Restaurants in Burbank and across California experienced the lifting of capacity limits and social distancing requirements on Tuesday morning. Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill wasn’t one of them.
Instead, a deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department placed a notice of eviction at the eatery. The name Lepejian was twice mentioned on the paper. The first was a reference to Baret Lepejian, the controversial restaurateur whose open defiance of health orders issued because of COVID-19 sparked a months-long legal battle with officials and attracted crowds of supporters.
The second mention referred to Isabelle Lepejian, owner of the property at 2623 W. Magnolia Blvd. — and Baret’s former wife. Armed with a writ of possession and backed up by the Sheriff’s Department, she took over possession of Tinhorn Flats’ building and property on Tuesday, Burbank officials said in a news release.
In an interview, Isabelle Lepejian contended that she evicted Tinhorn Flats because Baret Lepejian violated his lease agreement by failing to reapply for a Burbank conditional use permit, which the City Council voted to revoke in February. She also claimed she wasn’t aware of his actions until she was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the city.
“I’m doing all this just so the city of Burbank [and] the neighborhood are happy,” Isabelle Lepejian said by phone, adding that she felt her former husband’s establishment brought too much noise to the local area.
Baret Lepejian previously told the Leader that he believed Isabelle was seeking an eviction because she became discontented with the fact he wasn’t paying full rent — a notion she denied, saying she has allowed him to pay partial rent since last year.
The restaurant owner wasn’t available for comment this week, but on Wednesday the Tinhorn Flats Instagram account posted a photo with a caption saying that “payments towards rent were made and accepted by [the] ‘landlord’ up [until] just a very few months ago. … The termination of Tinhorn Flats was priority #1 by all the usual suspects that cooperated together. Half Time is over and the Second Half just began.”
The eatery’s reopening of its outdoor patio in December — when coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths were skyrocketing — infuriated many local community members who felt the owner was acting selfishly during a public health crisis. That frustration has remained as anti-mask protesters and pandemic deniers have used Tinhorn Flats as a staging ground for weekend demonstrations in the normally quiet Magnolia Park neighborhood.
Baret Lepejian, who has lived in Thailand since 2019, and his supporters have insisted Tinhorn Flats is a patriotic establishment that is being punished for its refusal to back down in the face of what they see as tyranny. Those supporters have donated more than $90,000 through Tinhorn Flats’ GoFundMe page to help pay its legal fees after Los Angeles County and the city of Burbank sued the restaurant for remaining open after losing its required permits.
The restaurant’s Instagram account has previously claimed the county Department of Public Health said it couldn’t consider reinstating its health permit — on which the recovery of the conditional use permit depends — until the next court hearing in July.
A spokesperson for the county declined to comment, saying it doesn’t comment on matters that are in litigation.
Tinhorn Flats has remained closed for more than two months. In April, the city placed a chain-link fence around the property after declaring the establishment unsafe. Lucas Lepejian, who manages his father’s restaurant, was also arrested three times for allegedly violating a court order preventing Tinhorn Flats from operating without its required permits and for allegedly trying to move sandbags blocking the restaurant’s door after it had been declared unsafe.
Isabelle Lepejian said she isn’t sure what she’ll do with the property and the building, noting that she’s grappling with debt and the cost of hiring an attorney. She visited the site on Tuesday, she added, and found it to be in a state of some disrepair.
“It’s such a mess inside,” she said. “It’s more than a mess. It needs a big cleanup.”