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Focus on food and drink

Recovering from a drug scandal: Two shuttered Worcester restaurant properties seek new life under new owners

October 1, 2018
Photo | Zachary Comeau
Photo | Zachary Comeau
Meze Greek Tapas Bar and Grille on Shrewsbury Street is shown with The Chameleon building in the background. The Greek restaurant will be moving to that space.

For nearly a year, two vacant restaurants on Shrewsbury Street and Water Street offered a prime opportunity for a restaurateur to come in and seize on the momentum of Worcesters culinary scene.

Now, both restaurants are under new ownership after the federal government agreed to transfer ownership of the properties formerly home to The Usual and Blackstone Tap.

The 166 Shrewsbury St. site formerly home to The Usual and The Chameleon was sold to the owners of Meze Greek Tapas Bar and Grille on Sept. 25. For nearly a year, the vacant space at 166 Shrewsbury St. offered Greek Meze Tapas and Panos Georgiadis a prime opportunity to move a few doors down and expand.

Seized over drug money laundering

According to property records, Meze 166 Shrewsbury Street LLC, an entity controlled by Meze owner and Panos' father Sotirios Georgiadis, purchased the property for $525,000.

That's $14,000 less than what the government's asking price of $539,000 after it seized the property from Kevin Perry, the former owner of the Usual and Blackstone Tap who pleaded guilty to operating a drug money laundering scheme using those establishments.

The government will now pay Worcester-based Cornerstone Bank $415,000 after both parties agreed to the sum in August. The bank in July filed documents claiming it was owed more than $444,000 in principal, interest and other fees due to the delinquent status of a $375,000 loan.

Perry was convicted in May and sentenced to 14 years for selling opioids and laundering the proceeds of those sales through Worcester restaurants and other properties.

The Usual closed in spring 2017 after Perry was charged, but his wife, Stacey Gala, reopened the restaurant as the Chameleon just a few months after, that summer. That restaurant lasted until only November, and Gala and former business partner Joseph Herman were charged in February with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to court documents filed in August, Gala is seeking a jury trial, while Herman will likely resolve his case by way of a plea.

New Shrewsbury Street plans

The Greek family-owned business now seeks to revitalize the vacant restaurant by transplanting its operation to its neighboring building but with a more upscale vibe, said the younger Georgiadis.

The focus will still be on Greek tapas, but the restaurant aims to add some higher-end plates, a larger wine selection and imported beer from the Greek island Santorini.

The Usual closed in spring 2017 after Perry was charged, but his wife, Stacey Gala, reopened the restaurant as the Chameleon just a few months after, that summer. That restaurant lasted until only November, and Gala and former business partner Joseph Herman were charged in February with conspiracy to commit money laundering.

According to court documents filed in August, Gala is seeking a jury trial, while Herman will likely resolve his case by way of a plea.

New Shrewsbury Street plans

The Greek family-owned business now seeks to revitalize the vacant restaurant by transplanting its operation to its neighboring building but with a more upscale vibe, said the younger Georgiadis.

The focus will still be on Greek tapas, but the restaurant aims to add some higher-end plates, a larger wine selection and imported beer from the Greek island Santorini.

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All together, the space is about 800 square feet bigger than the Greek eatery's current space where it is below three stories of apartments.

It'll take about two months to renovate the space, and the restaurant will stay open in its current location up until it opens the doors to the new space, Georgiadis said.

"We want to make it look like the restaurants in Greece," he said.

Photo | Zachary Comeau
Photo | Zachary Comeau
The vacant 166 Shrewsbury St. restaurant will soon be occupied by Meze Greek Tapas.

With only two unfinished two-bedroom apartments above the vacant restaurant space, Georgiadis hopes to eventually offer live music at the new location.

According to Georgiadis, Meze was one of seven bidders for the space. More than 20 different entities scoped out the place, he said.

At least one of them was the team behind Main Street restaurant deadhorse hill. Chef Jared Forman said the asking price was too steep for the team to make an offer.

On the past legal problems at the location, Georgiadis said he hopes to eliminate the cloud hanging over the restaurant and Shrewsbury Street restaurant scene.

"It really stinks when you have someone like that go and screw up the reputation for what restaurants are," he said. "We just try to provide a hospitable dining experience."

Sotirios Georgiadis

Blackstone Tap owner returns

The former owner of the Blackstone Tap building in Worcester now owns the sports bar again more than two years after selling the property to Perry for $420,000.

Jefferson Mararian, a Northborough businessman who had owned the 81 Water St. property since 2004, was essentially given the property by the U.S. government to satisfy debts owed to him by Perry.

Mararian told WBJ via email he hopes to renovate the building to open a new business under a new name.

According to U.S. District Court filings, Mararian in 2016 agreed to sell the business to Perry via a $200,000 promissory note and a mortgage recorded in the Worcester County Registry of Deeds to secure Perry's payments. Perry paid another $420,000 for the property, land records show.

The former owner of the Blackstone Tap, Jefferson Mararian, owns the property again after reaching a deal with the federal government.
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Perry made timely payments on the agreement until November 2017. Now, he owes more than $171,000.

On Aug. 31, the government agreed to release the property and assets of the restaurant to Mararian for $9,000 provided that he pick up the Bay State Savings Bank mortgage granted to Perry in 2016.

Mararian said he envisions a new concept for the spot, but did not provide details.

"While I renovate, I am also open to other ideas for the space that could fit nicely into the neighborhood," he said. "Besides that, I look forward to being back on Water Street and part of all the great things going on in the Canal District and the City of Worcester."