A Lenox Jae's in the offing?


Wednesday February 15, 2012

LENOX -- Noted pan-Asian chef and restaurateur Jae Chung, through a company formed by his wife, Suzanne, and family members, is seeking to take over the struggling Tex-Mex restaurant at Lenox Commons on Route 7 and 20.

The revamped restaurant will be known as Jae's Lenox.

Twin Sisters Food Services Inc., with Suzanne Chung as the 65 percent shareholder, and her sister, Catherine Levine, and two others as minority owners, is applying for a transfer of the liquor license to operate the business. A public hearing is set for the Feb. 29 Select Board meeting.

Jae Chung has no financial interest in the company and would serve as executive chef.

He and his wife are defendants in a criminal insurance-fraud case scheduled for a Central Berkshire District Court jury-of-six trial on April 24.

Chung has been involved in a series of troubled restaurant business ventures, including Jae's Spice and Shabu 297 on North Street in Pittsfield, Jae's Inn in North Adams, Jae's in Williamstown and the Miss Adams Diner (renamed the Captain's Table during his ownership), among others in the Boston area. With the exception of Jae's Spice and Shabu, which were leased to new operators, his Berkshire eateries were sold at auction because of breach of mortgage contracts.

But David Ward, owner of Lenox Commons, said he's hoping for a "repackaged, repainted, positive restaurant" by late May or early June, following a closing for renovations, if the Selectmen and then the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) in Boston approve the liquor license transfer.

"Although I don't own the restaurant building, I've spent a lot of money to turn this center around," Ward said, pointing to new retail and professional tenants added to the mix as well as 13 adjoining condominium units sold.

"Jae would be a positive influence on the center -- he has good food," Ward added. "We welcome Jae Chung and Jae's Lenox restaurant coming in."

The restaurant building, which was originally built as a Bennigan's franchise, is owned by Navin Shah's Berkshire Hotel Group. He did not return a call seeking comment.

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Acknowledging that the Tex-Mex eatery "hasn't done well for a number of reasons," Ward said he had approached national chains, including Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Outback Steak House, Longhorn Steak House and Chili's, but all decided against leasing the restaurant building because "there's not enough traffic 10 months of the year."

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has reported that, on average year-round, 26,000 vehicles pass the location each day, according to Ward.

Attorney Lori Robbins of Heller and Associates in Lenox, representing the applicants for the liquor license, said the Chungs "are confident going forward about having a very successful restaurant and creating a beautiful space. A man is innocent until proven guilty."

The pending criminal case is based on charges that Jae and Suzanne Chung filed a false insurance claim against Chubb Insurance Group in July 2009 for $23,492 worth of kitchen appliances they said were stolen in May 2008 from the basement of Crawford Square, a commercial building they had owned at 137 North St. but was sold at auction for breach of mortgage contract.

Both have pleaded not guilty and have vowed to vigorously contest the charges, according to Jae Chung's attorney, Anthony Gianacopoulos, and Suzanne Chung's attorney, William A. Rota.

Investigators for the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts stated in court documents that there was "no sign of forced entry and no witnesses to the alleged theft." A bureau report stated that the Chungs' stories did not match and that Jae Chung told investigator Ted H. Weimer that he may not have been "precisely accurate, but was close" in listing the items allegedly stolen.

The fraud investigators said many of the items had been sold with the Chungs' Framingham home in September 2008. They also said Jae Chung had acknowledged financial difficulties, citing the closings of all his restaurants in the county.

His setbacks, coinciding with the depths of the Great Recession, came to a head in 2009 when buildings he owned in Pittsfield, Adams and Williamstown were sold at auction. In 2010, the building that had housed his Jae's Inn in North Adams was sold for $700,000.

It was reported last year that Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds documents showed that Chung had owed thousands of dollars in federal and state tax liens placed on Jae's Spice lnc., mostly for unpaid meals taxes.

Last May, when he and the owners of the Jae's Spice building, Joyce Bernstein and Lawrence Rosenthal, parted ways, Chung said despite high overhead, the restaurant had been breaking even. The site is now home to Spice Dragon, offering Asian fusion cuisine with a Vietnamese emphasis.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 496-6247.


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