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Diner’s Customers Serve Up a New Lease on Its Life

This month was to have been the last for the Gem Cafe in Hermosa Beach. The Formica countertop and gingham curtains should have been gone by now. The landlord had been clear: Henry and Grace Poirier were being evicted Dec. 31, along with the neighborhood diner they have run for 28 years.

But December can be a wonderful month, as the Poiriers can attest. Because when word of the eviction got out, it occurred to the Gem’s customers that if Hermosa Beach no longer had Henry’s small talk and Grace’s homemade pies--well, it would leave an awful hole.

The fight to save the Gem dates to May, when the eviction notice arrived in the mail. The landlords, film producer Warren Miller and his wife, Laurie, said it was regrettable, but the Poiriers had no lease and a prospective tenant willing to pay more than double the Poiriers’ rent had approached them about the site.

To the Poiriers, it meant the loss of a retirement nest egg and the end of the cafe they had bought in 1962 from two sisters who had run it since 1949.

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For the past year, Poirier said, he and his wife had been asking the Millers for a lease. They were growing older, they explained, and without a lease, they could not sell the restaurant and retire.

But the landlords refused. In an interview in June, Laurie Miller said it was too late. She said the Poiriers had been offered a lease several years ago when she began handling the property for her husband. They had turned it down, and communication had been bad since then, she said.

So the Poiriers prepared to shut down the little cafe. Then the customers learned of their predicament. A Save the Gem Cafe committee was formed, headed by a group of local businessmen. A local real estate agent offered to buy the building. Two attorneys were enlisted, took the case for free and managed to win a reprieve of several months for the Gem.

Still, the Poiriers were under notice to leave by Dec. 31.

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But the prospective tenant lost interest in the property, according to the Millers’ lawyer.

Without the prospective new tenant, the Millers had a change of heart and “they all started talking again.”

And so it was that this week, the Millers and the Poiriers signed a new, three-year lease on the property. The rent is higher, but the Poiriers will be able to sell the restaurant and retire comfortably.

The Millers had no comment on the arrangement, but a Dec. 3 letter to the Poiriers conveyed their sentiment:

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“Henry,” wrote Warren Miller, “I hope this puts all the misunderstanding behind you, so you can continue to cook instead of worry.”


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