The owner of the Boulevard Mall has won a $1.2 million judgment in a lawsuit that accused the Original Honey's restaurant chain of failing to pay rent and of shutting down its store in the mall eight years before its lease was set to expire.
Cleveland-based Forest City sued Honey's, third-generation owner Larry Pacifico and another party, Michael Hamilton of Niagara Falls, in 2014 in State Supreme Court in Erie County under the name Boulevard Mall SPE LLC, according to court records.
The now-defunct Honey’s restaurant opened its first store in 1962 in Niagara Falls on Pine Avenue near 27th Street. It was known for the giant, illuminated elephant sign outside the building and was a mainstay for decades in the city's “Little Italy” neighborhood before closing in January 2016.
The Pacifico family opened their second restaurant in the Boulevard Mall in 2011, with rent commencing on Sept. 1, according to the lawsuit.
A copy of the 10-year lease filed with the suit states Honey's owed fixed minimum rent of $106,232 per year for each of the first three years, an amount that would go up for years four through seven and again for years eight through 10. Honey's also owed rent based on a percentage of its revenue, as well as additional rent tied to the size of its store that would increase annually.
The suit claims Honey's, Pacifico and Hamilton defaulted on their obligations under the lease within two years of the store opening.
Honey's continued operating its restaurant until vacating the mall on or around Dec. 16, 2013, according to the lawsuit. The suit said this happened without notice and without the mall's owner receiving payment.
The mall had already made plans to begin eviction proceedings, and filed a verified petition in Amherst Town Court on Jan. 9, 2014. Six days later, Town Justice Geoffrey Klein awarded the mall $968,287, including rent, future rent, late fees, attorney's fees and other costs in a judgment against Honey's Amherst.
Soon after closing the Boulevard Mall location, Honey's announced on Jan. 1, 2014, that it was opening a new location in the former Fuddruckers restaurant at 4300 Maple Road. That restaurant was open until February 2016.
Original Honey's of Niagara Falls filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015, with the mall listed as the largest debtor, but the petition was dismissed later that year.
The mall asked State Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak to order Pacifico, Hamilton and Honey's to pay the original Amherst Town Court judgment and any interest that accrued between July 2014 and the date of any judgment.
The defendants, in their response, asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They denied the central argument in the lawsuit, that the Honey's entities are legally connected to each other, and that Pacifico controls each company, but did so without elaborating.
Nowak granted the mall a summary judgment in January. The $1.2 million includes the original award of $968,287 plus $244,490 in interest.
Brian Calvert, the mall's general manager, and Joseph M. Hanna, the attorney from Goldberg Segalla representing the mall, declined comment on the litigation. Pacifico and his former attorneys, A. Angelo DiMillo and David C. Douglas, did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment.