Owner of Curry Patta and Jeff Thomas spar over who’s to blame for restaurant’s closure

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Nadia Raza, the owner of Curry Patta in Altamont Corners plaza, said she’s being pushed out of her current location by the plaza’s owner, Jeff Thomas, with a year left on her lease.

ALTAMONT — Nadia Raza, the owner of Curry Patta restaurant, took to social media early Saturday morning to let the members of The Altamont Community Facebook page know that she was “being thrown out of our current location” at the start of the New Year.

What followed was an outpouring of support for Raza and her Pakistani restaurant, which has received rave reviews from food critics, and of enmity for the owner Altamont Corners plaza, Jeff Thomas. This was followed by the internet’s favorite activity — backlash.

Raza was called out by one commenter for not telling the truth about not paying her rent, while the same person praised Thomas, a well-known local businessman and recent funder of conservative causes, for being so generous by allowing Raza to stay for so long. 

The truth, however, unlike many things on the internet in general and uninformed hot-take social-media commentary in particular, lies somewhere in the middle and is more nuanced.

In an Oct. 17 interview with The Enterprise, Thomas said he was “rooting” for Raza, “and I really wanted her to be successful, but yeah, she wasn’t paying rent. She was far behind.”

As far as Raza’s concerned, her relationship with Thomas could all soon be a distant memory as she forges on with a new venture. Raza said she is under contract to purchase the old Township Tavern in Knox, with plans to turn it into a sports bar.

Thomas didn’t want to say specifically how many months of rent Raza had missed, just that the dollar figure was in excess of five figures. 

Raza disputes this. 

She questioned how it would be possible for her to stay in business for months without paying rent. Curry Patta has been in operation for nearly two years

“How would BBL … a professional company, how would they let a tenant stay in there rent-free?” asked Raza. BBL is the property management company at Altamont Corners. 

Raza said it’s “not true at all” that she hasn’t been paying her rent.

In fact, she said. “I have all of my receipts stating that I’ve paid my rent for the two years that I was his tenant.” She then provided The Enterprise with copies of her last 18 months of rent checks. 

The Enterprise went back to Thomas with what it found and was told, “She’s way behind,” adding later the checks “were only partial payments of her obligation.”

Thomas said Raza has a base rent; she then has common area maintenance (CAM) charges and taxes, which include taxes for water, sewer, school, and the village property tax itself.  “She hadn’t paid that,” Thomas said of the CAM charges and taxes. “She was always behind,” he said. As of Oct. 19, Thomas said, “She’s behind to the tune of $9,000.”

The 10 rent checks provided by Raza from 2022 were all dated within the first five days of their respective months; none were dated the first of the month. Save for two, the checks appear to have been deposited within a week of the date on the check. Of the eight checks from 2021, four were paid on the first of the month. Two checks were paid three weeks late. And two were paid more than six weeks late. 

Raza has a triple-net lease, Thomas said, meaning that she and the other tenants of the Altamont Corners plaza promise to pay all the expenses of the property like its real-estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance in addition to their own rent and utilities. 

He did say that Raza was “caught up on her base rent,” but “only on the base rent.” Both Thomas and Raza said her base rent was $1,350 per month, and Raza said she paid another $475 monthly in additional costs. 

 

$13,200

Raza, in response to a comment on her Facebook post, wrote that Thomas was raising the rent to $13,200 per month. 

Thomas called this a “fabrication.”

Raza said she was “verbally” told by Thomas that her rent would double with the new lease agreement. “All along for two years, he misled my husband and I,” Raza said.

Raza was in the process of expanding her restaurant.

With the new addition, Raza said she could have paid for it. “Why would I want him to furnish something with his decor, his paintings, the bars of his type?” she asked, referencing Thomas. “It’s not his restaurant. And I questioned that from day one. And he said, ‘No, this is the way it has to be.’”

In effect, Raza didn’t get a say in the matter; she had to take the addition that Thomas wanted to build for her. 

“No, she had no money,” Thomas said. And Thomas said the rent wasn’t going to be anywhere near $13,200, but he never got a chance to explain that to Raza.  “We were charging her $5,000 [per month] for everything,” Thomas said of the monthly lease. “All of the furniture, all of the barstools, all the finishes, everything’s included, we weren’t charging anything extra.”

Initially, Thomas said the new space was going to be a “vanilla box,” meaning the addition would just be a shell and Raza would add her own finishes, fixtures, and equipment, as she had with the original restaurant. But Raza wasn’t able to pay for the addition.

In an expansion lease calculation provided by Raza to The Enterprise, she was going to be charged $13.50 a square foot for both her existing space, 1,200 square feet, as well as the new addition, 4,236 square feet, which includes both indoor and outdoor space, for a monthly base rent of $5,989.50. 

There was then a charge for an “amortized lease amount for premiums,” which cost an additional $7,216 per month. This payment included premiums like all furniture, three walk-in coolers or freezers, all bar equipment, and the build-out of the addition. 

The “Rent Per Month” Raza was going to be charged, according to the expansion lease calculation, was $13,205.

With the expansion lease calculation, Thomas said he wanted to show Raza “what we were putting in out of our pocket. We were putting a fortune into this thing, and only going to charge her $5,000.” The $7,216 figure was the cost to Thomas, he said; he was just showing it to Raza so she understood what the expansion cost was. 

Thomas then provided The Enterprise with a copy of the proposed lease agreement he said his lawyer had sent to Raza’s attorney. 

In the proposed agreement, it states, “Commencing on the Expansion Premises Delivery Date until and including month 2,” rent would be “$5,000 per month. From month 3 to and including month 5 $6,000 per month. From month 6 to and including month 12” rent would be “$6,500 per month.”

Raza continued to contend that $13,2000 per month was the actual rent because it was received after the proposed lease agreement. The proposed lease agreement was a legal document sent on Sept. 27, while the expansion lease calculation was an excel spreadsheet sent two days later. 

 

Praise, then not

Asked why she said Thomas would want to throw her out when he’s done nothing but praise her, Raza, who’s done nothing but praise Thomas, said she really didn’t know how to answer the question.

But Raza said Thomas stopped responding to her text messages, stopped making eye contact, and generally ignored questions she had about the addition.

Thomas disputes Raza’s characterizations. “That’s not true,” he said. “I’ve always been responsive to her.”

“I think that he had a change of heart somewhere along the way,” Raza surmised. 

Even in her Oct. 18 interview with The Enterprise, Raza had positive things to say about Thomas, recounting that he built a bar for her and spent seven hours one day installing a door free of charge, a housewarming gift. Her family and Thomas’s family have spent time together, she said. 

In a November 2020 interview with The Enterprise, when Curry Patta was getting set to open and Thomas had initially presented his plan for the addition to the Altamont Planning Board,  Thomas said he was trying to help build something nice in Altamont so there’s a local dinner option within the community and villagers don’t have to drive to the Crossgates area or Colonie.

So many people over the years — and in the recent months, Thomas said — have asked him to put a restaurant in the plaza.

When Raza came along, Thomas said, she had enthusiasm, a really good idea, good food, a really good business plan — that’s why he decided to invest in his own property — and by extension, Raza.

Thomas was not directly investing in Curry Patta; he had zero involvement in the business, he said. He was just the landlord, but he felt it was something good that would benefit the area.

“Is it risky?” he said at the time. “Of course, [but] there’s risk in anything good that you do, in my opinion.”

This week, after multiple interviews, Thomas sought to sum up some of what he said in an email, which said, in part, “[Raza] informed me that she had no ability to pay back rent. Her business plan was not working. She said the village of Altamont was not producing the dine-in customers she needed. She blamed it on uber availability and said many of her customers came from out of town places such as Colonie … And she was using any money made at curry patta to subsidize that income for personal bills.”

Raza disputed these allegations in interviews over the course of the week. 

She also said, “These are all his statements. He made those statements. He sat down and said, ‘It’s evident that your business plan is not working for your restaurant, and that you can’t pay your rent.”

“As per the ‘back rent’ I will not consider that $8705 Back rent. That was a CAM charge added without any explanation telling us what the charges were for. CAM charges are cleaning and maintenance, but Jeff never had the sidewalks salted or cleaned,” Raza wrote in an email response to Thomas’s email summation.

“And how would he know that?” Raza said about Thomas’s accusations about the health of her business. “Has he sat with me and my accountant?” Thomas and his family have been to the restaurant on nights when it’s been “slammed,” Raza said, “where we have no seats available.”

Thomas’s statement about her business waning was “pretty harsh,” Raza said.

She said the restaurant grossed $420,000 in its first year.

“I would say that’s a pretty good business plan for a small business in Altamont. What I did say to Jeff is that Altamont isn’t allowing me to reach my potential being so far from Albany and Uber service doesn’t come into town,” Raza said by email. “That was after he had decided we would be kicked out, so in my defense, I stated I would do much better with the potential I have, being in a bigger city like Albany/Colonie. He misconstrued my words, that’s sad.”

“And by his statement, stating I used the revenue from my restaurant to pay for personal bills,” she wrote. “Isn’t that what profit is?”

The second year has been slower, Raza admitted, but she said, “Saratoga opened up, Lake George opened up. People want to be out in the summer.”

However, Raza said there’s still a 45-minute wait on the weekends. 

“Our business is thriving,” she said.

Thomas provided The Enterprise with a text message from Raza dated Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at 8:08 p.m., which said, “Farmhouse [Tap + Tavern] is completely packed and I’m completely dead. Crickets. It’s so disheartening. I’m so upset [crying emoji].”

Raza said she’s not shocked by what happened with Thomas because she says was warned. 

“I have stood behind my bar for two years and said what an amazing man he is,” Raza said. “And people have rolled their eyes. They’ve said, ‘You’ll learn your lesson the hard way. He’s a very shrewd businessman.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know what, guys? Until he does something to me and my family, I’m not ever going to believe the rumors.’”

She is now a believer, Raza said.

Raza chose to take to social media to air out her dirty laundry. 

Asked why, she said, “Because I’m upset. This is my livelihood. This is my business. You’re asking me to shut down my business and leave without even considering where we would go.” Raza said she was initially given six weeks to vacate.

“Six weeks isn’t even enough for me to take my hood exhaust system out, take that bar that we built out, all the equipment I have in there. I had to push for January 1st.”

So, she said, she asked her attorney if she could let people know if the restaurant was closing. In part because she advertises on Groupon, Raza didn’t want people to think there was some kind of bait-and-switch.

“Yes, Groupon would refund their money,” Raza said, “but it’s just bad business.”

 

Paying the bills

Asked why Thomas would initially say she wasn’t paying her rent, Raza pointed to the $8,700 bill that was sent to her home from Altamont Corner’s property management company BBL. 

Thomas said he was forgiving $8,705 — now $9,145 — in previously-mentioned common area maintenance (CAM) charges and taxes for which Raza said she is still seeking clarification. 

“I mean, it’s just a piece of paper stating 15 charges with no explanation … There’s no background,” Raza said. And she wrote in a follow-up email, “As per the conversation I had with [Thomas] about not paying that back CAM charge, I told him I would pay it if they would give me a breakdown on it.”

Raza said she’s waiting for some kind of documentation from Thomas proving he will forgive the $9,145.

Raza said she reached out to the company and asked for a breakdown of the bill. Raza said she “repeatedly asked for months” for the breakdown, but nothing has come of it. She then received a letter from BBL stating, if she didn’t pay the full amount, she’d be in default on her lease. 

Thomas disputes Raza’s account. 

“That’s not true,” he said. “They went over there and spoke to her in person, our managers … They spoke to her in person about it.”

Thomas said, “Part of it’s just a tax bill.”

Thomas said with the CAM charges, Raza pays an average amount for each month. Then, once the invoices from vendors are received, if they are higher than what Raza is paying each month, she has to pay additional CAM charges to settle that portion of the agreement. What Thomas called a “true up” of the account. 

“And she just wasn’t paying that,” Thomas said of the CAM overages. “She wanted to say, ‘OK, I’m paying my base rent and it’s all good.’”

Raza disputes this account. 

Thomas said Raza’s additional monthly charges were  “400-and-some-odd dollars and then they went up.” Raza earlier said her additional monthly costs were $475 on top of her base rent of $1,350.

Of the 18 rent checks provided to The Enterprise by Raza, none were for less than $1,725.

She missed one month, October 2021, the month she traveled home to Pakistan to bury her sister. She made up for that month in February, when she paid $6736.85. The note on the check said the payment was for, “prev balance, CAM, taxes, rent.”

Thomas provided The Enterprise with a copy of Raza’s itemized penalty statement, which shows about $2,228 in unpaid taxes; $2,456 in unpaid CAM charges; and $2,456 in late charges. 

Raza, who’s admitted to being late with her rent payments, said of the late charges, “a lot of them aren’t valid.” She said there’s a history of holding onto checks and then tacking on the late charges, “that kind of rollover and nobody ever questions them.” Thomas disputes this. 

Raza said she’d stay till the end of her current lease, in December 2023, but her lawyer told her, according to her lease, it could end up costing her another $100,000, the accumulation of additional penalties. “So that’s why I’m leaving,” she said. “Otherwise, I have a lease until December 2023.”

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