Nicole Gates waited tables in a packed Lil Greenhouse Grill during the lunch rush hour on Tuesday. She greeted newcomers and repeat customers alike with a smile.
But only two weeks ago, Gates and Karim Bryant, the co-owners of the Overtown eatery, were facing eviction. A year ago, summer, they had to ask the community to help them pay bills associated with the business – and even rent.
“We’re thankful for what the community has done, supporting us as a small business, said Gates.
Last summer, Lil Greenhouse’s landlord, the St. John Institutional Missionary Baptist Church started eviction proceedings because the neo-soul food restaurant had fallen behind on its rent.
They would go to court three times before a settlement could be reached Oct. 22. It was that day that Lil Greenhouse acknowledged owing $42,790.33 to St. John.
“We were a new business; we had a tough summer; business got a little slow and we thought we were going to be able to make it up,” Gates recalled Monday afternoon.
Things got so hard that Gates took to social media and asked for donations. On Nov. 22, 2018, she established a Go Fund Me account to raise $15,000 to save Lil Greenhouse. When the campaign reached $2,710 on Nov. 29, Gates said the campaign was over.
“The donation money helped them be victorious, and we are grateful for the community’s support,” Gates said at the time. Gates gave everyone who a gift certificate equal to the amount of their donation.
“People are still using them today,” she said.
Gates told the community she would use the money to pay “fees, Owed to the landlord, and December’s payment, taking us into 2019 with a zero balance.”
Gates then secured a $15,000 bridge loan from Urban Philanthropies’ lending arm, Non-Profit Community Capital Corp.
Urban Philanthropies Phil Bacon said he was happy to help because he knew the business had potential. The non-profit educates business owners on how to be successful as well as provides finding for those who need to scale.
“Lending to Lil Greenhouse epitomizes what Urban and Non-Profit is trying to achieve,” said Bacon. “We want to strengthen disinvested communities like Overtown and Liberty City, giving them access to capital.”
Bacon said the Lil Greenhouse’s owners paid back the bridge loan in September.
But St. John had to sue to collect its rent.
St. John’s Senior Pastor James Adams said the church has been waiting patiently to collect rent on the space. The church bought the building that Lil Greenhouse occupies in January 2017 from developer, Michael Simkins. In essence, St. John inherited a tenant, which initially the church didn’t want.
It started eviction proceedings when rental payments were missed.
“They had in the public domain that they had raised the money for the rent but we never received the money,” Adams said. “No where in the world can you have a lease agreement or rental agreement and stay on and not pay your rent. You can’t do that anywhere. We could have fought not to have them in the building … but that income could help the church’s overall mission so it made good business sense.”
With the settlement agreement, Lil Greenhouse deposited $12,935 into the court registry, which should be available to the church Tuesday, leaving a balance of $29,855.33. Lil Greenhouse will still have to pay its monthly rent of $1,658.63, starting Nov. 15.
Now that the eviction crisis is over, Gates looks ahead to delivering on a promise to the Overtown community: “Jobs, good food and a good reputation.”