Gianni’s Italian Bistro, a long-standing restaurant in Halethorpe, closed earlier this month.
Owners Greg and Colleen Orendorff decided to shut the restaurant amid a drawn-out and expensive legal dispute with their landlord, said David Goldberg, the Orendorff’s lawyer.
“They didn’t close because they wanted to,” Goldberg said.
The decision was made shortly before their last day open, Goldberg said, after he sat down with his clients and discussed the increasing costs of lawsuits, which were filed in February.
Amy Himmel, a server who worked at Gianni’s for slightly more than a year, said the restaurant’s 20 to 25 employees found out the restaurant would be closing on Dec. 4. The restaurant’s last day was Dec. 6.
On Dec. 4, the company’s Facebook page was still posting as if it would remain open, advertising future specials in the coming week.
The news, Himmel said, was a shock.
“With the holidays coming, that made it harder,” she said. “You build relationships with people, customers and coworkers. To lose all that so suddenly, you go through a lot of different feelings.”
Goldberg said a dispute began when the restaurant began to smell of natural gas, and the property owner, Merritt Properties, could not find the source of the leak in order to fix it for six months. (Natural gas is odorless; a chemical is added to help detect potential leaks).
A spokeswoman for Merritt, Missy Teague, declined to comment, saying the company is “not at liberty to discuss the details of this ongoing litigation.”
The restaurant, Goldberg said, “had a real hit on business” for those six months — he said in that time, the restaurant’s sales fell about 70 percent and it fell behind on the $13,200 monthly rent.
The parties each sued each other earlier this year, Goldberg said, and costs have been piling up since, between legal expenses and rent.
Finally, this month, in order to “mitigate the damages” from the lawsuit and accruing rent, “they had no choice but to hand in the keys,” Goldberg said.
The Orendorffs did not immediately return a request for comment.
Gianni’s opened nearly a decade ago, according to a 2008 Baltimore Sun restaurant review.
“It being in the community for as long as it was, it had a lot of regulars, people who came in every day,” Himmel said. “It sucks to have to lose all that.”
The Orendorffs are also part owners of Franco’s Italian Bistro in Catonsville, according to a previous report.
Goldberg said that to his knowledge, the Orendorffs have no plans to reopen Gianni’s at another location. “It’s not on the horizon,” Goldberg said.
Himmel, who worked at Gianni’s full time, is in the process of looking for a new job, but said she will miss her old one.
“It was a very sad day when it closed up,” Himmel said. “I feel like I lost part of my family.”
This article was updated to reflect that Franco’s Italian Bistro is in Catonsville.