It's a downtown mystery. After breaking ground more than a year ago, Ahern's Irish Pub has yet to open. And the rumor mill is swirling.
In early 2010, Ahern's appeared to have everything going for it. Located along the light-rail line just a block from the new Twins ballpark, it would open with a built-in audience. The supersized pub had plans for a Victorian Irish interior and a rooftop garden. Its owners waged an aggressive marketing campaign on Facebook (where it held trivia contests for Gopher football tickets) and it became the presenting sponsor at the 2010 Irish Fair.
But as the summer ended, work stopped at the 14,000-square-foot pub. Ahern's has sat half-finished ever since, and rumors of its demise (even before it can open) persist. Did the owners run out of money? Have they been evicted?
Last week, Ahern's owner Kelly Jaedike said it was too soon to write off the pub.
"We're closer than we've ever been," she said.
So what's the holdup? Court records indicate that Ahern's slow race to the finish line has been littered with financial problems.
Until recently, Jaedike was operating the Melting Pot, a downtown Minneapolis fondue restaurant that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May. Her husband, Brian Jaedike, and brother, David Ahern, are listed as the owners.
On Thursday, the Melting Pot's ownership team was removed from operating the business, which owes nearly $1.15 million to unsecured creditors, according to its Chapter 11 filing. The largest chunk of that debt -- $600,000 -- is for payroll taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service. More than 60 creditors are listed, including the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as its landlord, various media outlets and a father-in-law. A trustee appointed to the case has placed new management at the restaurant, which remains open for business.
Kelly Jaedike said the problems at the Melting Pot have nothing to do with the roadblocks at Ahern's. But the bankruptcy documents seem to paint a link between the two businesses. In a recent deposition, David Ahern admitted that the Melting Pot's financial resources were used to pay rent at Ahern's, as well as personal car and house payments. Rent for the unfinished pub ranges from $20,000 to $38,000 a month depending on the time of the year, Kelly Jaedike said in the deposition.
The Melting Pot leases its restaurant space in the Metro Building (80 S. 9th St.). In bankruptcy papers, lawyers representing the building's owner said the restaurant's lease prevents it from opening another restaurant within three miles. Lawyers also said the Melting Pot's owners were paying rent at their new space (Ahern's) while they were delinquent on rent at the restaurant.
"There was a long period of time recently when they were not paying rent and there is a lot of evidence that money was being used for other things," said lawyer Matthew Burton, who represents the Metro building's owner. "So I guess people can draw their own conclusions."
Kelly Jaedike said any financial connection made between the Melting Pot and Ahern's in the bankruptcy case is "presumed" and her legal team is still doing the accounting.
"Honestly, I don't know what they're doing and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it," she said.
A prime location
In the spring of 2010, contractor Paul Nolan and his team at RJ Marco began the build-out inside Ahern's raw space, which is leased from Ned Abdul, who owns the building, as well as others nearby. He estimated the job would cost $2 million.
Like the nearby Kieran's and O'Donovan's, Ahern's owners hired a contractor in Ireland to build the Victorian-style bar and fittings, which would then be shipped to Minneapolis and reassembled by the construction crew. After four months of work, Ahern's stopped making payments, and the contractor walked away, Nolan said.
Still, Nolan said he talks with Jaedike regularly and hopes the situation can be remedied. If his company gets paid, it will return to the project, he said.
"It's a prime location," Nolan said. "The intent of the design is to be a little more upscale than Kieran's. If it finally does come to fruition, it'll be nice."
Court records show that Jaedike has been in jeopardy of losing the Ahern's space before. Abdul has initiated eviction actions on several occasions. But each was settled and the pub is still a tenant, Abdul said last Friday.
A new investor
Over the past year, little has changed inside Ahern's. The interior's framework is there -- the mezzanine, the grand staircase leading to the roof, the skeletal bar. Through the window, an oversized photo of the ownership team can be seen resting on the dusty floor.
Even neighbors in the know say they've heard very little about the prospects for a turnaround.
"I kind of thought it was over and done with," said Dario Anselmo, owner of the Fine Line Music Cafe and president of the Warehouse District Business Association.
Kelly Jaedike insists that's not the case. Last week, she touted a new partnership with a new investor. She said her team could begin working on the space in the next month. She also said her brother and husband -- both of whom were listed as the pub's owners in the Melting Pot's bankruptcy papers -- are no longer involved.
She wants to open this fall, before the holiday season. "I'm very confident," Jaedike said.
She's come this far. But time seems to be running out.