Zelko Bistro Fights To Stay Open by Filing Suit Against Its Landlord

Zelko Bistro, 705 E. 11th St., Houston Heights

The owners of Zelko Bistro have gone to court to try to prevent their landlord from locking them out, evicting them, or placing a “for lease” sign in front of the Heights restaurant. In a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order filed last Thursday, Zelko claims Papa K LLC  failed to honor a 5-year extension written into their lease for the property at 705 E. 11th St., which Zelko first took possession of in 2009 and subsequently spent approximately $600,000 to convert to a restaurant.

According to a copy of the lease included with the petition, Zelko had been paying $5,700 a month in rent, in addition to all property taxes; the term ended on June 30th. Emails between Zelko’s principals and its landlord included in the petition indicate Zelko’s interest in extending the lease in advance of the 90-day-advance-notice deadline, but a few days after that deadline had passed the landlord presented its tenants with a new lease including less favorable terms, including a 50 percent rent increase, according to the suit.

Other details in the court documents shed a bit of light on the goings-on Swamplot noted late last month, when a “for-lease” sign briefly appeared in front of the restaurant, and a broker representing the landlord announced that the restaurant would soon be leaving.


According to the suit, Zelko received a letter from the landlord’s attorney on July 16th demanding the restaurant surrender the property. The restaurant’s chef, Jamie Zelko, later took to social media to announce that Zelko Bistro wasn’t going anywhere, and was busy negotiating a lease extension. After receiving a second letter on July 27th, which stated that the landlord was “no longer interested in being involved in any business transaction with their former tenant” and threatening to begin eviction proceedings, Zelko moved its negotiation attempts to the state courthouse.

Photo: H-Town Chow Down

Lease Extension Battle

30 Comment

  • The economics of keeping a small independent restaurant going never cease to amaze me….

  • We don’t know the full story, but everything I’m hearing is making the landlord sound like a major a-hole.

  • OK, OK, when working, I normally grab something from Whole Foods, but I promise to eat at Zelko’s at least twice this week

  • I’m sorry, the tenant spent $600,000 on improvements and $5,700/mo in rent isn’t enough for the landlord for what amounts to a small converted residential building?


    What a douchebag.

  • Why would Zelco want to stay if the landlord wants them to go? All the landlord has to offer them at this time is a month-to-month lease and they’d be stupid to sign it. I say, get out and find another location as they don’t want you there. We are also not “privy” to the tenant’s pay history. Maybe she doesn’t pay the rent on time, etc. I am a commercial landlord on 19th St. and I know first hand, when you get sideways with your landlord, you may as well hit the road.

    I really don’t care for the food there and know that she has to do lots of cooking to make a profit on what she is paying on the triple-net lease! In my opinion, it’s a bad location to begin with and there is not enough outside curb appeal.

  • You never spend $600,000.00 to improve someone else’s property without a true long term lease
    agreement. Thats a lot of ham and cheese sandwiches. Sad.

  • Go Zelko! My favorite Heights restaurant. The landlord is a greedy and if anyone other than Zelko inhabits that space I will not be going.

  • I would be interested in their rental pay history, as well. Always seems to be two sides to every story, for sure.

  • Wow, Mr Wilson with neighbors like you who needs enemies. You seem to be ascribing to her things you seem to know nothing about. How do you know if she pays her rent on time? It seems you’re just being very unneighborly and a real a-hole. She’s obviously invested a great deal in this building, you have to believe she had some sort of agreement before investing 600000. I know nothing about this but what’s been reported, but based on that, I certainly think she should fight it and I hope she prevails. In addition, I plan to eat there this week to show her support, I’ll be sure to tell her how you feel about she and her cooking Mr Wilson.

  • I, for one, would be fine with a new concept in that space. Last time I was at Zelko the food was horrible. I would say my pasta bolognese was flavorless, but it really tasted burnt to me. The waiter, who spilled a glass of red wine on my dinner guest without offering to even replace it, was straight out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent adventure. But, this certainly does seem to be giving them a lot of~ well-timed~ publicity. I’d be willing to bet there was more to the story than Zelko is portraying.

  • Very greedy landlord! They pay too much in rental now!

  • Hmmm, yes–I find it a bit hard to believe that a waiter would spill red wine on someone and then not offer to replace it along with whatever they spilt it on. If your friend paid for that wine he/she/it is the fool. I have a feeling if this happened at all it was a drop of wine maybe on he/she/it’s hand or the table etc. Maybe the food was bad, who knows, but this really has an air of piling on. I know nothing about this restaurant, have no idea if it’s good or not, however this story of the phantom wine spill seems a bit slanted as does the opinion of Dear Mr Wilson. Again, I plan to go this week and check it out and show my support for this unfortunate woman.

  • ” I’ll be sure to tell her how you feel about she and her cooking Mr Wilson.”

    everyone loves a tattle tale. and by everybody i mean nobody.

  • Zelko’s and Coltivare are my favorite restaurants in the Heights. I would hate to see Zelko’s close, especially after they spent so much rehabbing the place. Go Jamie!!!!

  • If they do have to go at some point…they should take the building with them. After all, they have all that $$$ invested in it. What’s a few thousand more??

  • Lol, whatever Chris—save your sanctimony for Mr Wilson and Dennis The Menace…what is this 3rd grade…you’re tattling on me for tattling on them….lol, save it.

  • I think everyone should hold off judgement till they know the whole story. Since none of this makes a lot of sense (landlord is not a greedy guy and perhaps he is increasing rent to push her out) I would venture there is more to the story than we all know. Seems pretty personal and emotional. Who knows what triggered the downfall of the relationship. No one’s perfect and that goes for both the restaurant owner and the landlord. Snide remarks about either are not warranted … yet. I’ll wait till the truth comes out.

  • *Team Zelko!—

  • ” I know nothing about this restaurant, have no idea if it’s good or not,”

    Yet you are willing to believe hearsay that she spent $600k in buildout and any other uncorrorobated story about her but can’t believe a story of an idiot waiter, a 19th St building owner, etc…….

    Then why not keep your mouth shut instead of running around like some puff adder?

    I’m sure Mr. Wilson is quaking in his boots because you are threatening nanny nanny boo boo.

  • “…how you feel about SHE and her cooking.” Really? Someone needs a serious crash course in grammar!

  • I personally know three chefs who made recent inquiries about taking over Jamie’s lease. All 3 came away laughing at the price demanded by the current landlord.

    So while every news report is likely lacking true “big picture” truth, those 3 personally-recounted stories carry a ton of weight – for me. 3 different chefs, all with working knowledge of market prices, actually laughed at the rent.

    And that’s not a metaphor.

  • It looks like the tenant properly invoked an extension provided for in the original lease. The strong arming will be addressed now in court, so we shall see if there is any legal reason for him not to honor the terms of that contract.

  • I for one know Zelko has an incredible payment reputation, her reps & business debts are always paid on time. Me being a loyal business rep of Zelko for over 4 years. They made many promises to Zelko, purchasing the property was one of them. And there you have it, the landlords are shady, manipulative lyers. Good Luck Zelko, your an asset to our Heights community….think we should call you The Local Maverick! -Mark

  • Makes me wonder if the landlord has other plans for that land that will make more money for him. Townhomes? Highrise? ;-)

  • The good news is this should be a slam dunk cut and dry case. Most leases are written in such a way where disputes like this have someone who’s clearly right and someone that’s clearly wrong. Hopefully the party that’s clearly wrong will cede their position before lawyers become the only winners.

  • I hope Zelko prevails. The food is good, and the restaurant has been a great addition to the eating choices in the Greater Heights area. When I have out of town colleagues around, Zelko is one of my go to places for lunches that impress. The suit and lease make for some interesting reading. One of the great benefits of the internet is wide availability of this sort of information.

  • Ten dollars says the $600,000 renovation figure is high by at least 5X and maybe 10X.

  • $600k in renovations is a ridiculously unrealistic number (unless you’re the government), so more like $100k.
    There are always 2 sides to every story, so I don’t buy the whole “evil landlord” story, there must be much more to this. Because of statutory legal protections for renters in Texas, a landlord must be at least reasonably sure he’s in the right. Perhaps the renter did not properly invoke the extension (sent to wrong address, not certified, etc.)
    BUT….9 times out of 10 it’s a rent payment problem, no matter what things look like on the outside, the finances may look completely different. Also, the one who yells the loudest (renter in this case) is usually the one that is in the wrong and has something to hide.

  • $600k in renovations is a ridiculously unrealistic number (unless you’re the government), so more like $100k.
    say’s the guy who has obviously never build out a restaurant. You could easily spend $200K just on the kitchen.

  • The bottom line is, Zelko DOES NOT OWN THE BUILDING! The property owner has the right to do what they want to, with their investment property.

    Zelko needs to buy their own place, and avoid this situation.