Soldier sues Denver for $3M after it seized his downtown restaurant

Penthouse 1 Insta

Jerk chicken sliders at the former Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant, 1600 Champa St. in downtown Denver. (Instagram)

After coming of age in Jamaica — “a culture of cooking and dining out, sharing food and recipes with your friends and family,” he said — and then coming to the U.S., Antonio Miller wanted a restaurant of his own, where he could serve the jerk chicken and oxtail of his youth.

So at the start of 2022, he opened Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant inside a small space at 1600 Champa St., along the 16th Street Mall. There were some initial successes.

“It was going pretty good,” he said. “It was just me, so I had to put in a lot of work, spending 18 hours a day doing everything from cooking, bartending, being the cashier.”

There was food, sure, but also poetry nights and comedy shows as 2022 turned to 2023. Annual sales hit $500,000 and there was already talk of extending the five-year lease, he said.

“It was an area for culture,  and for bringing that culture to downtown Denver,” Miller said. 

But the nascent restaurateur had a second career that would soon come into conflict with his first. He is a specialist in the U.S. Army and, in April 2023, was sent south to Oklahoma and Texas for training. He thought he had procedures in place to keep Penthouse running.

“But,” Miller said in an interview last week, “that didn’t go as it should have gone.”

The restaurant fell $6,750 behind on sales tax payments, city records show. On June 7, 2023, the Denver Finance Department obtained a distraint warrant — a legal order granting it the power to seize and sell property when a business isn’t paying taxes.

“These warrants only happen as a last resort, and are made public only by posting on the door of the business,” said Josh Rosenblum, a spokesman for the Denver Finance Department.

“Before we issue them, we do everything we possibly can to ensure businesses can keep going without such a warrant, including reaching out by phone, mail, email and in-person,” Rosenblum said. “In most instances we’re willing to discuss any issues folks have. We want Denver’s businesses to succeed and that means offering the best customer service we can.”

Penthouse 2 FB

Customers attend a brunch at Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant on March 20, 2022. (Facebook)

Miller said that he learned of the overdue taxes and the city’s collection efforts by a staff member at Penthouse and only after it was too late. Posting the notice to the restaurant’s front door was the wrong approach, in Miller’s opinion, since he was two states away.

“It was one of the worst feelings,” he said of learning about the warrant, “especially not being able to be physically present or do anything because of the military training.”

In late July, the city seized Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant, sold its equipment and closed the business. Miller returned to Denver in October, now without a restaurant.

“I had to look at my options for recovering what was taken,” he said.

Enter Issa Israel, an attorney who had gotten to know Miller while visiting his restaurant.

On May 16, Israel filed a lawsuit on behalf of Miller and Penthouse, accusing the City of Denver of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. That law limits when governments and lenders can foreclose on active-duty military members or take their property for nonpayment.

“That law exists precisely to prevent these kinds of things from occurring,” Israel said. 

“I did try to work with the city to see if we could resolve this without litigation but we didn’t necessarily get the response that we needed,” Israel said. “He’s just looking to be made whole. This isn’t about a windfall or anything. He’s looking to be made whole.”

Israel and Miller believe that will take a whole lot of money. They are suing the city for $3 million to $8 million — the amount they say the restaurant would have earned. Rosenblum, the city spokesman, declined to comment on the pending litigation, citing department policy.

In addition to compensation, Miller would like to see the city change how it communicates with active-duty business owners stationed elsewhere. He is focused on his military career for now but, when asked if he’d like to own a restaurant again, he was adamant in his affirmation.

“Oh, yes, definitely,” Miller said. “I would do that.”

Penthouse 1 Insta

Jerk chicken sliders at the former Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant, 1600 Champa St. in downtown Denver. (Instagram)

After coming of age in Jamaica — “a culture of cooking and dining out, sharing food and recipes with your friends and family,” he said — and then coming to the U.S., Antonio Miller wanted a restaurant of his own, where he could serve the jerk chicken and oxtail of his youth.

So at the start of 2022, he opened Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant inside a small space at 1600 Champa St., along the 16th Street Mall. There were some initial successes.

“It was going pretty good,” he said. “It was just me, so I had to put in a lot of work, spending 18 hours a day doing everything from cooking, bartending, being the cashier.”

There was food, sure, but also poetry nights and comedy shows as 2022 turned to 2023. Annual sales hit $500,000 and there was already talk of extending the five-year lease, he said.

“It was an area for culture,  and for bringing that culture to downtown Denver,” Miller said. 

But the nascent restaurateur had a second career that would soon come into conflict with his first. He is a specialist in the U.S. Army and, in April 2023, was sent south to Oklahoma and Texas for training. He thought he had procedures in place to keep Penthouse running.

“But,” Miller said in an interview last week, “that didn’t go as it should have gone.”

The restaurant fell $6,750 behind on sales tax payments, city records show. On June 7, 2023, the Denver Finance Department obtained a distraint warrant — a legal order granting it the power to seize and sell property when a business isn’t paying taxes.

“These warrants only happen as a last resort, and are made public only by posting on the door of the business,” said Josh Rosenblum, a spokesman for the Denver Finance Department.

“Before we issue them, we do everything we possibly can to ensure businesses can keep going without such a warrant, including reaching out by phone, mail, email and in-person,” Rosenblum said. “In most instances we’re willing to discuss any issues folks have. We want Denver’s businesses to succeed and that means offering the best customer service we can.”

Penthouse 2 FB

Customers attend a brunch at Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant on March 20, 2022. (Facebook)

Miller said that he learned of the overdue taxes and the city’s collection efforts by a staff member at Penthouse and only after it was too late. Posting the notice to the restaurant’s front door was the wrong approach, in Miller’s opinion, since he was two states away.

“It was one of the worst feelings,” he said of learning about the warrant, “especially not being able to be physically present or do anything because of the military training.”

In late July, the city seized Penthouse Caribbean Restaurant, sold its equipment and closed the business. Miller returned to Denver in October, now without a restaurant.

“I had to look at my options for recovering what was taken,” he said.

Enter Issa Israel, an attorney who had gotten to know Miller while visiting his restaurant.

On May 16, Israel filed a lawsuit on behalf of Miller and Penthouse, accusing the City of Denver of violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. That law limits when governments and lenders can foreclose on active-duty military members or take their property for nonpayment.

“That law exists precisely to prevent these kinds of things from occurring,” Israel said. 

“I did try to work with the city to see if we could resolve this without litigation but we didn’t necessarily get the response that we needed,” Israel said. “He’s just looking to be made whole. This isn’t about a windfall or anything. He’s looking to be made whole.”

Israel and Miller believe that will take a whole lot of money. They are suing the city for $3 million to $8 million — the amount they say the restaurant would have earned. Rosenblum, the city spokesman, declined to comment on the pending litigation, citing department policy.

In addition to compensation, Miller would like to see the city change how it communicates with active-duty business owners stationed elsewhere. He is focused on his military career for now but, when asked if he’d like to own a restaurant again, he was adamant in his affirmation.

“Oh, yes, definitely,” Miller said. “I would do that.”

Your subscription has expired. Renew now by choosing a subscription below!

For more informaiton, head over to your profile.

Profile


SUBSCRIBE NOW

 — 

 — 

 — 

TERMS OF SERVICE:

ALL MEMBERSHIPS RENEW AUTOMATICALLY. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR A 1 YEAR MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL AT THE RATE IN EFFECT AT THAT TIME UNLESS YOU CANCEL YOUR MEMBERSHIP BY LOGGING IN OR BY CONTACTING [email protected].

ALL CHARGES FOR MONTHLY OR ANNUAL MEMBERSHIPS ARE NONREFUNDABLE.

EACH MEMBERSHIP WILL ONLY FUNCTION ON UP TO 3 MACHINES. ACCOUNTS ABUSING THAT LIMIT WILL BE DISCONTINUED.

FOR ASSISTANCE WITH YOUR MEMBERSHIP PLEASE EMAIL [email protected]




Return to Homepage

POSTED IN Restaurants

Editor's Picks

Comments are closed.