By Angeljean Chiaramida
---- — SALISBURY — Long-standing financial troubles appear to have brought an end to Hobo’s Cafe and Lounge at Salisbury Beach.
Last week, a seized sign was posted by the Essex County Sheriff’s Office on the front door of the 5 Broadway restaurant that’s been a staple of the beach center for about 12 years.
And there are reports that owners Bob and Howie Fournier have left town.
Hobo’s was a year-round eatery and watering hole known for providing good food and a fun atmosphere, as well as lending a helping hand to many local nonprofit organizations in need of a venue for a fundraising event. In 2011, the owners were recognized by the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, receiving the group’s Business Award for their decade’s worth of energy, time and contributions to the community.
But for months, stories have been circulating that its owners were experiencing financial difficulties.
The situation came to a head last week when the Fourniers’ landlord, Ron Paredna, said he had no option but to act.
Paredna, who owns Cristy’s Pizza along the same block, filed a civil lien on the Hobo’s property, resulting in the court-ordered seizure of the site through the Enforcement Unit of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.
“They’ve owed me months and months of rent. This goes back before this summer,” Paredna said yesterday. “I nursed them along for a long time because I wanted to give them a chance and I didn’t want an empty storefront along that part of Broadway to be a blight on the beach center.”
Paredna said the civil lien on the property is in addition to personal judgments he has against the two restaurateurs. And, he added, he isn’t the only one who’s been hurt.
“They burned me and a lot of other innocent people,” Paredna said. “They defrauded everyone. They bounced checks. People were crying.”
Hobo’s website offers a one-sentence farewell massage and both the cafe’s phone and the owner’s cellphone numbers are no longer in service. According to Paredna, the men had a car carrier haul away their vehicles on Christmas Eve. He said both men may not only have skipped town, they may have left the country.
“What I hear now is that they’ve both taken off to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands,” Paredna said. “But just last week, when I told them I’d heard rumors they were about to leave town, they said, ‘Where would we go; we have no money.’”
Not long ago, the Fourniers tried to sell the interior assets of the restaurant to another businessman, Paredna said. After Paredna informed them he had a legal claim on the equipment, it was moved back into the business.
Paredna said it’s fortunate that the restaurant wasn’t vandalized and the space is in good condition. He said he’s already had inquiries from people who want to rent the property, situated along the busiest stretch of the beach center.
However, Paredna said since the owners exited abruptly, perishable food — including about 50 pounds of fish — was left behind. He said he acted quickly to remove the items for sanitary reasons.
“I couldn’t have that left there,” Paredna said. “It had to all be cleaned up.”
Paredna believes that the Fourniers’ troubles were not a result of slow business, but of the operation itself.
“I don’t understand it really,” Paredna said. “They served good food, and the place was busy. I think they didn’t know how to manage money. They didn’t have their financial priorities in the right places.”