MIDTOWN — The owner of popular Midtown dumpling house Spring has accused his landlord of trying to destroy his business by cloaking it in construction netting and scaffolding.
Mark Yuan, Spring's owner, took his landlord to court in an attempt to bring down the construction shed blocking his West 38th Street restaurant.
Spring specializes in high-quality dumplings using fresh ingredients, based on the northern Chinese cooking of Yuan's mother who often makes the dumplings by hand in the restaurant's kitchen.
The restaurant also offers up "Chinese Tapas" such as pork belly sliders.
Spring has a four-and-a-half star rating on Yelp, with customers praising it as a "great little hidden spot."
The scaffolding went up just before Yuan, who has a 10-year lease on the space at 36 W. 38th St., was set to open in August — and days after he turned down an offer from his landlords at AM Property Holding to buy him out of the space.
The landlord bought the building in August, but has no power to evict Spring as long as the tenant pays rent and treats the space well.
When it went up, the scaffolding was also draped in black construction netting, all but blocking off the restaurant from the street.
The scaffolding is 8-feet high, lower than is typical, Yuan said. The construction netting is typically used to protect buildings from work happening on the street, but Yuan said there's never been any.
"This is malicious," he said.
"The whole time it's been up, there's been not a single soul on there doing any kind of construction work."
Yuan and his wife, Zoe Zhang, quit their office jobs to open Spring, spending months and thousands of dollars converting the space into a cozy restaurant with wood paneling and an exposed brick wall.
But, because of the scaffolding, Yuan said he was unable to open his restaurant until November, months after he had originally planned.
"I still had to pay my rent but I was unable to open," he said.
In a suit filed in September, Yuan argued that the scaffolding shed served "no legitimate purpose" and is "clearly intended to intimidate, harass and pressure" Yuan into accepting a buyout. The suit, which is ongoing, asks for $1.5 million in damages.
In October, a judge ordered AM Property Holding to remove the black netting, but allowed the scaffolding to remain because the landlord argued that the building's facade could crumble and hurt pedestrians.
A survey by architect Diane Kaese found otherwise, Yuan said, and the landlord has not filed any application requiring a construction shed since building the shed itself, according to Department of Buildings records.
Nathan Wasserman, one of the owners of AM Property Holding, did not respond to requests for comment.
In the meantime, Yuan says he's getting by on the lunch crowd and not much else.
"Absolutely every day I have people coming in who think we're still not open," he said.
"The scaffolding, it makes it spooky and dark at night."
Yuan said he just wants the shed to come down so his business can be successful.
"My mom always wanted to do this in the U.S.," he said.
"This is her American dream, so we're not giving up."