St Albans city-centre restaurant forced to close

HAD Veer Dhara

HAD Veer Dhara - Credit: Archant

A popular city centre restaurant which numbers Hollywood actor Tom Cruise among its fans has been forced to close after bailiffs entered the building on Friday.

Veer Dhara in St Peter’s Street, St Albans, has been served with a notice of repossession by Pizza Hut, the former occupiers of the building and the leaseholders.

But the owner of the Indian restaurant Darshit Singh Hora is in discussions with Pizza Hut and is prepared to take legal action in order to reopen Veer Dhara as soon as possible.

Speaking on Mr Hora’s behalf, solicitor Luke Harrison from solicitors Debenhams Ottaway, said the freeholder had leased the premises to Pizza Hut for 20 years. In 2008, after it had closed its restaurant there, Pizza Hut leased it to Veer Dhara and although there had been some issues with the old company that had previously run the Indian restaurant, a new company had been formed in 2011 with Mr Hora as principal shareholder.

The new company had regularly paid rent but in 2012 Pizza Hut stopped demanding it - and it was as a result of that situation that the bailiffs came in on Friday.

Mr Harrison explained: “Veer Dhara’s position is that having essentially paid the rent for a period of time after the old company stopped trading, they had a lease which came into existence by operational law with Pizza Hut.”

He said that Pizza Hut had exercised the “fairly draconian right” to peaceably re-enter the property on Friday claiming that Veer Dhara was operating as a trespasser.

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On Friday morning bailiffs forced the back door – which they are legally allowed to do – installed two security guards in the building and refused access to the head chef and front of house.

Mr Harrison said the owners, who had been left considerably out of pocket by the closure and had thousands of pounds of equipment and food still on the premises, were trying to resolve the matter and had started a dialogue with Pizza Hut. He went on: “We have written to the agents for Pizza Hut to say we are considering legal action including an injunction.”

He also pointed out that Veer Dhara had a very loyal fanbase in St Albans and intended to use the power of local social media to push its case.

Veer Dhara has proved to be a popular Indian restaurant in St Albans and hit the headlines in August 2012 when Tom Cruise visited with two bodyguards and seven guests when he was filming at Leavesden Studios in Watford.

The Hollywood actor was understood to have travelled 15 miles to dine at the restaurant following a recommendation.

Veer Dhara has also hosted charitable events in support of the Princes Trust and Dragons Apprentice Challenge attended by over 120 local business people.

In a notice of repossession on the front windows of Veer Dhara, Pizza Hut confirms that it is “now in possession of the goods and equipment contained in the premises” and intend to dispose or sell them by 5pm next Friday, February 14, unless any external companies come forward with a claim on them.

A Pizza Hut spokesperson said this week: “We are the leaseholders of the commercial space at 81 St Peter’s Street, St Albans. We have re-entered the premises and taken possession of the property on the basis that the previous sub-tenant was dissolved and the sub-lease was disclaimed.

“The former occupers were therefore trespassing at the premises with no legal right to remain.”