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Unpaid Rent Prompts Seizure of Oven, Espresso Machine at Ugly Mug Cafe

By Alisa Hauser | April 29, 2015 9:18am
 Mikky Wright (from l.), owner of the Ugly Mug Cafe, with baristas Hannah Ayers and Lindsay Sherman at the West Town location.
Mikky Wright (from l.), owner of the Ugly Mug Cafe, with baristas Hannah Ayers and Lindsay Sherman at the West Town location.
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Mikky Wright

NOBLE SQUARE — A cafe that has attracted a loyal throng of regulars but suffered a slow winter was forced to partially close Wednesday over a rent dispute that resulted in a seizure of Ugly Mug Cafe's oven, coffee grinder and espresso machines.

But there will be "cold sandwiches and cold press coffee today though," said owner Mikky Wright.

The trouble started shortly after 6:30 a.m., when barista Kate Knudson came into the cafe at 1458 W. Chicago Ave. to prepare eggs in the oven for breakfast sandwiches.

"A guy in a suit came in, asked for Mik. I said he's not in. Then the man in the suit issued a warrant of distress, because he hadn't paid the last two months rent. Then another man came in to take equipment and said, 'You might want to call your boss,'" Knudson said.

Alisa Hauser details why rent wasn't paid and what happens next:

Daniel Hawkins, a lawyer representing the landlord, KKW, confirmed that a distress warrant, which allows confiscation of property to cover debts, was executed against Wright, and equipment was taken.

The landlord is seeing unpaid rent of $5,511.28 for a portion of February and all of March and April, Hawkins said.

"I wasn't expecting having to turn off the oven with raw eggs [in it]," said Knudson, a 28-year-old Lakeview resident.  

Knudson added, "They were making a mess, and I didn't want to see them destroy things. It was an ugly and uncomfortable scene, so I just took my stuff and went home."

Hawkins said there was no legal notice required for the issuing of the distress warrant and subsequent seizure, since an April 20 deadline for paying back rent had passed.

"A distress warrant is a method of collecting back rent. An eviction is a method of terminating someone's tenancy," Hawkins said.

Knudson said there was one customer, a regular, who entered the cafe in the midst of the commotion. 

"I gave her a scone and said it's on the house. She left before I could try to get her coffee," she said.

Wright called the distress warrant "a bully move."

"It's like cutting us off at the knees. I can get the machines back if I pay back rent, but I need the machines to operate," Wright said.

Wright said that the value of the espresso machine, three espresso hoppers, a grinder, and a conveyor oven is about $8,000. 

He said he pays $2,750 a month in rent and was prepared to pay May's rent on Friday.

"I have eight employees I care about deeply. It was a rough winter for everyone. We are all sticking together on this," Wright said, adding that he is contacting a lawyer to see if there is a way to get the machines back.

Knudson said she hopes Wright can pay the rent so the cafe can stay open.

"It was a lot of fun. I kind of hope this isn't the end of it. It was a happy environment. We have 20 or more regulars every morning and afternoon regulars too, a steady good flow," she said. 

Ugly Mug Cafe opened in August 2013.

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