Gift recipients run out of time to dine Closing: Proprietor of Milton Inn says he can't honor certificates totaling about $130,000 before his restaurant closes to public tonight.

September 13, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

When the historic Milton Inn closes to the public after tonight's feast of grilled sweetbreads and other delicacies, some customers of the acclaimed restaurant may have to swallow a less savory dish -- $130,000 in unused gift certificates.

The proprietor of the northern Baltimore County landmark -- closing amid a dispute with his landlord -- says he's run out of time to honor those certificates, most dating back more than two years. The landlord says he had nothing to do with the gift dinners and is not willing to make good on them.

Meanwhile, crowds have swarmed the 19th-century building this week, filling the restaurant's formal dining rooms with aficionados of gourmet fare, attentive service and sophisticated ambience.

"I have limited time and limited food and limited space," said Lynn Patrick, who runs the restaurant in the hamlet of Sparks. On some recent nights, he said, more than half the customers paid with gift certificates.

"Everyone," he said, "wants to get in for their last meal."

Patrick, whose financially distressed business is closing because could not agree on a new lease for the building, says he cannot afford to provide refunds for the unused gifts, which Milton Inn officials estimate total $130,000. He said the (x restaurant's corporate entity, virtually bankrupt, will be dissolved soon after the restaurant closes.

Earlier this week, Patrick said he will open a new restaurant in another historic building -- this one in Baltimore's Fells Point. But he said that restaurant will not honor the Milton Inn gift certificates.

Although the owner of the Milton Inn building is looking for a new tenant to operate a restaurant at the landmark, there are no guarantees that the new restaurant will honor the gift certificates.

"I have no obligation whatsoever to those gift certificates," said Gary Gill, executive vice president of MacKenzie Properties, which controls the limited partnership that owns the building and the Milton Inn name. "I didn't get any of the money. I'm just sitting back and renting the space to them."

A Pikesville woman, Lee Anthony, said she was refused a refund on a $100 gift certificate that she bought last month.

"I really think that's a very unjust, disreputable thing to do," she said. "They have such nerve."

Anthony, a retired school teacher, said she bought the gift certificate as an anniversary present for her son and daughter-in-law. But her son, chief of medicine at an area hospital, has been unable to use it.

"When there are human lives at stake, he just can't get up and go out for dinner," she said.

Patrick said the restaurant -- rated one of the area's best in local and national restaurant guides -- has long struggled financially. Many of those money woes, he said, stemmed from a rent that had climbed to $14,000 a month, and from thousands of dollars he has spent on repairs to the aging building.

With the lease set to expire Monday, Patrick said last week that the restaurant was soon to close. Because Patrick must vacate the building by Monday, and because a private function is booked for tomorrow, tonight is the last night the public will dine at his restaurant at the inn.

Since news of the closing broke last week, the restaurant has been trying to honor as many gift certificates as possible, Patrick said. But he said many angry customers have called to complain that their gift certificates might be rendered worthless because they could not use them before the closing.

"I am doing all I can to take care of all these people. I do not have the money to take care of them with cash," he said. "The way this usually works is nobody says anything, and they close. We're trying to do the best we can."

Asked why he could not honor the gift certificates in his new restaurant at Fells Point's Admiral Fell Inn, Patrick said he is just an employee of the hotel and will not own that restaurant business. He said he had not discussed the issue with hotel officials.

Gill said his company is meeting with prospective tenants in hopes that a restaurant will reopen in the building within a few months. He said future tenants at the Milton Inn might consider honoring the gift certificates in a spirit of good will, but would first likely evaluate the degree of financial exposure.

As Patrick prepares to close the restaurant, he has offered some disgruntled customers something to wash away the bitter taste.

He said: "I've given some people wine."

Pub Date: 9/13/97

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