Jeff Kang and his wife, Angela Lee, have run the Sudbury Sapporo Ichibang restaurant on Cedar Street for the last 10 years – including seven as owners. It's the first job they had when they moved here from Seoul, South Korea, and have built a loyal clientele for their Japanese and Korean cuisine.
But Sapporo is located in the same building as the two-storey parking garage that was forced to close Jan. 28, after engineers J.L. Richards found issues with the structural integrity of the garage. That forced the D'Alosio family, which owns the building, to close it. Sapporo was a casualty of that decision, and Jeff and Angela were shocked to get the news Jan. 29 that they had to close immediately.
“We didn't have enough time to do anything,” Jeff said, speaking through Lois Kahng, a family friend who acted as translator. “We're really sorry for our customers that we can't serve them anymore.”
Angela was so upset by the news, she fainted, collapsing in the middle of the restaurant in front of customers and staff. She said she couldn't stop crying and fainting. They had been told to expect a shutdown in June while work on the garage was being done.
“But in one day, that all changed,” said Angela, speaking through Kahng.
Making matters worse, they had just placed food and drink orders, and suddenly they couldn't sell any of the stock, even though they had to pay for it.
“There is about $10,000 to $15,000 in fresh fish alone,” Jeff said.
So far, neither the building owner or the insurance company has said they are giving them compensation for their losses. That means they not only have to absorb the losses, but have to try and finance opening in their new location – the former Joe Lesar Menswear, which closed around the same time as Sapporo.
Paul D'Alosio said he feels for them, but says it was a shock to them, as well, that the building had to close so suddenly.
“Nobody, ourselves included, expected the quick cutoff that we got kind of imposed on us from J.L. Richards,” D'Alosio said. “Originally (the engineers) were saying it was good until the end of June … It is a tough situation. The engineers have to make that call, and it becomes a question of what comes first – the safety of the public or individual tenants.”
As far as compensation, D'Alosio said he was contacted by their lawyer, who asked for documentation and other information about their lease agreement, which they gave them. But, D'Alosio said, it appears they didn't have insurance to cover this type of event.
“Normally tenants would have business interruption insurance for something like this, or fire or earthquakes, that kind of thing,” he said. “I don't think they were carrying that, unfortunately.”
They were offered help to move into one of his family's other buildings, but they wanted to stay on Cedar Street, D'Alosio said, “which makes sense.”
While still exploring their legal options, the couple says they're trying to look to the future. Their new landlord, Tony D'Angelo, has been very supportive, they say, and they're aiming to reopen in late spring or early summer.
“The landlord heard about our story,” and said he would help, Jeff said. “So we're trying to look at it as an opportunity.”
The new location will have almost double the number of tables – around 70 or 80, but they will try and keep the authentic look and feel of the original location. However, renovations will be expensive – early estimates have it around $500,000 – and getting bank loans is difficult for restaurants at any time.
“And we have no income right now,” Jeff said.
Opening as quickly as possible is important, the couple says, because even the most loyal customers will develop new habits over time. And their seven employees will need to find work, so they're not sure how many staff they will be able to keep.
Anyone who wants to help the couple financially can contact them at [email protected]. Donations can also be made directly through RBC, account number 049825150701, in the name of Hyungjin Kang.