February 5, 2009 at 11:17 am

Sweet Georgia Brown closes

Upscale restaurant, evicted over unpaid rent, is latest fine-dining loss

Movers remove furniture from Sweet Georgia Brown, which had suffered money troubles several times since opening in 2002. (Wayne E. Smith / The Detroit News)

DETROIT -- Sweet Georgia Brown, the upscale dining establishment with "a classic southern flair," was shut down Wednesday after the restaurant's owners failed to pay rent for several months.

The restaurant's space, at the corner of Brush and Monroe streets in Greektown, across from Greektown Casino, is owned by Greektown Casino LLC. The building's owners were granted an eviction order.

"They were not paying their rent," said Greektown Casino spokesman Roger Martin. "I mean, that's the bottom line. They are no longer a tenant of ours."

Passersby gaped Wednesday morning as men in black dismantled the restaurant's furniture, and hauled the tables, chairs and benches to two overflowing Dumpsters outside the restaurant, which opened in 2002.

Martin said the restaurant had not paid rent in several months. District court records show that Greektown Casino LLC filed a civil suit against the restaurant and its parent company, SGB Acquisition Group, in October, seeking $78,473 and approval to evict the restaurant.

The restaurant, owned by former Pistons player Derrick Coleman, has a checkered financial history. Coleman did not return a phone call for comment.

It was unclear how many employees were affected by the closing and when or if they were given notice.

In January 2008, the Internal Revenue Service filed a $55,697 tax lien against SGB Acquisition Group for delinquent taxes, according to the Wayne County Register of Deeds.

Court records also show seven other suits filed against the restaurant since 2005, including two by state of Michigan for back taxes in the amount of $112,358 in 2005 and $368,699 in 2007.

The most recent suit was filed in December by Bloomfield Hills advertising agency Berline Group Inc. for $11,922.

Sweet Georgia Brown is not the only downtown upscale eatery to be hit by tough times. Several well-known restaurants coped with money troubles and delinquent taxes or loan payments last year.

The Woodward, a restaurant that opened at the corner of Gratiot and Woodward avenues in 2006, also closed recently after owner DW Group LLC filed for bankruptcy protection. And Asian Village shut down in July after barely a year in business.

Sweet Georgia Brown has faced money troubles for several years. Coleman sued restaurateur and former manager Frank Taylor in 2007, claiming that Taylor failed to keep the restaurant's money separate from that of Taylor and his management company, Southern Hospitality Restaurant Group.

A spokesman for Taylor, Michael Layne of Farmington Hills-based firm Marx Layne & Co., called the closing "a shame" and credited the restaurant with showing that a market for fine dining exists in Detroit.

Taylor "prays for the employees is all he'd like to say and he hopes they find jobs in the near future," said Layne, whose firm handled public relations for the restaurant's opening.

"Sweet Georgia Brown demonstrated that people from the suburbs, from Grosse Pointe, from the city and from Windsor will come downtown to eat at a fine dining establishment," Layne said.

You can reach Jaclyn Trop at (313) 222-2300 or jtrop@detnews.com">jtrop@detnews.com.

Diners in 2006 lunch at The Woodward, another downtown establishment that ... (The Detroit News)
Coleman (The Detroit News)