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Wings & Rings faces $560K lawsuit

Tyler Joswick / Lantern photographer

If you stop to look in the windows at 1918 N. High St., you will see empty beer bottles and dirty dishes littering scattered tables. It’s a scene similar to many of Columbus’ abandoned buildings.

What’s notable about this building is that it’s on a busy stretch of High Street and just months ago was a popular restaurant and bar for Ohio State students.

What was once Buffalo Wings & Rings — and The Frat House and Kaiser’s after that — is now an empty building after being slapped with an eviction notice and a lawsuit for more than half a million dollars.

Steak ‘n Shake, which used to operate a franchise at that location but now sublets the property, filed a lawsuit for more than $560,000 against Buffalo Wings & Rings OSU and Henry Hendrickson, the franchise owner. The lawsuit was filed with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas on Oct. 28. Steak ‘n Shake filed the eviction notice almost two weeks later.

Buffalo Wings & Rings “breached the terms of their lease,” said David Lackey, Steak ‘n Shake’s attorney. “There hasn’t been a rent payment since March.”

Lackey did not know when the restaurant officially closed its doors, and Hendrickson, who will appear in court later this month, declined to comment for this story.

Lackey said the amount Steak ‘n Shake is asking for covers the past-due rent and other payments.

He also said this isn’t the first time the franchise has had problems paying rent on time. Lackey said “at one point … Steak ‘n Shake tried to work with them” by filing a forbearance agreement. By doing that, Steak ‘n Shake agreed not to evict Buffalo Wings & Rings as long as it caught up with its past-due payments. But Lackey said Buffalo Wings & Rings failed.

Lackey said the suit is just against the High Street location and not against the Buffalo Wings & Rings corporation.

“You will see that with franchises a lot,” Lackey said. “The company we actually sue has nothing to do with (the corporation) … the franchise owners are completely responsible.”

Kathy Cueto, master area developer for Buffalo Wings & Rings, declined to comment on the lawsuit and eviction, as the High Street location is “an independently owned restaurant” from Buffalo Wings & Rings.

The City of Columbus Division of Income Tax has also filed a separate lawsuit against Buffalo Wings & Rings OSU, Hendrickson and Stuart Ashton III, another owner of the franchise, for a little less than $1,000. Paul Khoury, City of Columbus attorney, said the franchise owners haven’t paid their income taxes for “the last quarter in 2009.”

Some in the community sensed problems with the restaurant months ago, when owners took down the “Buffalo Wings & Rings” letters this summer and replaced them with a large banner that read “The Frat House.”

Scott Solomon of Oxford Realty, which owns the property and rents it to Steak ‘n Shake, said that although his company’s relationship is with Steak ‘n Shake and not Buffalo Wings & Rings, it seemed like the franchise was having trouble.

“My belief is … that (Buffalo Wings & Rings) lost their franchise rights, so they just changed the name,” Solomon said. “It appeared to be the same operators.”

Some students said the restaurant appeared to be successful as Buffalo Wings & Rings, but business slowed when it became “The Frat House.”

Jimmy Kenny, a fourth-year in business operations and logistics, said he and his fraternity brothers in Phi Kappa Psi “loved” going to Buffalo Wings and Rings, but many of them were driven away at the thought of a bar being called “The Frat House.” He said the word “frat” has a negative connotation and injures the image of fraternities.

“We don’t want campus or anyone in general to think that frats are associated with just drinking all the time,” he said.

The “Frat House” banner was taken down in October and replaced with a banner that read “Kaiser’s.” However, that banner was taken down as well, shortly before the owners were evicted.

Hendrickson will appear in court Nov. 30 for the eviction hearing. Repeated calls and messages to Ashton were not returned, and Steak ‘n Shake declined to comment.

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