After just one month in business, Ivory Keys Piano Bar (14701 Detroit Ave.) is closed. Last Saturday, employees were prevented from entering the premises thanks to locks placed on the front door by the landlord, says one disgruntled staffer.
“It’s closed now," says Julia Kristi. “I hired all the employees for him and got it up and running for him.”
Kristi says that there were signs of impending doom from the start, a situation that quickly snowballed out of control.
“Obviously, I wasn’t working for free,” she says. “He wasn’t paying anything. He owes me like eight grand. He also told the servers when they started that he wasn’t going to pay out their credit tips right away, which ended up being not at all; he’s holding all of them. He didn’t pay anyone a paycheck and the only money people were getting were the cash tips. Even the performers didn’t get paid.”
Owner Thomas Russo agrees that the business plan was flawed, but denies owing any money except for two small amounts less than $200. Performers were paid in cash or by checks that cleared, he says. As for Kristi’s outstanding balance, he says it's greatly inflated.
Russo, at least, accepts full responsibility when it comes to passing out blame. His business plan revolved around presenting quality live shows for free in the hopes that attendees would liberally spend money while there. That did not happen, he says.
“I agree with you that it was a bad business plan, because you can’t give free shows; you can’t support it,” he notes. “I’d be packed and hardly anybody would be spending money. I know I was only open a short time, but I wasn’t making any profit there and I couldn’t see hemorrhaging more of my money to keep something afloat.”
Compounding things, he claims, were slow weekdays and stiff neighborhood competition for entertainment dollars.
“I agree that there was major amounts of money that were owed too quickly off the beginning, there wasn’t time for me to build it up, I had a landlord that had zero patience with me…,” he rattles off.
Here’s something I think all sides can agree on:
“It was a horrible adventure in Lakewood,” Russo admits.
His former employees certainly agree. Here's what one person, who preferred to remain anonymous, told us about Russo's failures.
"When a person is starting up a small business, or investing in business, does not have the funds to back up their idea, it not only hurts the business or the owner, it also hurts the employees and everyone involved in attempting to make that business a success, while also trying to make money and feed their own families. When employees and distributors are not paid, livelihoods are affected and hurt, other businesses are affected, and local negative impacts snowball like what we have going on today. All in all when someone does not take a business venture/investment seriously, the entire community is hurt."