Peoria Irish pub to reopen with new owner and name

Source: Cecilia Chan and Rebekah L. Sanders, azcentral.com

Monday, 29th Aug, 2011

Lis Doon Varna, an Irish pub near Arrowhead, will reopen next month with a new owner and a new name, Johnny Fox’s Public House.

The cottage-style pub closed earlier this year, less than three years after it opened off 83rd Avenue in Peoria.

The front of Johnny Fox's Public House in Peoria is seen on Friday. The Irish pub features numerous authentic Irish amenities, such as an antique pipe organ and the entryway's Liscannor Stone, a unique stone from west Ireland. Johnny Fox's is scheduled to open the week of Sept. 18.

The closing and reopening have been marked by acrimony between the former owner and the new owner.

The original owner lost the pub to foreclosure earlier this year. His rival has taken over.

One of the new owners, Dominic Jones, had worked as a contractor to build the pub in 2007. The relationship deteriorated, leading to hard feelings and lawsuits.

Jones wants a fresh start for the restaurant that is expected to open in late September. Ahead of the opening, workmen have been busy making repairs and adding such details as a water wheel near the entry.

The building

Johnny Fox’s Public House will mimic the pubs in Dublin, right down to the Harp Lager on tap, bangers and mash and social experience, Jones said.

The latter is what he hopes will bring people back.

“Pub life in Ireland is different from bar life in America,” he said. “It does not revolve around alcohol.”

The way Jones explained it, people in Ireland’s pubs drop in to relax and socialize and even get a complimentary cup of coffee while reading a book.

Patrons will be able to enjoy Irish food and live Irish music in the Old World-style pub that is detailed with authentic Irish amenities. There’s the 100-year-old church pipe organ and an Irish pine coop dresser, which stored dishes above and chickens below. Then there’s the authentic famine pot in the yard outside the pub. The enormous cast-iron pot fed the hungry during the Irish potato famine, which killed about 1 million people in the mid-1800s.

Jones worked in the restaurant business in New York before coming to Arizona.

He and business partner Robert Fox, both Irish transplants, opened Robbie Fox’s Public House last year along Tempe’s Mill Avenue.

Jones’ company, Moirbia Scottsdale LLC, purchased the Peoria pub from Wells Fargo Bank in May after the bank foreclosed on the property, according to court documents.

But Jones’ ties to the pub date back four years.

Legal strife

Jones’ construction company, Concast Corp., was hired in late 2007 by Lis Doon Varna owner Steve Goumas to finish the pub after the first contractor left.

That much Jones and Goumas agreed on. The two differed on what led to Lis Doon Varna’s premature demise.

Jones said the construction was nearly half completed when he began working on the pub. He said Goumas wouldn’t pay him, claiming a number of reasons including “defective workmanship,” which Jones denied.

Jones said he stayed on and completed the job in six months on the promise of payment from Goumas’ partners.

“I naively took them for their word and didn’t get paid,” Jones said.

He ended up filing a lien of more than $500,000 against Goumas.

Goumas said his company, Irish Restaurant and Pub Co., managed Lis Doon Varna and he was a managing partner of Irish Pub-Arrowhead Land LLC, which owned the property.

Goumas said the management company was doing well financially and the pub was a success. “There was a line out the door every weekend and we had a very good business model going.”

But Irish Pub-Arrowhead Land LLC became mired in money problems, which Goumas said were caused by Jones.

He said Jones came in at “the tail end of the project” and was supposed to finish the pub in 90 days.

Goumas said that didn’t happen and his workmanship was “unacceptable.”

Jones completed enough of the pub to gain a certificate of occupancy, Goumas said, but “I actually hired other contractors to come in and finish the project.”

Financial woes

Goumas sued Jones in Maricopa County Superior Court for filing the liens, saying it prompted Wells Fargo Bank not to fund a portion of his construction loans and led his company to default, according to filings in the lawsuit, which is ongoing.

Irish Pub-Arrowhead Land LLC was eventually filed into bankruptcy, which is still being sorted out. That initially stalled foreclosure proceedings by Wells Fargo.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court-appointed trustee Dan Collins said the simple answer for Lis Doon Varna’s short history was non-payment of debt.

Collins said Wells Fargo tried to work with Goumas and his partners to allow them to keep the pub, but he couldn’t come up with $2.3 million that would satisfy the bank and other creditors.

“Steve could never get the money together and Wells Fargo eventually foreclosed,” Collins said. “Now Steve may want to blame others for why he could not get the money together.”

The foreclosure occurred in February, Collins said.

Jones then approached the bank and purchased the property, he said.

“There’re lots of ill will between Dominic and Steve,” Collins said. “I think he has a bone to pick with Steve and vice-versa and I think the fight will continue to go forward between the two of them.”

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