The board of the bustling Capitol Market, at the base of Capitol Street, has voted not to renew the lease for Soho’s, a popular Italian restaurant and one of the Market’s longest-standing tenants. That much, both parties agree on.
“It’s been 18 years and they called a meeting with me” on Sept. 18, said Sharon Sohovich, owner of Soho’s and the widow of Bill Sohovich, who opened the place in 2002.
“The president of the committee says, ‘We’re not renewing your lease.’ I was like, ‘What?’ ”
Nichole Greene, Capitol Market’s executive director, confirmed what she called a “tough” decision that came after “thoughtful consideration,” and said the move would be effective Dec. 31.
“There are still a few months left in 2019, and we’re here to support her in the sale of the business moving forward,” said Greene, who called Soho’s an “institution.”
Determining the exact cause of the termination, though, is difficult.
According to a statement from Capitol Market officials Wednesday, the decision came on the heels of “Sharon Sohovich expressing, on several occasions,
her desire to be out of the restaurant business. She has also tried several times during the last year to sell her business. Based upon the instability of the situation, the Board of Directors felt it was in the best interest of Capitol Market not to renew the Soho’s lease for 2020.”
“I said, ‘Yeah, everybody wants to retire, that doesn’t mean you can,’ ” said Sohovich, who took over the restaurant after her husband died in 2013.
“I’m heartbroken. This is not fair,” she said. “Billy would not have wanted me to sell. I wanted to carry on his legacy as long as I can. That’s what he would want.”
Market officials also said they had fielded what Greene called “a myriad of complaints,” some of which they said were public and documented by witnesses or security cameras.
“There’ve been multiple posts on social media regarding alleged treatment of folks of color and the LGBTQ community and things like that, and that’s not appropriate,” Greene said.
One particularly scathing Facebook post, made in September 2018, claimed Sohovich had publicly berated a young, “brown skinned college student” who had failed to leave a tip.
“That was the only complaint that they have and it was all turned around, it was on Facebook, you know, it wasn’t fair,” Sohovich said.
“I mean, yes, I did say something to the guy because he didn’t tip, but do you know how many African-Americans I have in here? Most of my kitchen is African-American. One thing I am not is prejudiced, but when someone doesn’t tip, black or white, you wanna know why. They felt I didn’t do it in the right way. Maybe I didn’t, but that’s one complaint they have in 18 years.”
William Harris, 82, first started working for Bill Sohovich in 1994. The charismatic doorman, who is black, spends his days greeting and seating regulars and newcomers alike. He said Sharon Sohovich “treats everybody good.”
“I’ve got nothing bad to say about her. She’s really the reason I stay here,” Harris said. “They wouldn’t have done this to Billy. We wouldn’t even be talking if Billy was still here. She’s a fair lady.”
He added that Sohovich had been treated poorly after her husband’s death “’cause they didn’t really want her to have” the restaurant.
According to Greene, the market has fielded several complaints, “including two significant ones regarding fairness that were particularly cause for concern,” and required action.
“The things we have heard, the market cannot condone,” board President Kristen Harrison said.
The board also was frustrated by a lack of advertising for Soho’s — which the owner of the restaurant said she didn’t need — and hours of operation that were inconsistent with market hours.
Sohovich has asked to renew her lease, and then to extend her departure into January so she could open fully in the busy month of December before moving supplies and equipment. The board denied both requests.
Sohovich said she suspects the board has a new tenant in mind — something Capitol Market officials deny.
“Why would they leave this space empty and not give me a little time? Even two weeks in January to clear the restaurant out, that’s not fair to me. That’s just not fair, after 18 years,” Sohovich said.
“We’re not pursuing any new businesses or buyers for the Soho’s space,” Harrison said. “We don’t want to do anything to impede her ability to be able to sell her restaurant.”