By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
John Graff is used to serving up breakfast and lunch to the patrons of the Corner Cafe in Huntingdon Valley, but earlier this month, he was served with an eviction notice by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and it left a bad taste in his mouth.
The notice was certainly expected. Since last May, when he was first notified that Kravco Company, LLC would be terminating his lease at the end of the year, he’s been fighting for his place in the Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center.
“Before that, I had two years of them telling me we were going to do great things in the shopping center,” Graff, the owner of the Corner Cafe, said.
According to Graff, he was assured on multiple occasions at meetings as early as 2012 that his 3,600-square-foot space would be secure despite the company’s redevelopment of other areas of the shopping center.
He had so much faith in Kravco’s promises that he invested over $100,000 in the restaurant, upgrading equipment and decor. Many of the improvements were to the building, like a new AC system, things that can’t be boxed up for moving. The business had been there for 14 years, and Graff expected it to remain for much longer.
He soon found out that his five-year extension option for the Corner Cafe’s lease would not be honored.
Since, he’s gathered over 8,000 signatures for a petition to keep the restaurant open and over 2,000 followers on the Save the Corner Cafe Facebook page, which regularly updates patrons on the status of the restaurant. He hired a lawyer to keep up with legal proceedings.
“I told them, I’d fight this tooth and nail to the end,” Graff said. “I’ll fight them until I don’t have any money left.”
Now, he’s asking his customers and people in the community to fight alongside him. Many of his customers are refusing to patron newer business in the shopping center to send a message to Kravco.
“The battle begins with the neighborhood people,” he said. “Whoever comes in here, we’re not going to support them.”
Graff spoke of rumors he’s heard about places that may be coming to the shopping center. Miller’s Ale House, Starbucks and a dog grooming service have all been mentioned.
“There’s lots of rumors, but one thing they don’t want is the Corner Cafe,” he added. “They’re very secretive about what they do at Kravco.”
Just last week, it was announced that Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, a brewpub chain with locations across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, will be moving into the former Rite Aid location, just steps away from the Corner Cafe.
The Iron Hill to be established in the Huntingdon Valley Shopping Center will be the brewpub’s 12th location. The building will be under construction and is expected to open in early 2016.
“With each of our locations, we look forward to getting to know our new neighbors and the communities that they live in,” Iron Hill President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a press release.
Perhaps Kravco sees Graff’s business as competition to the new development. Representatives of Kravco were contacted and did not respond to requests for comment.
Graff suspects that the developers wanted to bring in chain restaurants or stores, which could likely take on costs that small business owners wouldn’t be able to afford.
“You just couldn’t make it in breakfast and lunch,” he said. “You need to do big business for that.”
According to Graff, from the date of the eviction notice, he has 30 days to schedule an appeal with Montgomery County courts and, if approved, a trial will be set to determine the future of the Corner Cafe.
In the meantime, the doors remain open.
“It really comes down to what the people want,” Graff said. “The time has come for the neighborhood to support the Corner Cafe.”
For more information and updates, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Save-the-Corner-Cafe/509748449157271.