The Corner Café fights to stay open
By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
It’s four o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday. The Corner Café is mostly empty. The wait staff cleans up and sets up for the next day while some patrons finish up their meals. Owner John Graff sits at a table in the far corner, a stack of paperwork in front of him, his phone ringing in every few minutes.
He’s trying to save this business, which has been a staple in the Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center for the last 14 years. In May, he was notified that his lease, which he thought had a five-year extension option, will be terminated and he will be forced to close the business and vacate the building in January.
“This is big corporate America pushing the little guy out for nothing but one thing: greed,” Graff said of the situation. “Harsh words, but true.”
He’s talking about his relationship with Kravco Company LLC, a real estate developer based out of King of Prussia and the property manager of the 3,600-square-foot space that has hosted the Corner Café for almost a decade and a half.
Kravco has been developing and expanding in the shopping center for several years. In 2013, the time when new construction began, Graff was “assured by the property management group, more specifically Senior Vice President of Leasing, Clinton M. Cochran, and Vice President, Steven Powell, that [the Corner Café was] an asset to the center and to the community and that [the] spot would be safe,” according to a letter Graff wrote to his customers. Graff said that this promise had been reiterated to him twice more by representatives of Kravco.
So he was surprised when he went to extend his lease in May of 2014 and Powell informed him that Kravco decided to go “in a different direction.” This direction did not include the Corner Café or its 14 employees.
“I’ve been here for eight years. This is not just my job,” said Karen Toner an employee at the Corner Café. “It’s like a family.”
If Graff has to close the business, Toner and the other employees will be out of a job in January. Many of them have been working at the Corner Café for several years and had no indication that they would be unemployed until Graff was informed about Kravco’s development plans in May.
Terri Frimmel has been working at the restaurant since before Graff bought into it about 13 years ago.
“I’m here five, six, sometimes seven days a week,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I didn’t even think twice that I’d have to go searching for another job.”
Graff is equally upset. He recently put almost $100,000 into the business — an AC unit, upgraded cooking equipment, audio system, remodeling and other expenses.
“Who would invest this much money in something they have to leave in one year?” he asked.
Graff has involved lawyers, community representatives and, most importantly, customers in his cause. People have been coming in to sign a petition at the front counter and logging signatures on an online petition. There’s also a Facebook group called “Save the Corner Café” that has gained nearly 1,500 likes.
Cochran could not be reached and Powell’s secretary said that he had no comment on the issue.
“We do not intend to go out without a fight,” Graff’s letter says in closing. “We hope our efforts are successful, and even if they are not, we want to remind you that the Corner Café would not have been what it was without you.”
For more information about the Corner Café, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Corner-Cafe/509748449157271