Fate of Noah’s Ark, a 75-year-old Des Moines eatery, now the subject of family dispute

Loss of restaurant’s lease would be ‘devastating,’ owner says

By: - May 3, 2022 3:19 pm

The fate of a 75-year-old restaurant that has become a central Iowa institution may soon be in the hands of a Polk County judge. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The fate of a 75-year-old restaurant that has become a central Iowa institution may soon be in the hands of a Polk County judge.

A dispute among members of the Lacona family, which founded the Noah’s Ark restaurant in Des Moines, has spilled into court, with one faction representing a trust that owns the real estate and one faction representing the company that operates the restaurant.

Historic Noah’s Ark restaurant in Des Moines is fighting to remain in its Ingersoll Avenue location. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Noah Lacona founded the well-known Italian restaurant in 1947 and died in 2017 at age 93. His wife, Sara Ann, also known as Sally, died a year later. One of the couple’s children, Anntoinette Erickson, now represents the Noah L. and Sara Ann Lacona Revocable Trust, which owns the real estate where the restaurant still operates.

Noah’s Management, the company that runs the restaurant, includes as a member Nora Beth Lacona, the widow of James Lacona, who was the son of Noah and Sara Ann.

Nora Beth Lacona and the management company are now seeking an emergency temporary injunction that would prevent Anntoinette Erickson and the trust from terminating the lease between the two entities and shutting down the restaurant at 2408 Ingersoll Ave.

Lease dispute dates back to 2020

According to court records, the trust first attempted to terminate the lease in March 2020. The management company then went to court to block that move, arguing the trust had failed to pay real estate taxes on the property or pay for improvements to the building.

The case was then transferred from Polk County District Court to Iowa Business Specialty Court, where a judge successfully mediated a settlement agreement between the parties.

In recent days, however, the management company has returned to district court, claiming the trust has no intention of honoring the agreement and is again taking steps to terminate the lease. According to the management company, the trust has received an offer from a third party, Woodsonia Acquisitions, to purchase and redevelop the property.

Noah’s Management claims the trust is obligated to give it the right of first refusal on any sale, which means the trust should allow the management company to purchase the property for the same price offered by Woodsonia.

“Noah’s Ark enjoys a fine reputation in this community and the termination of the lease would be devastating,” Nora Beth Lacona states in an affidavit to the court.

The management company claims that while the trust may cite nonpayment of rent as a reason for terminating the lease, rent has been paid into an escrow account pending the resolution of other issues related to the trust’s alleged failure to comply with its obligations under the agreement, such as maintaining the property.

Owners: Loss of lease may put Noah’s out of business

In filings with the court, Noah’s Management says that if the lease is terminated, the building that now houses a “beloved” Des Moines restaurant will be sold to Woodsonia, an out-of-state development company, with the result being that “Noah’s Ark may effectively be put out of business.”

A hearing on the motion for a temporary injunction has been scheduled for Friday.

Last year, Nora Beth and her son, James Lacona II, sued the trust over property that they said the trust was claiming as its own. The property includes a 1980 Corvette and a 1965 Thunderbird. That case is scheduled for trial in November.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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