WASHINGTON — Things aren’t clear as to what will happen to the Black Buggy Restaurant, but as for now the Amish buffet and a nearby cafe and steakhouse is closed.
The owners of the building, Laverne and Rosie Graber, entered the restaurant at 8:51 p.m. Monday and, according to a police report, told everyone to go home and the businesses were closed. They then had the restaurant manager take the money, $755, from the cash drawer and count it out for Mrs. Graber.
Police were called and found Laverne Graber was hiding in the locked restaurant. Police waited at the scene for 20 minutes before Graber gave the money over to Mike Shartzer, who, along with his partner Matt Graber, has been leasing the 12-year-old business for the past three months.
Laverne and Rosie Graber were told by police to not return to the property without Shartzer’s or Matt Graber’s permission. Matt and Laverne Graber are brothers.
On Tuesday, Laverne Graber said Monday’s police confrontation was a misunderstanding, as his wife had given the lessees start-up money back in June and was just getting that money back.
“We didn’t close it,” Laverne said about the business. “Business has been bad for three years. They (Shartzer and Matt Graber) decided to close the three (Washington restaurants) down and go to Jasper.”
Laverne Graber said he opened restaurants in Jasper and French Lick ,and the two partners had been leasing them as well.
“All I did, after they closed (Monday), was I went in to make sure they (employees) didn’t take anything,” Laverne Graber said of the local restaurant. He said he had heard the employees were going to take everything since the restaurant was closing.
On Tuesday, Shartzer said he and Matt Graber will continue to lease and run the Jasper restaurant named Mike and Matt’s.
“(The Black Buggy is) temporarily closed,” Shartzer said Tuesday. “It all happened pretty quick. We had no clue all these (court) judgments were against it (Laverne and Rosie Graber). We’ve only been involved since June 1. The bank considers us still leasing it.”
All the parties were in Superior court Monday trying to sort out the Grabers’ financial problems.
Shartzer said the restaurant needs some work and he’s not sure they have the money to invest. He was also concerned that the restaurant’s reputation has gone downhill, but said he and his partner were not involved in the restaurant’s financial problems.
“We’re up to snuff,” he said. “We don’t owe anybody anything. We think we can be the best restaurant anywhere.”
He said they would like to open another restaurant in the area as 45 people lost their jobs with the closing. “That’s the hardest part,” he said. “That’s families. We’d like to do something in Washington.”
But Shartzer said he wanted no part of Laverne’s financial problems with unpaid taxes and the banks.
A former business associate of Laverne Graber’s, Linda Epley — owner of Backporch Treasures, counts the Black Buggy’s downfall from the opening of the Evansville restaurant.
“He got so involved in the Evansville store and where that could take him,” she said. Graber partnered four years ago with an Evansville firm to franchise the Black Buggy. Epley said the opening of the Evansville restaurant spelled doom for the local restaurant. “Most of our customers were from the Evansville area. They would drive up two or three times a week to eat and shop.”
Her Backporch Treasures gift shop was attached to the Black Buggy General Store and was doing a good business until the Evansville restaurant opened, according to Epley. She said she had a good working relationship with Graber until he decided he didn’t need her gift shop.
She was called into court Monday to testify as to the business relationship with Graber and how it ended nearly three years ago with her moving her business to another building at 415 South SR 57.
“He threw his whole life into the Evansville store,” she said. “Everything just dwindled away. He always had these ideas and lost sight of the whole big plan.”
Laverne Graber is no longer associated with the Evansville Black Buggy and, while still owner of the Black Buggy building, no longer has a restaurant in Washington either. He said that if the Washington property is sold in a tax sale he still has 12 months to pay the back taxes.
“I have a lot of ideas about it (the Black Buggy site),” Laverne Graber, 61, said, as he still owns the building. “That’s a prime piece of property. I don’t know if I’ll do anything with it at my age.”