WELLFLEET — A post on social media on the last day of August announced that Trudy Vermehren, the owner of the popular year-round Fox & Crow Café, was closing her doors for the month of September “to assess her options.”
Vermehren’s attorney, Bruce Bierhans, wrote the post “in the interest of forestalling rumors and innuendo.” There had been a sprinkling of comments from the public in the last few weeks suggesting that Vermehren was planning to close permanently.
Vermehren is currently in a court battle with her landlords, John O’Toole and Grant Hester, who own the property at 70 Main St. where she leases a building for the café. The pair, who run the Copper Swan Inn and Lounge on the same property, are pursuing a summary process to evict Vermehren, filed in Orleans District Court.
Tensions between landlord and tenant had been mounting throughout the late spring, and O’Toole and Hester served Vermehren with an eviction notice in July, saying she owed them a month’s rent, $6,000, plus an $8,000 payment for rooms she had leased for employees to use and an overdue share of a utility bill.
Bierhans sent the owners a letter explaining that Vermehren was withholding payment for the employee housing due to substandard living conditions there and was waiting for instructions on where to submit the month’s rent, which was to cover the final month of a newly signed five-year lease. The utility bill, which Bierhans said had been miscalculated, was promptly paid, he wrote.
Since the two rent payments continued to be withheld, the landlords began the formal eviction process in the Orleans court.
Vermehren responded to the landlords’ filing with her own complaint, seeking $200,000 in damages from O’Toole and Hester for failing to meet their contractual obligations, which she says has resulted in loss of investment, employees, and business.
After closing for a few days, the Fox & Crow reopened for the month of August despite the ongoing court battle, though with limited hours and a scaled-back menu.
This time, in announcing the temporary closure, Bierhans wrote that, whatever decision is made regarding the future of the Fox & Crow, the lawsuit filed by Vermehren against O’Toole and Hester will proceed and ultimately go to trial. “And, as in all cases, facts and evidence will tell the story,” Bierhans wrote.
The Common Table, a nonprofit set up by Verhmehren with Wellfleet residents Kristen Shantz and Debra Robbins that has operated in the past from the Fox & Crow providing free meals to those in need, will continue to function in another location if that becomes necessary, according to Bierhans’s post.
In mid-August, Bierhans filed a motion asking the court to consolidate the eviction case filed by the landlords and Vermehren’s suit for damages, which would result in the cases being heard on the same timetable.
Brian Widegren, who represents O’Toole and Hester, filed his opposition to the consolidation motion on Aug. 30. “The summary process action is a simple straightforward matter based upon the allegation the Fox & Crow failed to pay rent due under its lease,” he wrote. “The factual basis of the summary process action is essentially undeniable and irrefutable.”
Vermehren’s suit for damages is more complicated, “involving a number of factual disputes,” Widegren wrote, and “will not be ready for trial for a significant amount of time.” He called Bierhans’s request to consolidate the cases an attempt to slow down the eviction process.
Meanwhile, accusations and denials have gone back and forth. In their response to Vermehren’s suit, O’Toole and Hester alleged that the Fox & Crow owner had brought in a front-end loader and dug into a hill in the rear of the parking lot to create more spaces, which has caused the hill to erode. Vermehren denied the accusation in her own court filing.
O’Toole and Hester also claimed Vermehren attempted to delay their opening of a new lounge on the property by stashing calamari, clams, and rotting fish in the rafters of the lounge to create a stench and attract flies. Vermehren denied this in her response to the court.
A GoFundMe page was started by the Friends of the Fox & Crow several weeks ago to help Vermehren with expenses. The amount collected there has steadily grown to $8,410.