LOWER EAST SIDE — "Cesspool" sludge and decaying mouse carcasses doomed the much-buzzed-about Mission Chinese Food restaurant, according to a lawsuit filed by celebrity chef Danny Bowien and his partners against their former landlord.
The restaurateurs are demanding at least $500,000 from Abraham Noy, owner of 154 Orchard St., to make up for their lost profits and "immeasurable harm to their reputations and brand" after the restaurant was shut down twice by the Health Department and closed for good last year, court records show.
The lawsuit, filed July 31 in Manhattan Supreme Court, accuses Noy of leasing Mission Chinese a space that was not up to code and then refusing to make repairs even though structural issues contributed to a rodent problem so severe that a "cesspool" of sludge and mouse corpses was discovered in a storage closet, according to the suit.
“As a result of these wrongful acts... [Mission Chinese] was forced to discontinue and abandon their use of the property," the suit says.
Noy's lawyer said his client denied the lawsuit's allegations, but declined to comment further. The lawyer for Mission Chinese declined to comment.
Bowien and his business partners — Anthony Myint, Gregory Wong and Dennis Kim — opened Mission Chinese on the Lower East Side in 2012, serving American-Chinese fusion dishes like salt cod fried rice and “Kung Pao” pastrami.
The team had previously run a Mission Chinese pop-up in San Francisco, but this was their first time negotiating a lease and evaluating a commercial space — and Noy took advantage of their inexperience, the lawsuit alleges.
After the restaurant opened, problems soon came to light. The eatery's backyard dining space had been constructed illegally, and would have needed hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to bring it up to code, the lawsuit said. The Department of Buildings issued a violation to Mission Chinese for the illegal construction, though it was done before the restaurant took over the space, according to the suit.
The other major issue was a rodent infestation that appeared soon after Mission Chinese moved into the space and worsened when workers began excavating a vacant lot next-door, the suit says.
The Department of Health shut down the restaurant in October and November 2013, noting “significant mouse activity," a DOH spokesman said.
An exterminator Mission Chinese hired warned the restaurant that "the building was ‘vulnerable externally and internally’" and traced the problem to a locked storage room that Mission Chinese could not access, according to court papers.
Mission Chinese hired a second exterminator who finally got into the storage room in November and discovered "an absolute cesspool: drain water and sludge emptying into a veritable swamp with corpses of mice littering the ground," the restaurant says in the lawsuit. "[The exterminator] stated that this location was the worst health risk he had seen in years."
As the problems mounted, Mission Chinese's owners tried to get Noy, their landlord, to repair the building and clean up the infested storage room, but Noy "flatly refused to rectify the situation," according to the suit.
The restaurant's owners were willing to temporarily shut down the eatery and put tens of thousands of dollars into fixing the issues, but Noy demanded that they continue paying about two-thirds of their rent during the process, according to the suit.
Mission Chinese never reopened following the second Health Department-ordered shutdown, and in April the owners began fighting Noy to get out of their lease.
However, negotiations stalled as Noy demanded additional money from Mission Chinese and refused to return the restaurant's security deposit of more than $36,000, according to the suit.
Mission Chinese filed the suit to officially be released from the lease and to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from the ordeal, court papers say.
Since the restaurant's closure, Bowien, who won a James Beard Award for rising star chef of the year in 2013, has launched a couple of smaller pop-ups at Frankie's 457 in Brooklyn and Mile End Deli in Manhattan.