  • Greg Calahan and Kathy Reed knew of the agreement between the Pipkins and Kathy Reed and used that information to make a separate agreement with Kathy Reed to either purchase the building or lease the building from Greg Calahan to begin Reed’s restaurant.
  • Greg Calahan unlawfully took possession of the Pipkins' hot dog stand and espresso bar located on the property through an illegal “claim of lien."
  • That Kathy Reed and Greg Calahan were “enriched” through the Pipkins' eviction and by the breach of contracts.
  • That Kathy Reed used information gained through employment at Buck’s and through an agreement with the Pipkins to purchase Buck’s to make a separate agreement with Greg Calahan. The suit states as part of her employment, Kathy Reed gained access to confidential and sensitive business information including but not limited to; financial information regarding the bar and restaurant, information related to the management of Buck’s, information regarding contracts between the Pipkins and suppliers and resource information regarding other Buck’s employees.

Greg Calahan declined to comment on the suit. Calahan was hesitant to comment on the matter back in January, but confirmed that he already started a new lease with Kathy Reed.

“We are still deciding what the restaurant will be,” Calahan said in January. “We hope soon to move it back to a music spot.”

Calahan said he holds onto his own business license and liquor license for just-in-case happenings, such as the issues with Buck’s. Calahan said he wants to keep owning the building but is thinking of slowly liquidating the building so he can officially retire.

Kathy Reed could not be reached by press-time over phone or email.

Joni Pipkin declined to comment on the suit.

WHY BUCK’S CLOSED

Buck’s Steakhouse and Sports Bar closed unceremoniously at the beginning of the year, leaving peninsula residents with one less place to eat on the west side of the Purdy Bridge.

The steakhouse was opened by Joni and Clint Pipkin in late 2016 after opening a hot dog cart in the parking lot of the restaurant. At the time, the space was O’Callahan’s Pub. Thinking it would be a perfect spot for the gourmet hot dog stand the couple had in mind, they approached the pub’s owner, Greg Calahan, in mid-September 2016 about renting the space. But the couple said they ended up with more than they bargained for when Calahan talked them into leasing the whole restaurant as he headed into retirement.

GW_Bucks_0001
Clint and Joni Pipkin opened Buck’s Steakhouse and Sports Bar in Key Center in late 2016 after opening a hot dog cart in the parking lot of the restaurant. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

It seemed the Pipkins, battered with unexpected costs, chose to suddenly shut down in January.

“The overhead and repairs (were) financially consuming every penny that came in,” the Pipkins said on the restaurant’s Facebook page Jan. 2. “We tried to renegotiate terms with our landlord, but were unable to come up with a solution we could agree on.”

The public statement has since been removed from the restaurant’s Facebook page. In the statement, the couple cites roof leaks, problems with kitchen equipment, a broken hot water tank and a “plagued septic system.” It was unclear whether the equipment the Pipkins used were from the previous pub or not. The Pipkins wrote in their statement that they tried to put their lease for sale to recoup some lost finances, but were unsuccessful after Calahan started a new lease with Reed.

THE LAWSUIT

According to the Pipkin’s lawsuit filed by Tacoma's Ledger Square Law, the Pipkins and Greg Calahan entered into a written lease where the Pipkins were going to lease the Buck’s building from Calahan. As a part of the operation, the Pipkins paid a monthly rent and complied with the lease terms.

“Plaintiffs developed significant goodwill in the community and otherwise enjoyed a positive reputation in the community for providing good food and good service,” the lawsuit states. “The Pipkins also employed Kathy Reed at the restaurant.”

During their time at the restaurant the Pipkins made “significant improvements” to Buck’s, the suit alleges. These improvements including septic system improvements, the hot dog and coffee stand in the parking lot and furnishing of the business.

The suit goes on to say that Kathy Reed approached the Pipkins in 2017 saying she was interested in purchasing Buck’s from them because she was “coming into a good sum of money from her divorce.” The Pipkins and Kathy Reed negotiated and came to an agreement that Kathy Reed would purchase Buck’s for $575,000. Kathy Reed gave the Pipkins a $13,000 down payment as a part of the agreement.

The Pipkin’s lease with Greg Calahan included provisions about subletting the building, the suit stated. The provisions required Calahan to approve any subletting or transfer of a lease. Kathy Reed, the Pipkins and Greg Calahan had one or more meetings where they discussed the agreement for Kathy Reed to buy the Pipkin’s business, and during those meetings the Pipkins allege Calahan agreed to let them transfer the lease to Kathy Reed once she purchased the business.

“Shortly thereafter, and without notice, defendants Calahan unlawfully locked-out plaintiffs from the premises by changing the locks,” the suit state. “No advance notice was given.”

After Greg Calahan “engaged in self-help eviction” by locking the Pipkins out of Buck’s, the Pipkins were not able to recover all of the improvements they made to the property. Calahan eventually let the Pipkins back into the building to obtain “some” of their items. When the Pipkins went into the building after being locked out, they say Calahan had a “guard stationed at the door” who unlocked the door, allowed the Pipkins to grab their things and then walked them to their vehicle. The guard, they say, immediately locked the door behind them. They repeated this process a couple times while the Pipkins tried to obtain their belongings.

One of the improvements the Pipkins made to Bucks was installing a security camera system, with video surveillance, the suit states. The Pipkin’s security system is still on the premises they believe and is either being used by Kathy Reed or Greg Calahan. After being locked-out, the Pipkins monitored the security system, including video, until Greg Calahan blocked their access.

In the video they obtained, the Pipkins say they saw footage which shows Calahan and Reed “executing documents” which they believe either were the new lease or a purchase and sale agreement for the building. Still images of the video tapes were provided with the lawsuit file.

Calahan also purportedly issues a document called “Claim of Lien” pursuant to Chapter 64.04 RCW. The claim allowed Greg Calahan to take possession of the Pipkin’s coffee and hot dog stand in lieu of loss of income Greg Calahan occurred during the Pipkins’ eviction. The suit states the claim Greg Calahan made was unlawful because Chapter 64.04 RCW does not provide for any such lien.

Kathy Reed never completed her purchase of Buck’s restaurant and bar, the suit said, and “as a direct and proximate result of defendants Calahan unlawful lock-out of plaintiffs and defendants Calahan unlawful “claim of lien," plaintiffs has suffered damages in an amount to be proven at trial.”

The Pipkins are pursuing monetary damages from loss of income and property, an amount to be proven during trial. They are also pursuing compensation of attorney fees and other relief.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie
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