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Whole Foods defends treatment of Wellesley's Tian Fu restaurant

Posted by Sarah Thomas  September 15, 2010 01:13 PM

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Whole Foods, the grocery chain moving into the former Wellesley Plaza location of Star Market, issued a statement today saying it had not been aware of the small Chinese restaurant that now faces eviction.

Regional president Laura Derba said that Whole Foods had made multiple attempts to assist Tian Fu's owners, Li Zhen Yu and Jian Chen, including providing an extension on their eviction date and offering money to offset moving costs.

"Our genuine hope was that we could reach a resolution that would allow us to begin the process of building our new store while assisting Li Zhen Yu and Jian Chen," Derba said in the statement, which was addressed to the Wellesley community. "The fact that this has not been possible and that we have been so misrepresented is very discouraging."

Tian Fu's attorney, Robert Kerwin, has said that eviction proceedings have been handled by an attorney hired by Shaw's, which owns Star Market. Zhen Yu and Kerwin have petitioned counsel from both Whole Foods and Shaws in an attempt to extend their lease past the original Aug. 31 eviction date.

The following is the text of the statement from Whole Foods:

Dear Wellesley Community, In recent weeks there has been a great deal of conversation about the fate of Tian Fu. We have read the stories, received many letters and petitions and heard much feedback. One thing that is abundantly clear is the passion the Wellesley community has for supporting its neighbors, which is one of the reasons that Whole Foods Market is proud to have been a part of this community for nearly thirty years. For the past few weeks we have remained quiet on the topic of Tian Fu. As we’ve said in our statements to the media, Whole Foods Market is simply a tenant of Gravestar, Inc. and therefore we were not in the position to comment. Now however, we think it’s important that the community has all the information on the issue. When we signed the lease with Gravestar, Inc to move into the 448 Washington street location (formerly Star Market) we were not notified that Tian Fu was in fact, a subtenant of Star Market. We could not have predicted the conflict that would arise. However when we became aware that a small family restaurant might be displaced, we took multiple steps to assist them -- not because it was our responsibility, but because we felt that it was the right thing to do as a community partner. This is what you have not been told. Li Zhen Yu and Jian Chen, the owners of Tian Fu, have spoken extensively to the media and the community. They have repeatedly stated that we have refused to communicate with them, which is simply not true. Since the issue came to light in April, Whole Foods Market has made a number of offers, through our attorneys to assist the family, including granting their requests for an extension on their eviction date and offering a monetary package to alleviate the strain of moving costs. Our attorney’s repeated attempts to reach out to Tian Fu and their attorneys have been met with silence. We had no original intention of speaking on this matter. Our genuine hope was that we could reach a resolution that would allow us to begin the process of building our new store while assisting Li Zhen Yu and Jian Chen in finding a location that would provide them many more years of success. The fact that this has not been possible and that we have been so misrepresented is very discouraging. Though our attempts to assist Tian Fu have not been fruitful, we wish them the very best in the future. As tenants of the property, we have reached the extent of what we can offer for assistance. Future negotiations will remain between Tian Fu, Star Market and Gravestar, Inc. We look forward to providing the Wellesley community with a more complete and convenient shopping experience with our new location in 2011. Best wishes, Laura Derba Regional President North Atlantic Region Whole Foods Market

A second Wellesley Whole Foods, also located on Washington Street, will be closed once the Wellesley Plaza store opens next year.

Sarah Thomas can be reached at sarah.m.thomas@gmail.com.

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