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Posts Tagged ‘Max Keshani’

The attorney for Mahmood “Max” Keshani, owner of Max’s Best Homemade Ice Cream (2416 Wisconsin Ave.), says lease negotiations between Max and his landlords are ongoing, despite the landlords’ earlier decision not to renew Keshani’s lease when it expires on June 30. “Max and the landlord are in productive discussions and have agreed that there are not to be any statements issued to the press until the discussions have been concluded,” says the lawyer, who has asked that his name not be published. “At that time a joint statement will be issued by the parties.”

Previously, the attorney told us that Keshani had “no intention” of vacating the premises on June 30. He told the Georgetown Current, however, that Keshani might not have the heart to wage a long-term battle to hold onto the building indefinitely. “Max would like to stay in business long enough to pass it down to his [baby] grandson,” the attorney was quoted as saying. But given “how long that process would play out … [and] the stressors involved, it’s probably settling in a different way.” We’ve been told by someone not involved in the negotiations that the attorney hopes to extend Keshani’s lease through November 30.

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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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On June 25, Max’s Best Homemade Ice Cream (2416 Wisconsin Ave.) will donate 50 percent of its proceeds to the American Cancer Society in honor of the late Marsha Keshani, wife of shop owner Max and mom of daughter Neda. “Next Monday will be one year that my dear beautiful mother has left us,” Neda wrote in a message posted to the Glover Park Yahoo newsgroup. “We want to honor her and her spirit that still and will always remain with us, the community, her family and friends.”

UPDATE: “Had to stop by today to get an official report from Max,” our correspondent Laurie England wrote on Tuesday, June 26. “Not only was Monday his best Monday ever but best day ever! Neighbors even wrote checks to Max and he was still receiving them today. Plus there was a constant line of customers still coming in today!”

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From the June 2010 edition of the Glover Park Gazette:

While several Glover Park restaurants did big business during February’s snowstorms, Max’s Best Homemade Ice Cream at 2416 Wisconsin got walloped: a Pepco power outage caused the shop to shutter for two weeks for repairs and cleanup. “It takes time to get back to normal,” says owner Max Keshani. But all is restored, and Max’s once again offers a rotating selection of flavors from the store’s 200 recipes, prepared on-premises.

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