LAFAYETTE -- When owner Ned Kermaninejad shuts the doors of Petar's Restaurant for the last time Saturday night, he'll be closing a colorful chapter in Lafayette's history.
Founded more than 50 years ago by original owner Petar Jakovina, the restaurant and accompanying bar has become an institution known for its British hunting-lodge decor and Continental (now Mediterranean) cuisine, and as the home of entertainer "Diamond Dave" Hosley, who gets the regulars up and dancing to everything from Frank Sinatra covers to Top 40 hits.
The restaurant was set to serve its last Chicken Jerusalem and prime rib Friday night. Kermaninejad says the bar is scheduled to close Saturday after a performance by Diamond Dave.
"I will miss my customers, everything," Kermaninejad said over the phone. "It's my life here."
Kermaninejad, a one-time Petar's bus boy, bought the restaurant about 13 years ago from Jakovina, who opened it in 1959 following stints in San Francisco as a chauffeur and maitre d'. Petar's -- then located on Mt. Diablo Boulevard -- was known for its ambience and cuisine, which included such fare as steak, snails and frog legs.
A couple of years ago, the owner switched up the menu, swapping the meat and pasta for Mediterranean plates like baba ghanouj and kebabs. But while Kermaninejad acknowledged that he couldn't compete with the chain restaurants, he says his restaurant's closure is forced: Kermaninejad and Main Street Properties, which manages the property on behalf of its owners, have been locked in a nasty legal battle for nearly a year.
Ever since Main Street Properties began managing the parcel after it was sold by one family member to another, it began a campaign to shut Petar's by claiming business was down, Kermaninejad alleged. Then the property managers raised the rent (from less than $8,000 per month to $14,000, then $24,000, Kermaninejad says, an amount Main Street disputes) and at the end of December gave him notice. "They threw me out," he said.
Craig Semmelmeyer, principal of Main Street Properties, accuses Petar's owner of failing to pay the rent for a year and says he's cost the property owners "a great deal of money."
Kermaninejad, who filed bankruptcy last year, denied that claim, while acknowledging a period of three months when he did not pay the rent. "(Petar's) was a restaurant that, at one point in time, was the restaurant in Contra Costa County. It was truly something special," Semmelmeyer said. "It's taken 13 years to effectively complete the task of destroying it."
However the bitter fight plays out, one thing is certain: Petar's is finally going dark.