A planned romantic mountaintop anniversary date at a one-table dining room in Fountain Hills turned into a $10,000 lawsuit when a lawyer and restaurateur accused each other of bad manners.
Institute for Justice attorney Clint Bolick filed his first consumer lawsuit this month, alleging fraud after the anniversary dinner he planned at Charmian Dining Room on top of Eagle Mountain was canceled and his $187 credit card deposit never returned.
"I decided it was time to fight back and try to teach these folks a lesson," Bolick said.
But Charmian manager Thomas McGlone says the suit is frivolous because he sent Bolick his refund and a certificate for an upgraded dining package. "Quite frankly, he impresses me as somewhat of a nut job," he said of Bolick.
The meaty matter began last spring when Bolick picked up one of the restaurant’s brochures at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival and made reservations for he and his wife’s third anniversary Nov. 11. According to the suit, Charmian’s brochure promised a "culinary oasis in a sea of banality."
The restaurant, at 14825 E. Shea Boulevard, is believed to be the Valley’s first one-table dining room. It can accommodate up to 16 guests and features a view though a large window of the East Valley to the south.
Bolick said the restaurant promised a "decidedly exclusive experience" of "intimate dining" and "outstanding cuisine" at rates ranging from $195 per couple to $1,255 for groups. He planned a six-course dinner, including wine, for he and his wife at a cost of $295.
What the brochure didn’t say, however, is the dining room wasn’t serving anything yet.
Bolick said he called McGlone in October to make final arrangements for the evening, but McGlone did not tell him the restaurant had yet to open.
Bolick contends he was not told Charmian was not open until the the day before the anniversary.
According to Bolick, McGlone told him the reason for the delay was construction problems and McGlone didn’t know the restaurant wouldn’t be open until the weekend before the anniversary.
In the complaint, Bolick alleges a Dec. 4 Maricopa County construction inspection report said construction on the restaurant was only 75 percent complete, so clearly management must have known the dining room would not be open Nov. 11. Charmian opened in mid-December.
Bolick said he was forced to scramble to make other arrangements for his anniversary. He agreed to try Charmian when it opened, but he wanted a prompt refund.
The attorney said he emailed McGlone four times asking for a refund. When he didn’t get it, he wrote letters to McGlone and the restaurant’s owner, Charmian Godfrey, attempting to keep the matter out of court.
But delivery of the FedEx letter was refused by McGlone, Bolick said.
So the attorney went for the knife.
In the complaint, Bolick wants his deposit, $10,000 in punitive damages and his attorney’s fees paid for by the restaurant.
"It will cost far more to litigate this case than the amount of the deposit," he said, adding there may be others who made reservations before the restaurant opened and didn’t get their deposits back.
"But if consumers don’t stand up for themselves against petty fraud, unscrupulous business people will continue to operate with impunity," Bolick said.
Charmian was originally supposed to open in July, but was delayed by a contractor’s shoddy work, McGlone said, adding building inspectors would not give the restaurant a certificate to open until electrical work was done.
The dining room hired another contractor, he said.
"It was completely out of control," McGlone said. "We’re the ones who suffered. We lost tens upon tens of thousands of dollars in not being able to book the reservations."
After the cancellation, McGlone said he sent Bolick a package that contained a refund check, a certificate valued at $200 for an upgraded meal and some company "currency" that could be used in the wine bar.
"We’re very comfortable in our reputation," McGlone said. "It is my intent to file a complaint with the Arizona Bar (Association) because . . . this, in our estimation, amounts to legal terrorism, and I think that’s absolutely outrageous. What the man did with the package we don’t know."
McGlone said Bolick was told three days before the anniversary the restaurant wouldn’t be open, and he offered to make reservations at another restaurant for the couple.
"I’d be happy to have certified funds (for the deposit) sent by registered mail out in the mail today, but the big problem here is this fellow who is going through all these extraordinary measures has never once picked up the phone to call," McGlone said. "I have never spoken with this guy ever since the planning of the dinner reservation. I’m not the least bit concerned about a lawsuit. This is what gives people in his profession a bad reputation."
Bolick said he’s still waiting for his deposit.
"I certainly tried every way of getting through to this guy, and unfortunately it’s only the lawsuit that has his attention," Bolick said.