and Jamison Cocklin
In the span of just four months, the Lemon Grove is on its third name and third business model.
But Jacob Harver, co-owner of the downtown bar and restaurant at 110 W. Federal St., said the business — renamed the Knox Building — is “not in danger of closing.”
While nearby restaurants were busy with customers eating lunch Tuesday afternoon both inside and outside, there was only one customer at the Knox having a soft drink.
Attracting a lunch crowd has been a long-standing problem at the restaurant, which opened at 122 W. Federal St. in August 2009, and moved in June 2012 to 110 W. Federal St., the former location of the Rosetta Stone Cafe and Lounge, which went out of business in August 2010.
Bringing in Guy’s Barbecue three months ago to run the business’s food service and changing the name to Guy’s at the Grove turned out to be a failure.
“I turned it over to Guy’s to see what they could do and it didn’t work as well as I hoped,” Harver said. “Nighttime is always our best. We’ve packed them in the past two weekends, but lunch didn’t do well.”
A new company taking over the food service will be announced later this week, the same time Guy’s will leave, he said.
Another decision made by Harver has drawn concern from other downtown business owners.
Harver hired Brent Furrie, who has run clubs and bars, to help run the Knox’s bar and nightclub area.
Harver says Furrie is a “renowned club owner” who “knows the business and is a great promoter.”
Furrie is also a convicted felon, sentenced in January 2004 to seven years in prison for attempted felonious assault, attempted improper discharge of a firearm at or into a habitation, and a firearms specification for firing a gun at a man outside a Boardman home. The man was not hit, but bullets hit the house. He’s had numerous other arrests dating back to 1997.
Furrie managed Rumors Lounge on North Meridian Road in Austintown, which was destroyed after two arsons in three days in March 2011.
The Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office filed an injunction in March 2012 to close Shotz Bar & Grille on Oakwood Avenue in Austintown, also managed by Furrie, after state liquor agents issued 17 citations to patrons of the bar for underage alcohol sales and criminal activities on Shotz’s grounds. Last January, a deal was struck to keep the bar open as long as it operates legally and does not present a public nuisance.
In an Aug. 6 email to Mayor Charles Sammarone and Police Chief Rod Foley, Christian Rinehart, owner of O’Donold’s Irish Pub at 122 W. Federal St. [the original location of the Lemon Grove], wrote that after making a significant investment in downtown he “believed it necessary to put a stop” to any involvement Furrie might have with the Knox Building’s business operations.
“You can understand I’m not against the Lemon Grove, or a good operation coming in,” Rinehart wrote, “but one [incident] can end anything we as a group have accomplished in the downtown Youngstown area.”
Rinehart is not alone in his concern.
Anthony Farris, the city law director, said the email represents “concerns about the kind of crowd that would be brought in because of the new manager, and owners have expressed some of their concerns about the way he’s operated certain establishments in the past.”
Harver said Rinehart is concerned about losing profits to a new business model at the Knox Building. He said he’s been working closely with Rinehart and other nearby bar owners to allay concerns and continue development of the downtown entertainment district.
“Because someone has a felony conviction, if they served their time it shouldn’t be a factor in how a person does his job,” Harver said. “His track record of promoting clubs is well-documented.”
For Furrie, 35, many of the claims against him are unfounded, he said.
“I was a kid, I screwed up and did my time and now people want to say all this stuff about me,” said Furrie, who started in the industry in 1998.
Both Harver and Furrie said there will be a strict over-21 policy, with identification checked at the door and at the bar. They added that there have been no problems at the Knox Building since Furrie became involved two weeks ago.
Also, Harver has some financial issues.
He purchased a house in July 2006 at 1748 Midland Ave. in Youngstown with a $16,810 market value, according to the county auditor’s website.
Harver said he used the house, in which he doesn’t live, for a “high-interest equity” loan to help pay to renovate the first Lemon Grove.
Harver hasn’t paid property taxes for a few years on the house, which has a lien on it.
“I’m trying to catch up with debt,” he said. “I never had money in my life. When I first opened the Lemon Grove, we were in the hole. The Midland house wasn’t delinquent at the time [I received the loan]. It’s delinquent now because I am running a business.”
After four years using the Lemon Grove name, Harver said he wants a “fresh branding” of the business and chose the Knox Building because it was the location of an S.H. Knox Co. five-and-dime store that opened in the late 19th century, and was rebuilt in 1909 after a fire destroyed the building.
The store became a Woolworth in 1912 and remained there until 1984. It became a Rite-Aid after that until closing in 1999. It then was an office-supply store, then vacant, then Rosetta Stone from 2007 to 2010, then vacant again until Harver partnered with George Lenahan to open the Lemon Grove.