GRANITE FALLS — The landmark Timberline Cafe owned by Mayor Haroon Saleem shut down this weekend after the landlord said the mayor had failed to pay rent for more than a year.
Eviction notices were posted in the windows of the cafe, and Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at 8 a.m. Monday to return the keys to Craig Ohm, who sold the restaurant to Saleem in 2000 but maintained ownership of the property at 116 E. Stanley St.
Ohm, 64, who is one of the owners of Buzz Inn Steakhouse Restaurants, said Saleem stopped paying his monthly rent in March 2011 and has since racked up a past-due rent bill of roughly $70,000.
“He just refused to pay rent,” Ohm said. “He didn’t feel he needed to pay anymore. His words to me were that he figured he paid enough to me and he told me if I didn’t like that I could buy him out or I could take him to court. He gave me two options.”
Saleem, 57, maintains that he did pay the rent, but the checks were returned. He also said that he and Ohm disagreed over how a leaky roof was going to be fixed and that led to this dispute.
“There’s a pattern of behavior this man has done over the years to not meet his obligations,” Saleem said. “By his delaying tactics and not fixing (the roof) he made that place inoperable.”
Ohm’s attorney, Thomas Adams, said Saleem’s checks were returned, because they did not pay enough to meet rent, insurance and to fix the roof.
A Snohomish County Superior Court commissioner ordered the eviction on April 19. Saleem asked Friday for a temporary delay of eviction but was denied.
Timberline Cafe remained open through Sunday. Some items were removed over the weekend, Saleem said. He was planning to move more things out of the restaurant on Monday and was surprised when deputies arrived in the morning and took the keys.
Saleem’s access to business records and resources is now blocked.
“We cannot issue our employees their final paychecks until we have access to that,” Saleem said.
Delaine Lewis, 67, started working at what was then called Rochon’s Timberline Cafe in May 1969. It was then owned by Ray and Dolly Rochon. She is one of 18 employees both full- and part-time, that lost their jobs when the restaurant closed Sunday.
Lewis couldn’t remember any significant closures since she started working there, first as a waitress and later, as a bartender. She remembers the restaurant went through an expansion and the room that ultimately housed the restaurant’s bar had earlier been the town’s post office. The restaurant had a regular clientele and she enjoyed the work, she said.
“I had a lot of fun working there overall,” Lewis said. “If I hadn’t of worked there I wouldn’t know hardly anybody that I know now,” she said.
Lewis heard rumors throughout the past six months that the restaurant was going to close but didn’t look for another job. She knew there was some sort of disagreement between Saleem and Ohm but felt it was none of her business.
The restaurant was busy on its last weekend, Lewis said.
“A lot of people showed up for support,” she said. “If it wasn’t a party, everyone made it one.”
The disagreement between Saleem and Ohm centered on who was responsible for fixing the roof. Saleem says Ohm was supposed to fix it under terms of the lease. Ohm said that Saleem improperly failed to clean grease that went through a vent over the stove and damaged the roof.
Saleem said Monday that he plans to finish out his four-year mayoral term. He was elected in November 2009. Ohm has also filed a separate lawsuit to claim the money that is owed in back rent and repairs to the restaurant, Adams said.
“Now it is a matter of figuring out how much that claim should be,” Adams said. “(Saleem) will have a chance to dispute that one too.”
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; firstname.lastname@example.org.