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Owner of café next to War Memorial renovation has given up the business — but not his lawsuit

Balamurali Balasubramani said Madras Cafe might not survive into 2024 due to the negative impact of the ongoing National War Memorial refurbishment. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC - image credit)
Balamurali Balasubramani said Madras Cafe might not survive into 2024 due to the negative impact of the ongoing National War Memorial refurbishment. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC - image credit)
Balamurali Balasubramani said Madras Cafe might not survive into 2024 due to the negative impact of the ongoing National War Memorial refurbishment.
Balamurali Balasubramani said Madras Cafe might not survive into 2024 due to the negative impact of the ongoing National War Memorial refurbishment.

Madras Cafe changed hands earlier this month, something co-founder Balamurali Balasubramani says was due to financial difficulties brought on by ongoing construction work next door. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC)

A St. John's businessman who is suing the provincial government over alleged lost revenue at his café due to ongoing renovation of the nearby downtown War Memorial has sold the business — but is continuing with the lawsuit.

In the face of mounting costs, Balamurali Balasubramani said he and his brother, Guna Sekar, have sold the Madras Cafe to a new owner, which he said was preferable to shuttering it completely.

"I didn't want the brand to suffer because we worked for it for three years. So someone was willing to take over the brand name and we said 'OK' and, 'That's fine, we'll do this,'" Balasubramani told CBC News.

"We'll come out with the debt that we have. We don't want to suffer more."

In November, Balasubramani filed a lawsuit in small claims court against the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, alleging his business was hurting due to the ongoing construction next to him, seeking $25,000 plus a filing fee.

According to documents obtained by CBC News, on Feb. 1, Ayesha Love Polina Chua became a director of the company and Balasubramani and Sekar ceased to be directors, making Chua the sole director.

However, Balasubramani said he still intends to go ahead with the lawsuit. He and his family worked hard to open the business, he said, saving money and getting money from friends and family members, as well as taking out loans and going into debt.

"We lost everything that we worked for the past two, two and a half years, right? We put all our life savings into the business. We lost everything," he said.

In front of Madras Cafe the streets are torn up due to construction, which co-owner Balamurali Balasubramani said has cut business by 80 per cent.
In front of Madras Cafe the streets are torn up due to construction, which co-owner Balamurali Balasubramani said has cut business by 80 per cent.

In front of Madras Cafe, the streets are torn up due to renovation of the downtown War Memorial, which Balasubramani says cut into profits. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC)

Balasubramani and his Sekar opened Madras Café in November 2021. They also started a restaurant, called N.L. Spice Box, which he said has also closed.

He said the War Memorial renovation, which started in August, kept people away from his business and caused a 70 per cent drop in revenue. Expenses kept piling up and they weren't able to keep up with payment for rent and suppliers, he said.

"It's been almost seven, eight months since the construction started, right? We almost lost all the revenue there," said Balasubramani.

Government denies blame

A statement of defence filed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure denied responsibility for the impact construction had on the café.

The department — referred to as "TI" in sthe document — "has no knowledge of access to Madaras Café being blocked off to pedestrians, as alleged in the statement of claim," according to the statement of defence.

The document also states the department has no knowledge of the café's operating expenses, as stated in Balasubramani's claim.

The department "denies that the plaintiff has suffered any losses stemming from the construction at the War Memorial, and puts the plaintiff to strict proof thereof."

"TI therefore respectfully requests that the statement of claim be dismissed in its entirety without an order as to costs," the statement concluded.

Department spokesperson Maria Brown told CBC News over email that the department would not comment because the matter is before the court.

Balasubramani rejected the notion that construction didn't impact his business, calling it "ridiculous."

He said the entrance to his café was reduced and the access from Water Street was also cut off.

Before construction started in August, Balasubramani said, he spent money on a new exhaust system and menu in the expectation of a strong summer, which never happened.

A settlement conference — meant to encourage both parties to resolve a dispute before a court date is set — is scheduled for March 15 at the provincial court in St. John's.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

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