Court blocks proposed sale of Noah’s Ark restaurant

By: - August 26, 2022 3:09 pm

A Polk County judge has issued an injunction blocking the planned sale of Noah's Ark restaurant in Des Moines. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The managers of Des Moines’ Noah’s Ark restaurant have won a temporary injunction that prevents the restaurant from being sold, at least until a trial can be held next spring.

In May, the owners of the real estate were enjoined from terminating the lease of the restaurant. The action had the added effect of discouraging the owners’ efforts to sell the building that houses the 75-year-old eatery to a developer.

Last week’s issuance of an injunction has the effect of prohibiting any sale of the property, regardless of the lease, until a long-running dispute between the landowners and the restaurant managers can be resolved at trial or through a settlement.

The dispute pits two factions of the Lacona family against each other. On one side is the faction that has run the restaurant since 1947, now doing business as Noah’s Management. On the other side is the faction of the family that owns the real estate and is now doing business as the Noah L. and Sara Ann Lacona Revocable Trust.

The trust hopes to sell the site in the 2400 block of Ingersoll Avenue by selling the property to a developer. Noah’s Management opposes such a sale and wants to keep the restaurant open and in the Lacona family.

Court records indicate that recently, the trust notified Noah’s Management and its owners, Nora Beth Lacona that their right of first refusal to buy the property from the trust was set to expire on Aug. 6.

On Aug. 5, the management company went to court and sought a formal, temporary injunction blocking any sale.

In an affidavit attached to that motion, Nora Beth Lacona told the court that the trust had already entered into an agreement with Woodsonia Acquisitions to sell the land and the business, adding that “the trust appears to be motivated by profit.”

The trust, she said, was attempting to avoid a sale to the family members who run the restaurant because the restaurant’s founder, Noah Lacona, had crafted a lease agreement that included terms of sale favorable to family members who would keep the restaurant open.

Polk County District Judge David Nelmark issued an order late last week, granting the management company’s motion for a temporary injunction. It prohibits the trust from selling, transferring, or conveying the property to anyone else, at least until a trial, now scheduled for March 20, 2023, could be held.

At the same time, Nelmark declined to enter any orders regarding the validity of the management’s claim that it has a purchase option on the property. In light of the injunction, Nelmark said, the restaurant’s managers will suffer no irreparable harm from the absence of a ruling on that issue.

Lease dispute centers on building repairs

During the hearing in May, restaurant manager James Lacona II testified that while he hadn’t paid rent directly to the family trust that owns the real estate, he has placed each month’s rent in an escrow account pending the resolution of claims that the trust has failed to maintain the property as required by the lease.

His attorneys presented evidence that on more than one occasion, the managers had notified the trust, in writing, of repairs that were needed at the restaurant. Some repairs, such as the installation of a new water heater, had to be handled immediately and so the management company and Nora Beth Lacona absorbed the cost.

James Lacona II testified that when the cost of the necessary improvements is combined with the cost of repairs already paid for by the management company, the dollar amount exceeds any rent that Noah’s Management owes to the trust.

The trust is run by Anntoinette Erickson, one of the children of Noah Lacona and his wife, Sara Ann, who was better known as Sally.

The hearing in May stemmed from Nora Beth Lacona’s request for an emergency temporary injunction that would prevent Erickson and the trust from terminating the lease. In his testimony, James Lacona II told the court that if the lease was terminated, the restaurant would be forced to close as it currently has no options for relocating.

In a separate case, James Lacona II and his mother, Nora Beth Lacona, sued the trust last year 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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