When Bill Eustace drove into Herndon a couple weeks ago to eat at Sylvana's — a restaurant he's visited for years — he was shocked to find the spot vacant with a sign on the door.
"Sylvana's Restaurant is closed indefinitely. The landlord has taken possession by order of the General District Court of Fairfax County," reads the sign in all-caps on the front and back doors of the popular lunch spot at 781 Station St.
"It's not like we hadn't been there in a couple of months," said the retired Reston resident. "We were there the week before and then we came back and it was gone."
On the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 24, the owner of Sylvana's Restaurant, Costas Valasis, was evicted at the order of the General District Court of Fairfax County because the he failed to pay an excess of $45,000 in rent to building owner James Building Development LLC.
JEFFREY FAIRFIELD, attorney for James Building Development LLC, said in situations like this, the tenant is given numerous opportunities to pay the debt, with the final action resulting in an eviction and court proceedings.
In his client's case, Fairfield said the tenant was contacted in early September by Steven Mitchell, manager of James Building Development LLC, about the debt.
After no response, Fairfield became involved and served Valasis with a pay or quit notice, setting a court date of Oct. 15 — requiring Valasis to be present — if the rent was not paid by that time.
"The defendant has never appeared in the case," said Fairfield after the most recent Dec. 3 court hearing to clarify an error in the address of the restaurant on the lease.
He added — because he has yet to be contacted by an attorney — he believes Valasis does not have legal representation.
"I have not had direct communication with the tenants since a week ago today," said Fairfield on Dec. 6.
After failure of payment for the restaurant lease — which was about $33,000 — and the separate upstairs bar space — which was about $12,000, Fairfield said he served Valasis with a writ of possession, allowing his client to legally take back the space.
"He understood what was going on," said Fairfield of his communication with Valasis, adding at the time of eviction Valasis was not present but he believes he came to the restaurant later that day.
ALTHOUGH MITCHELL — also a Town Council member — would not elaborate on previous rent payments, saying it was private business information, he did say Valasis had been renting the space at 781 Station St. from him since the summer of 1996.
In addition, Mitchell said he has had no contact with Valasis since the eviction, and is still evaluating "all opportunities as far as the interest of the business is concerned" in regards to leasing the location to a new tenant.
Ellen Kaminsky, membership mangager for the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, said Valasis had been a member in good standing with the chamber for many years.
"We're just as surprised as everybody else," she said of the missed rent payments. "He is in good standing through the end of [this] year and was always generous with the Chamber of Commerce whenever we needed food donated for various events. He was very active as a downtown member."
"We didn't know what could have happened ... we didn't know if the lease had been canceled or what," said Eustace about he and his wife's speculations as to why the business closed. "He was in business for a long time and he does a good business. I didn't realize he wasn't paying his rent."
Eustace said he remembered when Valasis was located in the Dulles Park Shopping Center, saying when the landlord at that site increased the rent, Valasis had to move and it took him a while to reopen until he found the Station Street location.
"He seemed like he knew how to run his business," he said. "The way the place was run he seemed like a sensible guy — he was there most of the time."
"It's a general series of events — if you don't pay rent [you will be evicted]," said Fairfield of the action, adding he too had eaten at Sylvana's. "It's unfortunate and not pleasant to have happen."
Valasis could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.