After mediation fails, dispute over Noah’s Ark restaurant heads toward trial

By: - December 13, 2022 12:14 pm

After mediation failed, the family dispute over Noah's Ark restaurant in Des Moines is headed toward trial. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The family fight over the future of Des Moines’ Noah’s Ark restaurant has escalated with the filing of new legal claims against the property owners.

In May, the owners of the Ingersoll Avenue real estate where the 75-year-old restaurant is located were enjoined from terminating their relatives’ lease to operate the restaurant. The court action blocked the owners’ efforts to sell the real estate to a developer.

In August, a temporary injunction was issued, prohibiting any sale of the property, regardless of the lease, until a long-running dispute between the landowners and the restaurant managers could be resolved at trial or through a settlement.

Now, the faction of the Lacona family that operates the restaurant has amended its original lawsuit against the property owners to include a new claim for breach of contract. As part of that court filing, the restaurant’s management says the property owners have failed to sign and abide by an “agreement” that was reached during mediation. The new petition seeks to make permanent the temporary injunction blocking a sale.

The court filing is the latest indication that the long-running dispute between the two factions of the Lacona family may only be settled through litigation and a court ruling.

The battle pits Lacona family members who run the restaurant and do business as Noah’s Management against relatives who own the real estate and do business as the Noah L. and Sara Ann Lacona Revocable Trust.

The trust has attempted to sell the property to a developer. Noah’s Management opposes such a sale and wants to keep the restaurant open and in the Lacona family.

Noah’s Management and one of its owners, Nora Beth Lacona, has alleged that the trust is trying to avoid selling the property to her because the restaurant’s founder, Noah Lacona, crafted a lease agreement years ago that includes terms of sale that are favorable to any family members who would keep the eatery open.

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. A trial in the case is now scheduled for March 20, 2023.

During a court 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.

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.

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.

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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.