Capital City BBQ might have been the only barbecue and Vietnamese restaurant for miles when it opened in 2015 inside a cellphone store in Lansing, Mich. Linh Lee and her now-ex-boyfriend had toyed with their recipes for three years, testing 50 sauces and 20 kinds of macaroni and cheese before settling on the combinations of ingredients that they felt confident would make customers smile.
Then their romantic relationship fell apart, and things went south.
Lee, 48, told the Lansing State Journal that her ex co-opted the restaurant’s phone number in December and recorded a message saying that the business would be closed for months. Except, she said, that wasn’t true.
“Happy holidays from Capital City BBQ,” a male voice on the answering machine says. “Due to the holidays, we will be taking an extended leave until March 1. We look forward to your business and seeing you after March 1. Have a happy holiday. Thank you.”
The restaurant’s business tanked in the days after the new message was recorded, Lee told the State Journal. She said she made $2,800 in the four days after the change — less than half of her usual sales. Lee got a new phone number in late December, the State Journal reported, but the original is still on the building’s signs and on websites such as TripAdvisor.
“I am not closing,” Lee told the newspaper. “I am moving forward. I keep going.”
Capital City BBQ, which serves a pulled-pork sandwich called the Awesome Mess alongside several types of banh mi, was featured in 2017 on Guy Fieri’s popular Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Back then, Lee’s ex was making the restaurant’s barbecue, while she prepared food from her home country of Vietnam, the State Journal reported.
The pair met in 2011 when Lee said she paid her ex-boyfriend, a contractor, $67,000 to build a restaurant on one side of her now-shuttered cellphone store. He eventually claimed co-ownership of the restaurant, although Lee told the State Journal that she disagreed with that assessment because she was the only one who contributed capital to the project.
He registered the restaurant’s phones to his construction business, and Lee does not have the passwords, she told the State Journal.
The couple broke up in July. In December, Lee noticed that the restaurant’s phones suddenly were not ringing, WLNS reported. She said she assumed that Comcast was having issues.
On Dec. 18, Lee wrote on her restaurant’s Facebook page to urge customers to ignore the business’s answering machine. It had been “disrupted,” but the business was open, she said. She listed a new phone number where people could put in their orders for takeout and catering.
A more blunt message written in all caps appeared three days later. “Our phone line has been stolen by an unethical person who is not apart of our restaurant,” Lee wrote. “He is trying to hurt our business any way that he can.” Dozens of fans posted encouraging comments and reassured Lee that nothing could get between them and the restaurant’s brisket.
Lee told the State Journal that she hired an attorney to resolve the dispute. She also contacted law enforcement, WLNS reported.
Restaurant employees told WILX that Capital City BBQ was Lee’s dream and that watching someone try to ruin it was “devastating” and perplexing. Lee told WILX that she often works 12 or 13 hours a day.
“To take something like this away from me, it takes away my spirit,” she told the TV station.
After several news stories about the debacle, there’s at least one sign that the restaurant’s fate may be on the upswing: An employee who answered the phone Saturday said Lee might not be available to talk to reporters anytime soon.
The restaurant, he said, was “slammed” with customers.
|The Washington Post