The futures of Asolare, Paradiso and Chloe and Bernards, owned by Integrated Assets, were in question as talk of bounced checks and restaurant closing circulated across St. John.
With rumors swirling around the island that three prominent restaurants were on the verge of closing and employees were getting bad checks, former Integrated Assets restuarant owner Winston Bennett called St. John Tradewinds last Friday and responded to the talk on the street.
Having sold Integrated to Michael San Fillipo in 2005, Bennett is now in the process of reclaiming ownership of the corporation since San Fillipo abruptly left island in July.
“I sold Integrated at the end of 2005 to Michael San Fillipo and he defaulted and left island,” said Bennett. “I’m trying to see what I can do to save the assets. This was certainly a surprise to me.”
Bennett acknowledged that bad checks were written to employees, but maintained that it was a transfer snafu, not malicious.
“The fact of the matter is that, yes, there were bad checks,” Bennett said. “It is my understanding that there was a problem with a payroll transfer and employees were asked to hold on to the checks and that didn’t happen.”
The former restauranteur, however, denied any part in the fiasco.
“I don’t have anything to do with the checks,” said Bennett. “Coby Cooper is the manager and it’s my understanding that he has been signing checks in Michael’s absence.”
Bennett has actually been using his own funds and spending his own time to try to keep the restaurants open, he explained.
“I actually don’t have any ownership yet,” Bennett said. “We’re going to go to court to regain ownership, and in the meantime, I’ve been doing what I can to help keep the restaurants open. I’ve been putting in my own money to keep them going.”
Asolare, Paradiso and Chloe and Bernards are expected to be open for season, according to Bennett.
“The restaurants will be staying open — unless the world comes to an end — that is the intention,” he said. “We have new people coming on board and there is no intention of closing the restaurants.”
Bennett hopes to have the ownership in place and all three restaurants ready to go for high season, he explained.
“We’re going to work through the process and while nothing is for certain, I know a lot of people depend on the restaurants for their incomes and we’re going to try to get them ready for season,” said Bennett. “I hope to have everything stabilized and to work through the process of ownership.”
The worst of the problems are hopefully in the past for the owner and employees of Integrated Assets, Bennett added.
“There were, I think, absolutely problems and with the condition of the economy. There were some serious issues with late pay and payroll,” he said. “But I think they are working through those issues and we hope to have people caught up as soon as possible. It’s tough for everyone.”
The company also owned Chateaux Bordeaux, which has been closed for months. The lease expired on the location and Bennett has no intention of reopening a restaurant there, he said.