Sushi store forced to move after 'eviction'
St Pierre's, the takeaway chain which helped popularise sushi across New Zealand, is being kicked out of its original store after more than a quarter of a century, following a protracted battle over rent.
The company, which began in 1984 as a seafood delicatessen in the basement of BNZ Tower (now named State Insurance Tower) in central Wellington, will leave next month after landlord AMP New Zealand Office Trust (ANZO), granted its lease to another party without notice.
Claiming its payment record was strong at its 29 other stores across New Zealand, the four brothers who established the business with money borrowed from their Greek immigrant father, insist a decision to pay no rent for three months was a protest over their eviction.
ANZO said it sought a new tenant because St Pierre's has been behind on rent – to at least some extent – for more than half of the months since it bought the building in 2004.
The Katsoulis brothers opened St Pierre's – the term the French use for John Dory – in 1984 as a seafood deli, selling common types of fish as well as frog's legs and caviar. It was later expanded to Auckland, and now specialises in takeaway Japanese food, having helped develop the concept in New Zealand in the early 1990s.
But the original store never moved, surviving recessions, changes of government and increasing competition from street level food sales in the central business district.
Director Nick Katsoulis said the store was emotionally important to the business.
"At the end of the day, it's just a property, but it has real sentimental value," Katsoulis said, adding that the bond with the site meant they would probably have kept it open, even if it was unprofitable.
"It's a good business though. We still serve at least 3000 customers a week here, 12,000 or 15,000 a month."
Despite strong trading, the brothers baulked at a 35 per cent rent hike in 2008, refusing to pay the increase, eventually agreeing a new rent at the start of the year.
But in March "through the grapevine" the directors discovered the lease had been granted to another tenant, believed to be opening another sushi outlet.
Katsoulis said the incident was the first time the company had been refused a new lease. Having been a loyal tenant "even when the place was half empty" he believed they deserved more respect.
"We thought that given the fact that we'd been here for so many years we'd at least be given the opportunity ... to at least have the chance to pay what they [ANZO] thought the market was." A replacement store is planned in Cable Car Centre.
ANZO chief executive Scott Pritchard said St Pierre's had been behind on its rent for more than half of the months since the company bought the building in 2004.
"It's as simple as that. For the last three months they haven't paid us a bean," Pritchard said, arguing that refusing to pay bills did not necessarily make it a dispute.
"If someone doesn't pay their rent, surely we should be able to lease the space to someone else," Pritchard said.
Perry Katsoulis said the recent non-payment was a protest out of frustration at being powerless to prevent the site being taken from them.
Payment was being arranged and the company would have paid all its bills before it left, he said.