Larry Mongo had a (not so secret) secret earlier this fall. Teased in a few stray photos on Facebook and known to regulars, the man behind Café D'Mongo's Speakeasy and partner John Enot were nearly ready to debut two new boutique restaurants in the Himelhoch Building along Michigan Avenue. One restaurant, Bella Ciao, would feature classic home cooked Italian meals made by Enot using family recipes; while the other—D'Mongo's Ten Tables—would showcase Mongo's Peking duck, an off-menu item made famous by Andrew Zimmerman on Bizarre Foods.
However, Mongo tells Eater this week, the two restaurants are not to be. Due to a dispute with Himelhoch's landlords, Fourmidable Real Estate, Mongo has decide to cancel the openings for both restaurants and sell off "various collectables" from the restaurants in an one day estate sale-style event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday.
"Thirty-two years ago I took over the Himelhoch Shopping Plaza," Mongo says, describing the building as "raw, chaotic, [and] stripped down" at the time. "They didn't have any ideas for what to do with the commercial space," so he made a deal with the landlords for a 35 year lease, and began ushering in local businesses including a clothing store and several hair salons that Mongo ran himself.
Over the years, rents rose in the area but Mongo says he kept costs low for his tenants to encourage stability in the area. "Everything went really well up until about 5 years ago," he adds. At that point, the bar owner says, the management company started raising questions about his lease and the repairs on the building became shoddy.
Mongo says he began to feel like the company was trying to discourage his tenants from continuing to do business in the building, at a time when land values and ground floor retail spaces were starting to become more attractive commodities.
"The ma and pa days of downtown Detroit are done."
Last winter he says, during a January storm, the pipes burst in the building flooding the lower levels. Mongo says he called management and requested repairs, assuming insurance would cover the damages. The company, according to Mongo, did not inspect or repair the damages for nearly five months until he took them to court. "Ever since the announcement of that M1-Rail, I have caught hell," he adds, suggesting that the new rail line has made some property owners downtown reconsider how much they're charging for rent. "The ma and pa days of downtown Detroit are done."
Approximately five months ago, Mongo says, he had an interaction with his landlord encouraged him it was time to file a racial discrimination complaint (The Michigan Department of Civil Rights could not confirm that these complaints were filed.) and as the last straw, the management company asked for between $10,000 and $20,000 in rent. Despite having two years left on his lease, he was fed up.
Larry Mongo tells Eater he has since filed a lawsuit against the company. "They didn't have a right to try to force me out," he adds.
Eater reached out to Fourmidable for comment and is waiting on a response.
Mongo will continue to maintain Cafe D'Mongo's Speakeasy, which he owns.