The eatery was asked to leave after Annette Sabatino — who has run the Zagat-rated restaurant with her husband Perry Chrisciatelli since the 1980s — fell behind on rent last month because of a difficult winter season, she said.
“It feels like my heart’s ripped out,” said Sabatino, 71, who was born and raised a block away.
An eviction notice was served to the restaurant on March 18 and the couple was given five business days to vacate the space, according to the document.
The storefront at 151 Mulberry St. has always been a part of 71-year-old restaurateur’s life, said Sabatino, who has emphysema and carries around an oxygen tank.
Her grandmother ran a store selling dried fruit there for decades — a photo of her in front of the space hangs in the museum’s window — and she took over the space when the previous owner offered it to her, Sabatino said.
Her husband gutted the space and added a back dining area with a skylight before they opened in the late 1980s, Sabatino said. The owner, they said, promised to sell them the property on a handshake but sold to the Italian American Museum in 2008 instead.
At the time, the couple was paying about $9,000 in rent, but the museum wanted to quadruple it, Chrisciatelli, 65, said. The couple negotiated a new lease with the Italian American Museum and paid $180,000 in past use and occupancy, but the museum’s bank did not approve it, the couple’s attorney, Bruce Lederman said.
The owners and the museum went to court in 2010, records show, but a judge ruled in favor of the museum in 2013, saying that the couple’s agreement with the previous landlord was unenforceable because it was not written down, said their attorney, Bruce Lederman.
The lease they negotiated with the museum was also unenforceable because the bank did not approve it, Lederman added.
However, the Italian American Museum decided to issue a writ of assistance, giving Il Palazzo three months to stay in the space as long as they followed the conditions set forth in a stipulation, Lederman said.
Since the 2013 ruling, the restaurant has been following a series of three-month stipulations, the owners’ attorney said.
According to the most recent stipulation, Il Palazzo could stay until the end of March as long as the owners paid its $17,000 rent by the first of each month. If it missed a payment, however, the museum could evict the restaurant before the end of the agreement.
Sabatino and Chrisciatelli said they paid their rent on time before February but had to submit it late that month because the winter season had been a difficult one for the restaurant.
“We had a bad winter,” Sabatino said. “We didn’t make any money.”
When they tried to pay the next month’s rent, the museum would not accept their money, they said.
The Italian American Museum declined to comment on the closure, saying only that the couple’s claims were “grossly inaccurate.”
The restaurant is not the only tenant in the building facing eviction. The Italian American Museum is also looking to evict an 85-year-old grandmother, who has lived in her apartment since 1962.
A museum spokesman previously said it wanted to expand its footprint within the property. The museum’s founder and president Joseph V. Scelsa told the New York Times in 2013 said the museum wanted to sell the building to a developer and move into the space built on the property.
“He wants to stay there but he wants to throw us out,” said Sabatino, who moved to Staten Island to be closer to her son and grandchildren about 10 years ago.
Sabatino, who also owns Da Nico at 164 Mulberry St., said skyrocketing rents have made it difficult for local eateries to stay afloat. She noted two other neighborhood restaurants, Ristorante SPQR and Novella, that had recently closed because of rent hikes.
“It really is a shame that all these rents in the area are $30, $40,000 a month,” Sabatino said. “It’s nuts what’s going on.”