First published in the Sept. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The doors were open, but Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill remained closed for business.
Patrons once again stepped into the dusty, dimly lit bar on Wednesday, but they weren’t there to order drinks. Instead, they trickled in to collect the items on which they had bid: tables, refrigerators, ice machines and other equipment that had been listed for auction.
Standing in what remained of Tinhorn Flats’ bar room, Isabelle Lepejian — the property owner — wore a cloth mask as she watched workers haul away what had been pieces of her ex-husband’s restaurant. She evicted the business in June after months of escalating feuds between him and public agencies.
The controversy had started on the patio. In December, Isabelle’s former husband Baret Lepejian announced that in-person dining would resume there. With his children managing the day-to-day operations of the restaurant while he oversaw it from Thailand, he repeated a phrase in interviews and social media posts that would intertwine itself with the brand of Tinhorn Flats: “We will not comply.” The restrictions on restaurants — implemented amid a swelling tide of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations — were unconstitutional, he insisted.
“It’s so ridiculous,” Isabelle Lepejian said of her ex’s stance, noting that other businesses had to comply with restrictions as well. She added that she didn’t know about Tinhorn Flats’ actions until the city named her as a defendant in its lawsuit against the restaurant, a measure Burbank officials pursued this year after the saloon stayed open despite losing its health and operating permits.
Isabelle Lepejian said she evicted Tinhorn Flats in June for not trying to get its permits back — which would have required Baret to pay a substantial amount in fines to government agencies. Since then, she’s been trying to raise money to clean the building and pay off legal fees and property taxes she alleges Baret agreed to pay but never did. The California Secretary of State website shows state and federal liens filed against the company as recently as Aug. 6.
Auctioning off Tinhorn Flats’ equipment, the auction website shows, didn’t bring Isabelle Lepejian much money — several items received no bids at all. And other issues have appeared: Early this week, she said, someone stole the beer mug sign that had hung on the Tinhorn Flats billboard outside the building. She’s asking anyone who saw what happened to email her at email@example.com.
The property owner, who says the parcel is her sole source of income, plans to soon launch a GoFundMe to ask the Burbank community for help paying the debt and costs of refurbishing the building.
“I’m trying to keep the city of Burbank and the neighborhood nice [and] clean, and … quiet,” a draft for the fundraiser page reads.
Baret Lepejian did not answer phone calls from the Burbank Leader requesting comment, but he’s been active online since his business’s eviction. On Tinhorn Flats’ Instagram account, he’s posted opinions condemning vaccine mandates and coronavirus regulations, including a logo of syringes in the shape of a swastika.
In a video uploaded to the account last week, Baret Lepejian claimed Isabelle and the city of Burbank collaborated to evict Tinhorn Flats because of his noncompliance and support for former President Donald Trump. The restaurateur also reiterated his belief that the saloon’s health permit — the loss of which put in motion the revocation of the city’s operating permit, which in turn prompted the eviction — was revoked illegally, saying he is confident he will win his legal battle with Los Angeles County.
“Not fun, for sure, but I would not change a thing,” Baret Lepejian said in the video. “I would do it all over again.”
Isabelle Lepejian alleges Baret didn’t send a representative for the eviction hearing in court. She also credited city employees for allowing her access to the property and working with her to bring it up to code.
“They were really, really very helpful,” she said. “They were there for me.”
Even with their assistance, Isabelle Lepejian said she’s not sure whether she’ll sell the property or lease it out again. Sitting at one of Tinhorn Flats’ booths, she looked over her draft for her fundraiser and chatted with a worker about the sturdiness of the fence surrounding the property.
Outside, Tinhorn Flats’ patio — where its defiance began about nine months ago — was stripped mostly bare and devoid of diners. The long tables, over which diners had discussed their disbelief of the pandemic and rallied around a shared frustration at what they saw as government tyranny, were gone. A couple of bidders came in and looked around for a few moments. One noted a tall stand she found appealing.
Then they went back inside to collect their piece of Tinhorn Flats.