AGOURA HILLS, Calif. (FOX 11) - A popular Italian restaurant in Agoura Hills shut down unexpectedly this week, not because of a lack of customers, but because of a lack of parking and water.
Osteria Orto enjoyed steady business for lunch and dinner, but Tuesday Chef Francesco Pesce served his last bowl of pasta.
The restaurant is located at Lake Lindero Country club, right next to the putting green. Francesco says the trouble started not long after Chris Barone took over the management of the club in July 2019.
Osteria Orto has been at the club and open to the public for three years. The club questions the validity of the restaurant's lease because it originated with the previous management company.
Chef Pesce says he has a judge on his side.
"I have a lease with David Smith and GPL and the judge hasn't said, you're out yet, the judge said to us, you still have seven years."
Barone has other complaints, claiming there are unpaid sales tax and utility bills and the restaurant's owner is not properly included on the club's seller's permit.
"That's the right that we have to sell taxable items. They don't have one and we do and we have to pay the sales tax," said Barone.
Pesce counters that the restaurant has always paid their sales tax and other fees to the club. He claims, they're all paid up and says any outstanding bills only exist because the club didn't bill the restaurant, as was past practice.
What could have been just a legal battle or personal skirmish turned ugly recently when the restaurant found customers turned away from the parking lot, or they found the gate chained and locked. Customers had to park on the street and hike up a dark staircase and across an unlit parking lot to get to the restaurant.
"It was embarrassing. The gate was closed, people had to walk around. It's completely dark, no light at all," Pesce said.
Then this week, the club turned up the heat by turning off the water and then the gas.
"These are all things we're doing to protect the restaurant, the property and the people here," Barone said.
"Lock off the parking lot?" Fox 11's Susan Hirasuna asked.
"As is our right, when you're four months late and owe us $40,000," Barone responded.
But, again, Pesce says he's paid up and has a valid lease. He is looking for a new location but isn't planning on giving up on the Lake Lindero Country Club location. An empty restaurant means, no revenue and because, in part, the rent payment is based on sales, Pesce says both he and the club will be out of a lot of money.