The End of an Ozzie’s

09/14/2011 8:57 AM |

Photo by Nadia Chaudry

  • Photo by Nadia Chaudhury

The owner of Ozzie’s Coffee and Tea, Park Slope’s java icon, tried to keep the cafe’s Seventh Avenue location open, but her landlord has declined to renew her lease. So, less than a block away, Melissa Rapoport is trying again—she’s opening a new coffee house at 72 Seventh Avenue, a short stroll from Ozzie’s old spot at No. 57.

“Despite the fact that I was trying to bring our rent up to date, the landlord sent a five day notice to clear out,” Rapoport says. “At one point I was able to cut a check from the bank for $20,000 more than I owed and he still wanted Ozzie’s to leave.”

She claims that she lost the lease because her landlord, Kevin Kelley, didn’t want her as a tenant anymore. On two different occasions, she says, Kelley asked her to meet to work out the lease’s details, but kept changing the terms in an attempt, she says, to force her out.

Kelley tells it differently.

“She didn’t pay the rent for nine months,” he says. When asked to speculate why, he says, “You’ll have to ask her.”

Employees at Bark Slope Salon and Visions, Ozzie’s neighbors and fellow Kelley tenants, declined to comment on Ozzie’s closing, saying that they each had good relationships with their landlord and did not want to damage them.

Rapoport has had financial troubles over the past year. National Grid has sued her. And she was forced to pay a $15,500 settlement to a former barista who alleged he was fired because he was associated with the Industrial Workers of the World.

Rapoport and her ex-husband, Allon Azulai, founded the original Ozzie’s on Fifth Avenue 18 years ago. That location will stay open and be a separate entity from the unnamed place Rapoport hopes to open before October 1. Taking over the former site of restaurant La Taqueria, Rapoport’s new spot will strive for a “smaller, more intimate” establishment. It will also serve alcohol, and the menu will feature more locally produced beverages.

Rapoport emphasized that she will be running this shop alone. When she and Azulai were married, they owned both the Fifth and Seventh Avenue Ozzie’s. After they divorced, Azulai managed the Fifth Avenue location and Rapoport the Seventh. (Azulai would not answer any questions about the Seventh Avenue location closing or about Rapoport’s imminent relocation.)

“They don’t really have anything to do with each other,” said an Ozzie’s employee who did not want to be identified.