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Hot Box owner sues WL landlord after staff locked out

The dispute came to a head when a store manager arrived at the Hot Box Pizza in Chauncey Hill Mall last month to find the locks changed.

Posted: Oct 11, 2021 4:18 PM
Updated: Oct 12, 2021 9:09 AM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — The owner of Hot Box Pizza is suing its West Lafayette landlord after a dispute over the lease.

The lawsuit comes amid plans years in the making to redevelop Chauncey Hill Mall.

The dispute came to a head when a store manager arrived at the Hot Box Pizza in Chauncey Hill Mall last month to find the locks changed. 

Chain owner Gabe Connell says its part of an effort to kick them out.

The strip mall is partly owned by Marc Muinzer of Muinzer Management. Court documents say he wants to tear down the mall and redevelop the site.

But Connell wants the landlord to buy out his lease. Instead, he says Hot Box is getting kicking out.

The two are at odds over a September rent payment.

Court documents say Connell has sent several checks but they're returned to sender. Staff were finally locked out of the building Sept. 29.

"We just feel like we should be treated fairly, that if we have the right to be in the space ... that our landlord shouldn't be able to disrupt a business and disrupt peoples' lives because they have plans to make money on a big development," Connell says.

Connell says he doesn't want to stand in the way of progress on a prime piece of real estate near Purdue University's campus, although he noted he's not sure the scope or timeframe of the redevelopment plans.

"If that's going to take place, we don't intend to stand in the way of it but we do feel like we should be treated fairly and we should be bought out of our lease rather than just trying to be kicked out," he says.

In an email, Muinzer says the lawsuit "is nothing but a ploy by Gabe Connell and Pete Watson to attempt to extract a large payment from us. HotBox has not been open for business at the Mall in 2021."

Here's more of the statement: 

"They had an employee sit at the counter a few hours each and every week and say "the oven is broken and we moved to Vine Street so you need to go there.

"They repeatedly defaulted on their lease so we terminated it exactly as the lease allows. And now of course after we file Draft Plans to redevelop the Mall they sue us hoping for a huge payday.

"Our office address did not change. We did not move. It's the same as it's always been. They know it. I know it."

Connell says the Chauncey Hill location was operational until his employees were locked out. Hot Box recently opened a nearby location on Vine Street in West Lafayette.

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