ELYRIA — For a few minutes Tuesday, the notoriously gruff Sandi Laubenthal let her guard down.
“You have no idea how hard this is,” Laubenthal, owner of Moss’ Prime Rib & Spaghetti House, said about her decision to close the landmark downtown restaurant April 13. “It’s even hard for me to talk about.”
Moss’ opened in 1958 and Laubenthal relocated it down the street to 525 Broad St., when she bought it in 2001. Laubenthal blamed the Great Recession and the weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression for the closing.
“I’ve done everything in my power to keep us afloat,” she said. “It’s just gotten to the point where there’s nothing left to keep afloat.”
Laubenthal wouldn’t say how many workers she employs but said she was grateful to them for sticking with her through tough times. “I’m the luckiest person in the world to have the staff that I have,” she said.
Laubenthal wouldn’t say whether her finances played a part in her decision. In February, FirstMerit Bank sued Laubenthal, saying she defaulted on a loan and owes $124,297 plus interest. Laubenthal owes Lorain County $22,746 in taxes, including $15,164 in back taxes, for the 525 Broad St. property.
In November, Laubenthal tried to auction off the 18,000-square foot building that includes Moss’, a vacant second floor and Laubenthal’s third-floor apartment. Laubenthal sought $134,000 and said she had “no intention of closing” but wanted to transfer ownership.
What effect the closing will have on downtown revitalization efforts is unclear. Tamela Grubb, program director of Main Street Elyria, a nonprofit downtown booster group, and Mayor Holly Brinda didn’t return calls Tuesday.
Moss’ chef Gary Bainbridge said he had hoped that the $10,000 facelift and publicity from Moss’ appearing on “Restaurant Impossible” on the Food Network in October 2011 might rejuvenate business. But Bainbridge, an employee since 2008, said the number of customers is dwindling. He blamed it on a combination of a stagnant economy, competition from suburban restaurants and the many closed downtown businesses.
“You no longer have a destination point in downtown Elyria,” Bainbridge said. “It would’ve been great if we were big enough to be that destination point.”
Bainbridge said while the number of customers has been down, there are a loyal group of regulars.
“They’re awesome,” he said. “They’re the reason we’ve been here this long.”
Bainbridge said Laubenthal’s abrasiveness — a “Restaurant Impossible” promo described her as “bullish and stubborn” — didn’t hurt business. He said she resurrected the restaurant by moving it from its original location at the intersection of Cedar and East Broad streets and repairing the property at its current home.
“I’ve never met a successful business owner that couldn’t be difficult. The toughness just kind of comes with the territory,” Bainbridge said. “If you let people walk on you, you’re not going to be successful. And I promise you, they don’t walk on Sandi.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.