Legal battle brews over Fork & Barrel closure

An East Falls real estate developer plans to file a lawsuit against a former co-owner of Fork & Barrel restaurant, which closed without warning earlier this month.

Mark Sherman of Sherman Properties, who owns the Fork & Barrel building on Ridge Avenue, is suing Matthew Swartz to recoup thousands of dollars in back and remaining rent payments. The rent at Fork & Barrel was $8,000 per month, according to Sherman.

The suit will also seek reimbursement for legal fees and money Sherman will have to lay out to clean the interior of the building. The restaurant, he said, was left following dinner service the night before a number of items were reportedly packed up and loaded onto a set of rental trucks.

Sherman said the suit will only name Swartz because he is the only one listed on the property’s 12-month lease. Matthew Scheller, Swartz’ business partner, did not sign the lease for the beer bar and gastropub, according to Sherman.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Everyone has to pay their way through life,” said Sherman in a phone interview Friday. “You can’t expect to take a free ride and take advantage of people.”

Swartz would not comment on whether the decision to close Fork & Barrel after seven months violated any type of agreement with Sherman. He also would not comment on whether he has spoken to Sherman since the closure.

Sherman said they have talked.

On April 18, a former employee of the now defunct Franco’s Trattoria sent Sherman a startling text message at 10:30 p.m., according to Sherman.

As she stood inside a nearby gallery space, the employee noticed a group of people were loading up four U-Haul trucks parked in front of Fork & Barrel. Not sure if her boss was aware of the activity, she shot off a quick note.

Sherman, as it turned out, was never notified that Swartz had plans to pack up and leave. He jumped in his car and raced to Ridge Avenue after reading the text at midnight, but just missed the late-night move.

Sherman then sent a text message of his own, this time to Swartz.

“When I got there I texted him and said ‘I’m here at Fork & Barrel and you will be hearing from me,'” said Sherman.

Sherman said Swartz texted him back with a message that essentially read, “You got to do what you go to do.”

Sherman said the timing of Swartz’ decision to “skip out” was not surprising. According to Sherman, Swartz was supposed to meet him at the restaurant Tues., April 19 to settle up on his debt.

“He had conspired to move out and execute prior to our meeting that he knew he was never coming to,” he said.

As a legal battle approaches, Sherman said he is actively searching for a new tenant. He doesn’t think the task will be hard given the property’s location, ready-to-use kitchen and already approved state liquor license. He said he will either lease or sell the property.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal