Posts Tagged ‘John Snedden’

Max’s Best Homemade Ice Cream (2416 Wisconsin Ave.) will remain open for the next few months, according to shop owner Max Keshani. “Yes, I’m here through summer time,” he tells us. Rumors of a lease extension deal have been flying for days, but lawyers for Keshani and landlords Gail and Barbara Bassin have so far declined to comment. (The two parties had previously announced that they would not comment during negotiations but would issue a joint statement on the end result.) Keshani confirmed to us that his lease had been extended, but he did not specify an end date; the rumor we heard was that the extension ends September 30. (Update: it ends October 31; see attorneys’ statement below.) Keshani says he hopes to negotiate a further extension after this one expires: “I’m working harder and harder to stay longer and longer.”

Keshani was formally notified in May that his lease would not be renewed when it expires June 30, and next-door neighbor John Snedden of Rocklands (2418 Wisconsin Ave.) soon announced that he would expand his barbecue shop into the vacated ice cream space. But Keshani, who believed he had been in the process of negotiating a lease extension, was shocked by his ouster, and friends and supporters rallied to his defense, urging the Bassins to reconsider and allow Max’s to remain. Some vilified Snedden, blaming his expansion plans for the end of Keshani’s lease. But the Bassins insisted that their decision to end Keshani’s lease had nothing to do with Snedden.

Snedden, for his part, says he has not received formal notification that his lease on the Max’s space will not begin on July 1, as agreed. But he has not brought in an architect to plan for the expansion, let alone applied for any building permits, he says. When the uproar over Max’s lease first erupted, Snedden told the Bassins he’d be willing to delay the start of his lease, and he has been operating on the assumption that they would take him up on the offer. In the meantime, Snedden says, he has been devoting his time to launching another project: the Right Proper Brewing Company, a Southern-themed brew pub at 624 T Street in Shaw, set to open this fall.

UPDATE: Shortly after midnight on June 28, attorneys for Keshani and the Bassins issued the following statement:

Max’s Best Ice Cream will continue in business at 2416 Wisconsin Avenue through October 31, 2013.  Max and Gail and Barbara Bassin, the owners of the property, have agreed that this represents a fair and reasonable outcome for all involved.  It gives Max and the community the benefit of having Max’s Best Ice Cream in Glover Park for the entire 2013 summer and part of the fall.  We are grateful to John Snedden and Rocklands Barbeque without whose active support this arrangement could not have been achieved.

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Last week, people began entering Rocklands (2418 Wisconsin Ave.) to angrily accost its employees, according to owner John Snedden. In addition, the restaurant’s tiny “World Headquarters” building on 37th Street was pelted with eggs. “It seems to be an escalation” in a neighborhood campaign to pressure Rocklands into giving up its plans to expand next door, Snedden says. “It’s distressing. We’re not sure where this leads.”

Why the hate for Rocklands, a longtime Glover Park institution? Because some in the neighborhood wrongly hold the restaurant responsible for the likely closing of another institution, Max’s Best Homemade Ice Cream (2416 Wisconsin Ave.). This spring, the barbecue spot accepted its landlords’ offer to expand into the ice cream shop storefront starting July 1. At the time, Snedden was under the impression that Max’s Best owner Max Keshani planned to retire. But in early May, Keshani began telling friends that he had abruptly lost his lease—and that he suspected Snedden was to blame.

Snedden admits he told the landlords last year that he’d be willing to rent the storefront if it ever became available, but he had been doing that twice annually for the past 20 years. According to Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Joe Fiorillo, a confidant and strong supporter of Keshani’s, “Rocklands is squeaky clean as far as their business procedures. [Snedden is] a clean-cut guy. I just don’t think you could say that there was any kind of collusion” between Snedden and the landlords over ending Keshani’s lease. In fact, the landlords reportedly had a second tenant lined up in case the Rocklands deal fell through—a sign that they intended to end Max’s tenancy, with or without Rocklands.

Still, some of Keshani’s supporters denounce Rocklands as a “bully” and call for boycotts and demonstrations. One commenter on a “Save Max’s Best Ice Cream” Facebook page with more than 750 followers urged others to rally “thousands” for protests in front of the store, to  make Rocklands “bleed cash in response to community disgust.” With this week’s escalation of hostilities, it seems some Max’s devotees are taking these calls to heart.

But what precipitated Keshani’s current situation, Fiorillo says, was not Rocklands’ desire to expand, but a serious communication breakdown between Keshani and his landlords. According to Keshani, the property manager approached him last fall with a demand for a 33% rent increase starting July 1. (The property manager denies this, saying that Keshani was notified at that time that his lease would not be renewed.) Last October, when Keshani told Fiorillo about the expected rent increase, Fiorillo urged his friend to hire a lawyer to negotiate the matter, but that never happened, Fiorillo says. Keshani has said he told the property manager he wanted to negotiate the rent; his daughter, Neda, told the Georgetown Current that Keshani verbally accepted the rent that he claims was proposed. Either way, the property manager sent no lease documents. On April 26, Neda wrote the management firm a letter expressing the ice cream shop’s intent to exercise its option to renew the lease, Fiorillo says. But after 20 years, the lease was likely on its final renewal already, with no further option to renew. One week after Neda’s letter, the property manager gave written notice that the Max’s lease would end on June 30, and a shocked Keshani raised the alarm to friends.

After learning that Keshani was not closing Max’s voluntarily, Snedden wrote the landlords and offered to delay the start of his lease if they wanted Max’s to stay. It’s rumored that a real estate attorney who lives in Glover Park is now representing Keshani pro bono in an effort to extend his tenancy through at least November 30, but the attorney named in the rumor said that he couldn’t confirm any such role and asked that his name not be published. Many supporters have expressed a willingness to donate funds to help Keshani relocate his shop, and several local landlords have offered vacant storefronts, but Keshani says he has no interest in moving. Landlords Gail and Barbara Bassin have not responded to numerous requests for comment.

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The owner of Max’s Best Ice Cream (2416 Wisconsin Ave.) received verbal notice last fall that his lease would not be renewed, says Raymond Ruppert, Jr. president of the Ruppert Real Estate property management firm. The reason: “Basically, Rocklands wants to expand, and they’re an older tenant.”

News of the beloved ice cream parlor’s lost lease shocked two Glover Park Yahoo newsgroups on Saturday. One poster wrote that owner Max Keshani had told her he thought he’d be negotiating with the landlord over a proposed 33-percent rent increase, but instead received a notice to move out by June 30.

Ruppert, however, says there was never any offer of a raised rent from the landlords’ side. The talk was “only on his part; he asked if that were a possibility.”

The Max’s Ice Cream building is one of three in a row owned by local sisters Barbara and Gail Bassin. According to DC land records, the two women received the building from their mother, Ruth Bassin, last year, along with 2418 Wisconsin Ave., which houses Rocklands, and 2414 Wisconsin Ave., which houses Z-Burger.

Asked whether the change in ownership from mother to daughters might have caused a change in how the property is managed, Ruppert said, “The daughters are more pro-business at this point.”

Rocklands owner John Snedden and Building co-owner Barbara Bassin have has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Max Keshani could not immediately be reached for comment.

UPDATE: Rocklands owner John Snedden called us back. He says that he has never made a secret of his interest in expanding, if the Max’s building ever came available, but he made no special push to oust the ice cream shop. Rather, the property manager came to him this spring and asked if he were still interested in the space. “I said absolutely,” Snedden says. “I’ve been saying that for 22 years.”

Until this weekend, Snedden was not aware that Max’s was not closing voluntarily. “I thought he was retiring,” he says. “I would love for Max to continue to be our neighbor.”

UPDATE 2: Rocklands has now published a blog post and issued a press release on the expansion.

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From the December 2011/January 2012 edition of the Glover Park Gazette:

Rocklands (2418 Wisconsin Ave.) can now serve alcohol starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday mornings, after the ABC Board approved its request to move its opening time forward one hour. Owner John Snedden says the extra hour will allow the restaurant to better serve its Sunday-morning crowd of football and steeplechase fans preparing to tailgate.

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From the November 2011 edition of the Glover Park Gazette:

A sign thief is on the loose. In mid-September, the birch plywood “world headquarters” sign outside Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company’s corporate office at 2424 37th St. went missing. The original item, created by Glover Park’s resident mural painter Jarrett Farrier, cost $750, according to Rocklands CEO John Snedden. Rocklands has offered a $500 reward for information leading to the sign’s return, but so far, says Snedden, there are no leads. A replacement painted by Farrier was affixed to the building in mid-October.

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