A landlord has rescinded an order to evict the popular Salute e Vita Ristorante from its longtime location at 1900 Esplanade Drive in Marina Bay, Bay City News reported Wednesday, citing a statement from representatives of the property owner.
The decision came after community members, including Mayor Tom Butt, rallied in defense of Satute’s charitable owner Menbere Aklilu and accused the property owners of threatening eviction over political retribution.
The mayor and other community members had also volunteered time and resources to help tackle some of the maintenance issues that the landlord had cited as the reason for the eviction notice.
According to the statement from Panterra, owned by Jacqueline Poe, the promise to make requested repairs is the reason the notice to vacate was rescinded. Aklilu has been given “one more chance,” the statement from her company said.
“Our focus has always been on the health and safety of the people coming into the building,” Poe said.
Penterra reps said the landlord had performed tests under the restaurant this week and found the presence of E.Coli in a crawlspace. An eviction notice sent Aug. 1 said the inspection of a smell coming from a restroom led to the discovery of two broken pipes under the restaurant.
Mayor Butt and other community members have denied there was a significant health and safety issue at Salute’s. He said the restaurant passed a county health inspection right after Aklilu received her eviction notice, and also that the repairs requested by Panterra Company did not require that Salute cease operating.
The mayor also noted that Aklilu’s lease ran out seven years ago and that it is unusual to expect a tenant on a month-to-month basis to make such significant repairs.
Mayor Butt believes the eviction notice stems less from maintenance issues than from political retribution. He believes Poe and her son, Richard Poe, wanted to evict Aklilu to get back at the mayor and city for blocking Richard’s plan to build The Richmond Riviera, a lower density housing project on the waterfront.
The city rejected Poe’s project on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the Richmond General Plan. Poe’s subsequent attempts to pass ballot measures that would have green-lit his development and reduced the city manager’s salary both failed.
The Poe family denies that the notice to vacate had anything to do with political retribution.
After Aklilu first received her notice to vacate, Mayor Butt planned a rally outside the eatery that was attended by hundreds of community members. A petition also circulated demanding that Salute remain and a fund was set up to pay for repair costs.
Some community members volunteered their time, resources and expertise in helping Aklilu make some of the requested repairs. Richmond attorney Joshua Genser has been representing Aklilu pro-bono and has been in contact with the Poes’ attorney, Butt said.
Mayor Butt, a veteran architect, even went to inspect the restaurant himself.
Aklilu has gained many friends in the community following her many contributions to local causes. Along with an annual Thanksgiving charity event that serves up a fine-dining meal for more than 1,000 local people in need, she pampers low-income local moms for Mother’s Day, donates to the West County Family Justice Center, a one-stop resource center in Richmond for victims of abuse, and holds etiquette courses at her restaurant for local youth, which teaches life lessons.
She won the prestigious Jefferson Award for her efforts, leading to the formation of the the Menbe’s Way Fund, which sustains and expands her charitable efforts, including assisting local students and schools.
Aklilu is also popular in the community for battling adversity. After escaping an abusive relationship and ending up a homeless single mother, the Ethiopa native traveled to the U.S. and worked her way up from hostess to general manager at Salute’s. She eventually purchased the restaurant, which has become a launching pad for her good deeds in Richmond, West County and beyond.