State seizes downtown eatery, owner vows to reopen

04/22/2014 3:46 PM |
An orange sign on the locked door of Blue Agave Mexican Grill announcing that the restaurant was seized Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

An orange sign on the locked door of Blue Agave Mexican Grill announcing that the restaurant was seized Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

State tax officials shut down an East Main Street burrito joint Tuesday afternoon for failing to pay thousands of dollars in state sales taxes — but the restaurant’s owner told the News-Review he’s going to pay back the state Department of Taxation and Finance and that the eatery won’t be closed for long.

“I’m working with them now, and it’s going to be reopened definitely next week,” owner Ken Loo said.

The doors of Blue Agave Mexican Grill, which opened in 2012 and had, of late, only accepted cash payments, were locked Tuesday afternoon. Customers were greeted by multiple bright orange signs informing them that the property had been “seized for nonpayment of taxes and is now in the possession of New York State.”

According to the state tax warrant system, five tax liens have been filed against the restaurant since 2012, four of which are current — totaling $13,804. A New York State Tax Assessment spokesperson said that, in order for the restaurant to reopen, Mr. Loo will need to pay a total of $8,187 for nonpayments from 2013.

Mr. Loo — who also runs the sushi restaurant Haiku out of the same East Main Street building as Blue Agave as well as the Hy Ting Chinese restaurant on West Main Street — said he had to focus his attention on the Birchwood restaurant after his brother James, who owned and operated the Polish Town bar, died suddenly in January.

Mr. Loo said he discovered Birchwood was five weeks behind on payroll.

“I had to pay those guys,” he said. “A lot of things I can live with, like owing the state money. But I can’t owe people that have been working there for 30 years and not give them their paychecks.”

In addition to the money owed from Blue Agave, two liens totaling $13,659 were filed against Hy Ting and one for $14,149 was filed against Haiku, according to state records.

Mr. Loo said he had been in the process of paying for the taxes owed by Hy Ting and Haiku, and had a year to pay off the Blue Agave’s lien, but instead chose to use the money at Birchwood to “keep it afloat.”

When the deadline for Blue Agave’s payments came and went, the state stepped in.

Finding that tax agents had seized the restaurant and changed the locks was no surprise, Mr. Loo said.

“They change the locks and, when you give them the money, they give you the key,” he said.

He told the News-Review he would pay the state taxes in full to reopen the restaurant and was confident that, despite a “brutal” winter, the eatery would survive.

“I don’t want to see that place go,” he said. “It’s going to be open again … All three are still going to be there.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

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