Failed franchise at Foxwoods mall subject of lawsuits

A Hartford lawyer who shuttered the pizza-restaurant franchise he opened in the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods claims the mall owner “tricked” him into what turned out to be an ill-fated venture.

Wesley Spears, a defendant in four separate lawsuits over his failed 1000 Degrees Pizzeria franchise, said last week he never would have invested in the restaurant if he had known it would be prohibited from delivering to Foxwoods Resort Casino and that Foxwoods employees would be prohibited from eating in it.

Such restrictions never came up during lease negotiations with Tanger Outlets, the Greensboro, N.C.-based mall owner, according to Spears.

“They just cut my legs off,” he said. “That was supposed to be my lunch crowd.”

Spears opened the restaurant in December 2015, several months after the opening of the mall, which links Foxwoods’ Grand Pequot and Fox towers. He closed the restaurant last February, prompting Fashion Outlets at Foxwoods (Tanger) to sue in New London Superior Court. The mall owner claimed at the time that Spears owed more than $74,000 in rent.

Earlier, East Construction, an Uncasville contractor Spears had hired to build out the restaurant space, sued Spears for more than $30,000 in unpaid fees. A trial in that case, originally scheduled for next week, has been pushed back to mid-February.

Two vendors that supplied food to Spears’s restaurant have filed suits against him in Hartford Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the space once occupied by the restaurant remains vacant.

Spears claims in court filings that East Construction failed to recognize that the restaurant’s floor was unable to support the three-ton brick oven that 1000 Degrees required. Spears says he had to hire another contractor to shore up the floor, delaying the restaurant’s opening. He deducted the cost of the structural work from the price of the East Construction contract.

But it’s his response to the mall owner’s suit that Spears says is most significant.

“I’m a lawyer, not an engineer,” he said. “You wouldn’t think the weight of an oven would be an issue. Tanger built the place flimsy. It only supports 100 pounds per square foot and they knew that. I got tricked.”

Spears claims that Tanger “fraudulently represented” that his pizza restaurant could deliver to the casino premises, that casino employees could eat in his restaurant and that his restaurant could advertise throughout the casino and on the buses that ferry customers there. He also alleges that, after he signed his lease, the terms of the restaurant’s acceptance of Foxwoods Reward points became less favorable for the restaurant and more favorable for the casino.

“They lied,” Spears said of those who negotiated the lease on the mall owner’s behalf.

An attorney for Fashion Outlets, represented by the firm Robinson & Cole, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Two decades ago, Spears was involved in a scandal involving University of Massachusetts basketball star Marcus Camby, a Hartford native who went on to play 17 seasons in the NBA. Spears, who sought to represent Camby as an agent, faced criminal charges, including extortion, and was sentenced to probation. He received a reprimand from the Statewide Grievance Committee, which investigates attorney ethics complaints.

Spears said he has been practicing law without interruption since 1979.

Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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