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Landlord suing over failed South Loop eatery co-owned by Israel Idonije

Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije cools off during warmups before an NFL football game against Detroit Lions November 2011.

Chicago Bears defensive end Israel Idonije cools off during warmups before an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in November 2011. Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: January 21, 2013 4:06PM

Landlords of a failed South Loop eatery co-owned by Chicago Bear Israel Idonije filed a half-million dollar lawsuit Wednesday against him and his head chef over unpaid rent.

The landlord of the now-shuttered Alain’s Restaurant — listed as 1400 Museum Park Commercial, LLC — filed the suit Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court against both Idonije and head chef Alain Njike.

The suit claims both men signed a personal guaranty and a five-year lease for the space in August 2011, promising full payment of the 1,900-sq. ft. restaurant’s $3,900 monthly rent plus property tax and maintenance costs.

Rent for the restaurant at 1355 S. Michigan Ave. was set to rise 3 percent that August, and an additional 3 percent each following year, according to the suit.

But Kelley Speck, president of The Realis Group, LLC and Idonije’s business manager, said in a statement: “It is unfortunate that Israel’s genuine kindness has resulted in a lawsuit against him. A minor contribution was given from Realis Group to help a friend achieve his dream of opening a restaurant.

“Neither Israel nor the Realis Group were involved with day-to-day management of the restaurant or with any business decisions made by Alain Njike. As soon as this matter was brought to my attention, I began working to resolve it and remain actively engaged in solving the issue in the most appropriate manner.”

According to the suit, even before the restaurant’s grand opening in September, landlords had yet to see even a partial rent payment, prompting the landlord to begin eviction proceedings in April, the suit alleges.

Promised payments never materialized and settlement talks went nowhere — complicated by a $15,655 lien filed against the space after contractors allegedly went unpaid, despite the restaurant’s reassurances they had been compensated, according to the suit.

The restaurant was finally evicted from its South Loop space in September. A phone number listed for the restaurant was disconnected as of Wednesday evening.

Contacted Wednesday night, Idonije — a defensive end — told the Sun-Times in a brief conversation: “I don’t know anything about, but I appreciate you giving me a call, thank you.”

The landlords claim they never would have entered into the lease if the knew the restaurant was “grossly undercapitalized” and that Idonije was only to be a minority investor, with no day-to-day oversight of its operations.

Wednesday’s lawsuit seeks to enforce the guaranties signed by Idonije and chef Njike, claiming they each owe least $116,000 each plus interest and attorney’s fees.

The suit also claims common law fraud against both Idonije and Njike. It seeks another $130,000 judgment against them plus at least $500,000 in punitive damages “to prevent future dealings of the same nature on the part of the defendants.”

This isn’t the first litigation tied to the restaurant. A bartender and a server filed a federal lawsuit against the eatery in October, claiming the restaurant didn’t pay them for some hours they worked, and withheld tips from bills paid with a credit card, the suit said.

That case is still pending, and is scheduled to go before Judge Ronald Guzman for a status hearing Jan. 10, 2013, according to federal court records.

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