California bar and restaurant operators expelled after defying COVID-19 mandates
Just as most California restaurants got the official green light to reopen more broadly on Tuesday, Burbank bar and grill operators who refused to close when coronavirus lockdowns shuttered much of the region have been kicked out. .
The family behind Barfly, Inc., which ran Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill on Magnolia Boulevard before waging a legal battle against Burbank and Los Angles County health officials for months, was kicked out of the property on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department said deputies locked out current operators at 6:30 a.m. The evictions follow the city’s filing of a restraining order against Barfly and its operators, Baret Lepejian and her two children.
City of Burbank officials said they handed over the keys to the business to Isabelle Lepejian, Baret Lepejian’s ex-wife and owner of the building. LA County records show the couple officially divorced last August, after more than eight years of litigation, but before the confrontation with Burbank and county health officials began.
In a statement, Burbank officials said Tuesday’s lockout was “the final step in the (Isabelle Lepejian) eviction process initiated against Tinhorn Flats.”
The sheriff’s department confirmed that Isabelle Lepejian filed an eviction request in Pasadena court in April.
The standoff between Burbank and Tinhorn Flats began last December, when the LA County Public Health Department instituted a ban on outdoor dining and large gatherings. At the time, the number of coronavirus cases was skyrocketing. The dead numbered in the tens of thousands.
When LA County health inspectors visited Tinhorn Flats on Dec. 13, however, they found its patio bustling with customers. This sparked a months-long feud: Health inspectors returned 28 times, handing out citations each time. At the end of January, the restaurant had its conditional and sanitary use permits revoked. In May, an LA County Superior Court judge upheld the city’s restraining order against Barfly.
Baret Lepejian is listed as President of Barfly in state business records. But he has been out of the country for most of the last year – he said on the Tinhorn Flats Instagram account that he was stuck in Thailand due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
His son, Lucas Lepejian, runs the restaurant from there. During this time, the 20-year-old led much of the matchup with Burbank. He goaded city officials with increasingly provocative statements.
On a GoFundMe page raising money so the family can pay famed attorney Mark Geragos to represent them, he called Burbank city officials “clowns.” He was arrested three times for violating the restraining order, removing sandbags from the restaurant and another time cutting a padlock with a hacksaw as a small crowd cheered.
The restaurant fight has become a cause celebre among some on the far right, including some local supporters of former President Donald Trump.
It was unclear on Tuesday who would run the bar or if it would reopen.
Isabelle Lepejian could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. A lawyer for her also did not return a request for comment.
A Burbank spokesperson did not respond to questions by email. And the city attorney’s office declined to comment. Officials said the eviction would not affect the city’s ongoing lawsuits over the restraining order, license revocations and a $50,000 fine against the restaurant.
Neither Baret nor Lucas Lepejian could immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. The telephone line for Tinhorn Flats remains disconnected.
On their active Instagram page, there were no posts acknowledging that they would be kicked out. The final message was posted on Monday wishing Trump a happy birthday.
Other Southern California restaurants that refused to close over coronavirus-related health orders met a similar fate. The restaurant in Long Beach closed earlier this year after the restaurant owner was charged with criminal charges over her attempts to reopen, even after the city cut its utilities.