After 10 years of slinging spaghetti, Asteroid Cafe owner Marlin Hathaway expects he'll be out of business within the week. After a long stint at a small space in Wallingford, the Asteroid moved to Fremont in 2006, and Hathaway says it's been a struggle ever since.
"I signed a lease two years ago... for this new space," Hathaway says. "With rent and utilities, it's close to nine grand a month. I had a hard time keeping it up, but I managed."
The Asteroid's Italian food has received positive reviews from the Seattle Times and The Stranger since the restaurant first opened in 1997, and Hathaway has also used the restaurant as something of a soapbox. He's run ads on Air America, hosted meetings for antiwar groups, and frequently posted articles from lefty papers and magazines in his front window.
"If there's anything I want remembered," Hathaway says, "it's that it was about more than money."
Earlier this week, several local blogs reported that the Asteroid was closing due to an increase in rent, but Hathaway says that's not the case.
He says he's been struggling to come up with rent for months, but not due to an increase. He says he's been hit hard by the nationwide economic slump. And three weeks ago, he received a notice from his landlord that he needed to pay $13,000 in back rent or get out.
Hathaway knew he wouldn't be able to come up with the cash, so he says he found a potential buyer for the space—someone he believes will be able to revitalize the Asteroid and make it profitable again—but, according to Hathaway, his landlord is blocking the deal.
"I've got a buyer; we've signed an agreement," Hathaway says. "I am behind [on rent] and I can't really blame [my landlord] for that, but he could work with me."
Hathaway's landlord, Dan Cawdrey, says there are no definitive plans for the space, but he hopes to open a new restaurant in the location. "We're a pretty passive landlord," Cawdrey says. "If a person pays their rent, we try to support them as much as we can," he says. "The reason no discussions have been taking place is the current tenant is in default and hasn't paid for over 45 days."
Although Hathaway says he is now $50,000 in the hole, he says his biggest priority is finding a way to pay his crew for their final days of work. After that, Hathaway will start looking for a new job as well.
"I just thought there was a lot more potential in [this] space," says Hathaway. "I just bit off more than I could chew."