Businesses come and go in Devonport, but few well-loved businesses are likely to have gone through the nightmare that the owners of Calypso cafe currently find themselves in.
Calypso - run by Michael and Anne Wang – have a new landlord. The landlord wants them out.
The Speculator has some sympathy with a landlord’s perspective; at its heart the landlord/tenant relationship is purely and simply a commercial relationship. Unfortunately however, the relationship between small, local businesses and their customers is often a lot more than that. This invariably leads to tension, particularly when the community sees a much-loved business disappear because the landlord wants to double the rent, or to inveigle one tenant into their building at the expense of another.
Or in the case of Calypso Cafe, to do both at the same time.
Enter, stage right, Andrew Steele, local dentist and landlord of the premises at 8 Victoria Rd.
Oh – and at the same time - that new tenant, who has in the interim moved in next door to Calypso (as Zest), gets the council to give them a slice of the valuable outside terrace and seating which Calypso had already paid for. The council accedes to their demands, arbitrarily changing the terms of the license it had signed with Calypso while reducing its value, having already taken their money. Enter stage left, council official Marius Nortje.
Oh, sorry – one more thing; that new tenant - in an apoplectic state – one recent Saturday afternoon marches into Calypso and performs a public tantrum in front of the owners and a number of stunned patrons – and demands the people sitting at her outside tables (but are Calypso customers) to be moved at once before she calls the police, council, and the UN War Crimes Tribunal. (The last one could be speculation).
Enter through the front door and exeunt through the roof while trailing her composure, one Pauline Colmar, co-founder of market research company Colmar Brunton, owner of Zest and tenant-in-waiting for Calypso’s premises.
So perhaps understandably, the chief protagonists in this sorry drama - the Wangs – are not happy. In fact, they are pretty miserable.
The Wangs have successfully run Calypso for seven years, providing a constant supply of quality food and a friendly and hospitable locale for all comers, and particularly families with children.
That was until their previous landlord sold up to Andrew Steele last year. Steele would like to replace his existing tenants (the Wangs) at the end of their lease in August 2012, and double the rent. The Wangs have no first right of refusal on their lease, so their is little they can do. Despite them agreeing to the doubling of rent to renew, Steele wants them out and has already signed up Ms Colmar to take over the lease in 2012. (In so doing, Steele has acted entirely within his rights).
The Wangs were understandably devastated, but with little recourse to other avenues of redress, are preparing to close Calypso for good. For who would want to buy a business dependent on a lease that would expire in 12 months? So despite buying a business 7 years ago, but due to the plans of their landlord, they will exit with nothing, although to be fair, Colmar did make them an offer for the business, at what Michael Wang estimated at about 25% of its value.
So having also ousted the previous tenant (Village Green Health) next door, Steele then signed up Colmar and her Zest venture. And it wasn’t long before a bad situation started getting worse for the Wangs.
Despite having already paid for the permit, the council informed the Wangs that the amount of land they could use for the outside seating area had been reduced from 20 square metres to 13, the difference being the slice in front of Zest. The Wangs complained. And council official Nortje, in the time-honoured tradition of council officials, then threatened to arbitrarily rescind the permit if the Wangs made a fuss. So they didn’t.
However, fed up with their treatment, the Wangs eventually asked local Board chair Chris Darby to investigate how the council could unilaterally break the terms of a contract it had signed. Darby is currently awaiting an explanation from his officials, but is particularly interested in which bylaw allows the council to break an agreed and executed contract.
Then, two Saturdays ago, an apparently enraged Pauline Colmar entered Calypso and in front of a complement of customers, angrily demanded that the Wangs remove an elderly couple from one of the tables located in her area, before she called the police. According to Michael Wang, her behaviour was bad enough for her to feel compelled to return a day or so later to apologise; but only to their 12-year old daughter for having used such foul language in front of her.
“That really upset me. She apologised to our daughter but clearly thought it was OK to swear at us” Michael Wang said.
The Speculator has spoken to people who witnessed the event, and from their accounts it would seem Colmar’s behaviour was extreme to say the least. The elderly man at the table allegedly had the paper he was reading ripped from his hands, and by the time he left (after Michael had asked him to move to alleviate the situation), he was visibly upset. According to witnesses, Colmar unleashed a prolonged and intimidating rant at the couple. One witness commented; “It was so over the top, I thought she was on something.”
The elderly woman remained unmoved, and her defiance served only to further enrage Colmar, who then entered Calypso to further vent her spleen at the Wangs.
The Wangs are left with the deeply unpleasant sensation that they are being pressured to move out before their lease expires. For a couple who have worked hard but fruitfully in the competitive Devonport cafe scene for seven years while providing one of the more pleasant locations to enjoy a good coffee and a decent snack, it’s a sad ending and an distasteful insight into the machinations of some of our local businesses.
The Speculator labours under this old-fashioned misapprehension that there is more to being a human being than getting what you want at any cost, and when people’s livelihoods are at stake, there is an accepted requirement to act with integrity. It’s up to the reader to decide whether some of the parties involved in this sad story have lived up to those standards that one might usually expect.
By way of a footnote, one witness to Colmar’s apoplexy related how the elderly woman, on leaving the cafe after the incident, went to the front door of Zest. Calmly confronting the conniption-consumed Colmar, she said she could recommend the cafe next door if Colmar was ever after a decent coffee, and hoped she would have a better day than she was currently having.
NB: The Speculator has attempted to contact Pauline Colmar to get her side of the story, but has thus far been unsuccessful.
Editor’s Note: Dick Brunton, Executive Chairman at Colmar Brunton, has pointed out that Pauline Colmar has not worked at Colmar Brunton since 1989.