The closure last month of the Half Lion Public House in Kent caught many off guard, including its landlord, the city of Kent.
“This is a surprise for us and it was beyond the control of the city, I want to stress that,” said Pat Fitzpatrick, city chief administrative officer, in an Oct. 17 report to the Kent City Council.
The city leases the space to Half Lion at the city-owned Riverbend Golf Complex, 2019 W. Meeker St. Half Lion opened in 2019 and just six months later had to shut down due to the pandemic. In 2022, its first full year of operation, the restaurant/bar made a profit.
“We are finally in the black, and being in the black for a small business is the best thing in the world – it’s awesome,” said Jason Nelson, Half Lion owner and chief executive officer, at a March 7 City Council workshop.
City Parks Director Julie Parascondola, whose department oversees the facility, confirmed in a Nov. 6 email that the restaurant had closed and that it might reopen.
“Yes, Half Lion Public House is closed right now, however, we are currently working on a potential reopen plan, but it’s not all confirmed yet via timing,” Parascondola said.
Parascondola said the restaurant was still doing well.
“The closure wasn’t related to lack of profit/success at the Public House, there were other considerations Half Lion was dealing with,” she said. “I’m not at liberty to share all Half Lion’s business.”
Nelson, the CEO of Half Lion, could not be reached for comment. He has not yet responded to an email.
The company is dealing with challenging financial issues, according to court documents.
That includes a civil lawsuit filed June 27, 2023 in King County Superior Court by The Baseball Club of Seattle (Mariners) seeking $80,000 from Half Lion, according to court documents.
Half Lion agreed to pay $200,000 to the Mariners for sponsorship signage in 2021 at T-Mobile Park and sales of its beer. Half Lion has paid $120,000 of that fee.
Half Lion counter sued the Mariners for more than $100,000 claiming the Mariners didn’t live up to their advertising promises. Filings about the case continue in court. A trial date has been set for June 24, 2024.
The state Department of Revenue also filed civil suit July 25, 2022 in King County Superior Court against Half Lion for a tax warrant of $75,668 (at the time of the filing) for unpaid taxes from a period between February 2020 and July 2021.
Half Lion Public House is part of Sumner-based Half Lion Brewing Co., which also has reportedly closed.
The company signed a 10-year lease with the city of Kent in 2019, plus three five-year options to renew, at a rent of $3,000 per month or $36,000 per year.
“We are very disappointed with this announcement,” Fitzpatrick said. “We really appreciated the partnership with Half Lion and we wish the business ownership well as they go forward.”
Fitzpatrick said the lease will be reviewed.
City leaders made a deal with Half Lion in August 2021 to help keep the business going through the pandemic:
• Waived the monthly lease payment until two months after full restaurant restrictions were relaxed by the state, a $54,000 loss to Riverbend, according to city documents.
• Suspended Consumer Price Index inflation adjustment to the lease until June 2023.
• Utility payments were deferred and allowed to be paid back over five years with 8% interest.
The utility deferment was $36,013. The payback schedule is for five years (until 2026) at a rate of $730 per month.
“I, too, am super disappointed that Half Lion will be closing,” City Councilmember Zandria Michaud said after Fitzpatrick’s announcement. “They were really great community partners and had really great food.”
Half Lion is the fourth restaurant to close at the Riverbend location since 2010. Fire Creek Grill lasted nine years before it went out of business in 2010. Mick Kelly’s Irish Pub closed in 2015 after a five-year run. Scotch and Vine closed in 2017 after less than a year in business. All three restaurants owed the city money after closing.