Richmond Mayor calls attempt to evict popular restaurant owner act of spite by developer

Scott Morris (BCN)
Tuesday August 09, 2016 - 04:51:00 PM

Richmond's mayor is strongly backing a waterfront restaurateur facing eviction, saying that the property owner is trying to force her out as an act of spite against the city after losing two ballot measures in June, including one seeking voter approval for a new development project.

According to Mayor Tom Butt, the Penterra Company served a 30-day notice to vacate to Salute e Vita Ristorante, a popular Italian restaurant owned by Menbere Aklilu, an Eritrean woman who has been widely recognized for her charity work and community service.

The Penterra Company is associated with Richard Poe, a Florida-based developer who only mustered 34 percent approval when he took a plan before voters to build a 59-unit residential property on land he owns on the city's waterfront. 

Butt, along with City Councilwoman Gayle McLaughin, fought the measure, calling it an attempt to bypass the city's normal environmental review and public planning processes and push through a project that was contrary to the city's general plan. 

On Monday, Butt accused Poe of trying to evict the restaurant as an act of spite and retaliation against the city for the June failure of that measure, along with another measure he put on the ballot seeking to reduce the city manager's salary. 

"Spite is not a new motivation for Poe, whose Measure O to dramatically reduce the Richmond City Manager's compensation had no compelling objective other than spite and retaliation," Butt said. 

Butt planned a news conference this morning to rally support for the restaurant. Poe did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Restaurant owner Aklilu, known in the community as "Menbe," has been renowned for her charity work and her personal story of overcoming homelessness and abuse to become a successful businesswoman. 

Among her accolades, she was the Contra Costa Business Woman of the Year in 2009, received the Jefferson Award in 2015 and was nominated for the Women's Hall of Fame by state Sen. Loni Hancock this year. 

In a 2013 commencement address at Holy Names University in Oakland, she recounted her turbulent early life in Ethiopia and Italy. Her mother, also a restaurant owner, was shot dead in front of her when she was 11 years old. 

"I saw the blood, I saw the fight, I saw all the drama," she said. 

After she was raised in orphanages and by her brother and sister, she moved to Italy with the dream of becoming an actress. But she ended up in an abusive marriage and, pregnant with her first son, she fled to a women's shelter, where she met Mother Teresa shortly after giving birth. 

Her community work includes hosting annual Thanksgiving dinners for homeless families, Mother's Day brunches for single mothers and donating to the Richmond Rescue Shelter, the East Bay Center for Performing Arts and the Family Justice Center.