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Mo Better Blues Folds After Protracted Battle With Landlord

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Gerald Watson II of Mo Better Blues explains why a Cease and Desist order appeared in his restaurant window on Monday.

Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Earlier this week, there were whispers about a Cease and Desist order that had been placed in the front window of Mo Better Blues possibly heralding the closure of this restaurant. Now the reports have been confirmed, but the details of this shutter and that messy landlord-tenant battle behind it are much more complicated.

Mo Better Blues was originally scheduled to open in the Kales Building in Grand Circus Park during the summer of 2013; however, the restaurant's owner Gerald Watson II, tells Eater that the project faced several major snags. In June 2013, the Kales Building owners (who originally leased to Watson) defaulted on a loan and lost the property. Ownership of the Kales then transferred into the hands of SSJ Properties, a Ferndale-based lender.

During the transition, Watson says he experienced major maintenance problems including a leak that delayed his buildout and caused his business to lose out on a grand opening during the lucrative summer sports season. Mo Better Blues eventually opened on November 12, 2013, near the challenging holiday season and the end of the major sporting seasons.

During this time, the owner says he experienced further problems with maintenance. The heating and ventilation systems failed. "They got it boarded up so it's not even getting proper ventilation," he says. "It forced the motor to overrun [and] cause the motor to give out no heat...Condensation was coming into our restaurant." The moisture caused problems with peeling paint in the restaurant's backroom bottle service area and also ruined a television and couch, the restaurateur claims.

Meanwhile, scaffolding on a neighboring that the original building's management had promised would be removed, obscured Mo Better Blues from view. The scaffolding is still up today, Watson adds.

At the time, Watson admits he was also withholding rent due to the late opening date. He was eventually forced to pay the rent, but says he continued to struggle with the management company, and since has made repeated visits to court to fight SSJ. Watson says he believes the company does not want an African-American-owned business in the space, adding that in the last month he's received two offers to buy the business and has attempted to pay his rent twice—both times the money was allegedly refused.

Now, Watson says he's decided to close his business and move on to begin a different restaurant in the Greektown area.

Still the restaurant owner has faced trouble. In the last week, the management company under a different alias, The Kales Grand Circus Park, LLC, took action against Mo Better Blues to try to prevent Watson from removing property from the building premises, items he says were purchased and put into the building during his $257,000 renovation. "They even want to fight me over my POS system," he adds.

"My mother used her savings, we used all our life savings just to get our place open," Watson says.

The two parties were supposed to go back to court on January 8; however, on January 6, Circuit Court Judge Daniel P. Ryan (who Watson says is a friend of individuals in the management company), issued the Cease and Desist Order against Mo Better Blues. The company also changed the locks, which Watson believes is illegal.

A Cease and Desist order hangs in the storefront window at Mo Better Blues. Photo by Brenna Houck.

Police were called on Watson when he attempted to move some of his items from the shop against the court order.

During the January 8 court hearing, the Mo Better Blues owner brought backup—a Fox 2 camera crew. Watson says he was granted permission to keep some of his property including granite countertops and bowls for sinks in the restaurant bathrooms. He will not get to take toilets and other items with him—things he says he needs for the new restaurant. "All this could have been avoided if...[the company] had just said, 'We want to go in a different direction,'" Watson says.

Watson plans to completely move out of the space by this weekend.

Eater reached out to the property management company and is still awaiting a response to these allegations.

The Michigan Chronicle also examined and reported on the conflict when things hit a fever pitch in late December.

Update: In response to an inquiry by Eater, Seyburn Kahn Attorneys and Counselors, who represent The Kales Grand Circus Park, LLC, have chosen not to comment due to ongoing litigation.

Mo Better Blues

546 E. Larned St. , Detroit, MI