The woman who’s owned The Maids’ Quarters linen shop in downtown Los Gatos for 40 years says she was “duped” by new business partners she was going to share her space with, and now must vacate the premises.
But the couple who plans to open a restaurant at the prime N. Santa Cruz Avenue address says there’s been a big misunderstanding, due, in part, to difficulties accessing Town Hall documents during Covid-19 closures.
Claudia Mann, 79, who’s run her business at the current location for 33 years, said that after difficult pandemic months for retailers, she was looking for a way to downsize.
“These people walked in and asked what we were going to do with the space,” she said, thinking back to how excited she was when Philippe Leroy and his girlfriend Deena Elkassed proposed opening a French restaurant. “We have a garden back here that would be perfect as a bistro.”
Mann said the couple used flattery to win her over, and talked a big game about how their eatery would fit perfectly with her boutique.
“We had the same kind of vision,” she said, recalling how they told her they loved her store. “And they said they would keep it just the way it is.”
Mann says, since her lease was expiring, and, at her age, she wasn’t thrilled about the idea of entering into another 10-year agreement. That’s why, she says, she went month-to-month with her landlord Brenda Molineux, of the William Molineux Trust, as the details for the bistro-linen store concept came together.
“I was not interested in being the principal holder of the lease,” she said. “On Friday the 13th, my landlady and her broker came to present me with a sublease—and a 30-day eviction notice.”
Mann says the sublease deal was so bad it was clear they wanted her out.
“I think it was really insensitive to get that 30-day notice after 33 years of not ever missing a rent period,” she said. “I always paid my rent.”
She’s used to paying $10,119 a month, on top of half of the insurance and property taxes, for the 2,300-square-foot storefront. The terms of the sublease, dropped off on behalf of the couple by Molineux and Mark Kuiper, a senior VP with Colliers International, weren’t acceptable, according to Mann.
The Los Gatan was unable to reach either Molineux or Kuiper for an interview.
According to Mann’s son Michael, the sublease proposal offered The Maid’s Quarters just 725 square feet of space for $5,537 a month.
Since Claudia was under the impression they were going to share the space 50/50, this came as a huge surprise, she says.
After all, the sublease was still asking her to pay 50% of “operating expenses.”
When her son Michael crunched the numbers, it appeared to represent a massive rent increase from $4.40 per square foot to $7.64 per square foot.
“Maybe the restaurant wanted the whole space to begin with, and this was a way of eliminating me,” Claudia said.
But Leroy, who’s launching the Chez Philippe bistro, told the Los Gatan this couldn’t be further from the truth, pointing to the 1,130 square feet of rentable space specified in the sublease, for a base rent of $5,537—which would represent an increase of just 50 cents per square foot—to $4.90 per square foot.
It was kind of a shock to their plans when Claudia asked them to take on the responsibility of the main lease, he added.
Leroy says he believes the Mann family is unhappy because he doesn’t want the “Jennifer Croll” clothing line, by Claudia’s daughter, to be part of the deal.
“When I drew the sublease, I’m like, ‘I’m going to offer Claudia what the original vision was, which was: her on one side, selling her beautiful French antiques, and me on my side selling French cuisine,” he said, adding Claudia’s daughter started getting too hands-on in setting up the deal for his liking.
The popular dress line just wasn’t a good fit, Leroy said.
“It was about bringing her daughter into the deal,” he said. “I was kind of caught in the middle.”
Elkassed said their 50/50 offer is still on the table, and says the 725 square feet assigned to the Maids’ Quarters in Town planning documents as a “Tenant Improvement Area” isn’t the total space the sublease proposed. She says their architect made a mistake that got corrected during the planning phase, adding initial information reflected data available during Town Hall pandemic cutbacks.
“There’s been a confusion around how big the building is,” she said. “That was an error that was caught by the Town.”
Elkassed said they would even be willing to work with Jennifer, if she took over the Maids’ Quarters but didn’t sell clothing.
Mann’s son, Michael, pointed to restaurant documents that mention the daughter’s fashion line (which officially falls under the Maids’ Quarters) as a business asset, as well as a section of the sublease that says it would be void if there was a change in ownership.
Elkassed says they were really looking forward to doing business with the Maids’ Quarters, and that they’d be willing to negotiate on terms that weren’t deemed acceptable.
“Honestly, we’re not trying to take anybody for a ride,” she said. “We still care about Claudia.”