The Hollywood Diner will continue with its current operator, Richard T. White, at least for the immediate future. The Board of Estimates pulled the diner's lease termination from its agenda after Comptroller Joan M. Pratt agreed to give White more time to secure funding.
The board was to decide at Wednesday morning's meeting whether to terminate White's 18-month lease early; the original lease wasn't set to expire until next spring. But in a side room prior to the Board of Estimates meeting, Pratt informed White that her office was granting him more time to right the diner's finances.
"You will continue to operate, and I encourage you to continue to do everything you said you would to turn this around," Pratt told him. She said she's requiring White to provide her with monthly updates.
In its first six months of operations, the diner reported revenue of about $18,900 and expenses of $24,600, according to a progress report provided to the Board of Estimates by the Department of Real Estate, which leases the property and was recommending the lease termination.
In addition to being a traditional diner, it also serves as a culinary-arts youth training program — a requirement for operators of the city-owned property.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she's worried that White is saddled with a business model that cannot succeed. She encouraged Pratt to reevaluate the diner's financial status after three-to-six months.
"This has been a model that hasn't worked," Rawlings-Blake said. "At what point are we making a determination that the underlying model is the problem?"
White encouraged board members to visit the diner and patronize the business. He said he never conceded that he would abandon the business as was indicated in board documents.
"I never intended on leaving," White said. "I never agreed to it in writing or otherwise."
Pratt said she is encouraged that White is seeking grants to fund the diner, and wants to give him an opportunity to succeed. She said she believes the diner is doing a good job in providing job training to young people.
"We want the program to work," Pratt said. "He needs to pay his bills and he needs to pay his employees if he wants them to show up. The restaurant business is not easy."