The recent closure of the popular Harbor East restaurant Chazz: A Bronx Original came without apparent warning or immediate explanation from its owners.
But court records show that the restaurant and its owners have faced legal actions in recent years alleging missed vendor payments and unpaid city taxes.
Chazz co-owner Sergio Vitale acknowledged the closure on his personal Facebook page but did not offer an explanation. In a statement sent to The Baltimore Sun, Vitale said his family had "invested big money" in its vision and has tried to put Baltimore on the national food map.
"Unfortunately, the life span of the business ended more quickly than the terms of some of our agreements," he said. "Lawsuits are an unfortunate reality of doing business in modern America; we live in a litigious society. We're committed to moving forward and addressing the issues."
In December, Sysco Baltimore filed a lawsuit against Chazz, alleging that the restaurant owes the food distributor $161,520 in delinquent payments.
This week, Sysco obtained a confessed judgment against Chazz in Baltimore City Circuit Court, a step toward collecting an additional $22,000 in allegedly delinquent payments, plus interest and attorneys' fees.
Last year, the city sued Sonny's Bronx Original LLC, the company that operated Chazz, alleging unpaid property taxes. A judgment of about $11,000 was entered against Sonny's, and City Solicitor George Nilson said the money has not yet been paid.
Also last year, Ed Hale Sr., the former CEO of First Mariner Bancorp, filed a complaint in Baltimore against Sonny's Bronx Original, Sergio Vitale, his brother Alessandro, and their father, Rinaldo, to recoup about $70,000 he said they owed from a loan. After a judgment was entered against the restaurant company and the Vitales, the money was paid, according to court filings.
The public relations firm Profiles sued Sonny's Bronx Original and Sergio Vitale in 2012 for $27,000, alleging it was not paid for publicity work. In court filings, Sonny's said there were disputes over the amount of money owed. But Profiles recouped the money last year after its attorney filed paperwork to have the restaurant's bank account garnished, records show.
When Chazz: A Bronx Original opened in 2011, it was billed as a collaboration between the Vitale family and Chazz Palminteri, the Oscar-nominated actor best known for creating and performing in the one-man play "A Bronx Tale" and for writing the screenplay and starring in the movie adaptation directed by Robert De Niro.
The actor, who could not be reached for comment, had no ownership stake in the restaurant, according to court records.
The menu at the restaurant, in the 1400 block of Aliceanna St., was inspired by classic Italian-American restaurant fare. Its interior included Bronx scenes and vignettes. The white brick facing on the imported brick oven evoked the designs of old subway stations, and a raised dining platform recalled an elevated train station.
Vitale said his family is "as committed as ever to Baltimore" and will focus its efforts on another restaurant, Aldo's in Little Italy, which is entering its 18th year.