Restaurant owners sue Baltimore Co. developer, claim racism

The family that owns Cibo's Bar & Grill hase filed a federal lawsuit against landlord David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd. and three of the company's employees, alleging racial discrimination against the Owings Mills restaurant.

Alessandro, Rinaldo and Sergio Vitale claim in 26-page suit filed last Friday that Brown workers — Howard Brown, Lee Sachs and Carmella Bell — forced Cibo's out of business over the past decade after its clientele became majority African-American, and then scuttled the restaurant's sale to a black couple.

They allegedly charged arbitrary rent amounts, turned off the lights in common areas, denied the restaurant use of a patio and wouldn't allow certain signage, the court filing claims.

"As the racial mix of the clientele changed, all of the Defendants became progressively more hostile to the Plaintiffs," the lawsuit said. "Brown, Sachs and Bell would refer to Cibo's African-America clientele as the 'Element,' the 'Undesirable Element' or '[N-words].'"

David S. Brown Enterprises, also based in Owings Mills, declined to comment Thursday.

The Vitales also own Aldo's in Little Italy. They signed a lease for Cibo's with Brown Enterprises in 2002 and said they later found a buyer for that restaurant in 2008. But the defendants held up the deal by "unreasonably withholding consent" for a lease assignment and asked the buyers — an African-American couple — if they planned to open a "chicken and waffle shack," the complaint said.

The nine-count lawsuit alleges civil rights violations, contract interference and breach of contract, and abuse of process, among other things. It seeks punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000

An attorney for the plaintiffs could not be reached Thursday evening.

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