The owner of Fratelli’s Jovani Neza said Wednesday that his business on Iberia Street closed its doors Monday due to disputes with property owner Johnny Romero and his refusal to fix basic problems with the building.
But Romero said Thursday there was no dispute before Neza stole about $40,000 worth of property this week before unexpectedly closing the restaurant on Admiral Doyle Drive. After Neza sent a check that bounced last month to Romero, Romero told Neza he had two months to clear the building.
“I charged $125 for having a bad check. He gave it to me,” Romero said. “He is supposed to have his rent due on the 1st and he’s closed on Mondays. So I went there Tuesday morning and the place is locked, so I go back to my office and go in, everything is gone.”
Romero and a friend, David Arceneaux, said a freezer, deep frier, 20 tables and a variety of other items that Romero owned were taken from the building. Romero was unavailable for comment Wednesday because he was busy filing a report with the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
“He’s going to throw the sob story to make himself look good, and he’s going to disappear and everyone’s going to forget about it,” Arceneaux said. “He’s not even Italian, he’s Albanian.”
Arceneaux estimated the loss to be about $40,000 worth of merchandise, including the replacement value of the furniture and kitchen items. Allegedly, according to Romero and Arceneaux, as well as social media, Neza ransacked the home he was staying in in New Iberia.
Neza said Wednesday that Romero would not fix a clogged drain in the men’s bathroom for four months, as well as a leak on the kitchen ceiling that Romero refused to fix. Most commercial leases stipulate the landlord is only responsible for structural drainage.
“He’s got one urinal with a slow drain,” Arceneaux said. “If you flush it over and over it’s going to back up, but if you put Draino in it’s fixed. We couldn’t find the leak in the kitchen he was talking about.”
Neza also said a visit from the fire marshal determined that the kitchen equipment for Fratelli’s was inadequate and needed to be gotten rid of.
“He sold the scrap, but that’s not his property. That’s Johnny’s property, so he’s lying,” Arceneaux said. “He’s trying to say the tables he took were tables he got from (another restaurant), but those tables are actually in the back. Everything he took was Johnny’s stuff.”
Other problems Romero cited against Neza included his refusal to fix and maintain upkeep of the restaurant and buying the lowest quality food. Romero said when he did go to the restaurant for repairs, Neza would tell him he couldn’t do it during business hours.
The state Department of Health visited the restaurant on July 27, and cited several violations. Some of those included the air conditioner not working at full capacity, a dish washing machine not draining properly and the rear door not being protected against rodents or insects
Floors also were reported as not clean near and around the drain for carbonated beverages and around racks used for storage near the coolers. Loose and broken tiles also were found near the cooking equipment. Floors were reported not clean near, around and behind equipment, the report said.
There was a leaking ceiling near the ice machine, and shelves were not cleaned at a frequency necessary to keep from residue accumulating, according to the report. The department also cited the hand wash and sink urinals were not draining properly as well. The walk-in cooler at the restaurant was reported as running at only 49 degrees (coolers should run at a maximum of 41 degrees or below) and the items were moved to a small cooler.
“All they had to do was buy their inventory,” Arceneaux said. “All the dishes, plates belonged to Johnny. He just had to buy his food and beverages. He packed it all up in the middle of the night and left.”
The lease for the restaurant was meant for about five years, Romero estimated. However, he said the only thing he wants from Neza is his equipment back.
“He’s not worth what we are going through,” Romero said. “They have a bad reputation but he wants everyone to think he’s a good guy. Him moving out is a blessing to me.”