ANTIOCH -- The city may soon be fishing for restaurateurs willing to take a chance on a riverfront eatery, as the owners of a longtime establishment recently closed its doors.
Humphrey's on the Delta restaurant closed late last month after being open since 1990. Named after the wayward whale who found his way into the Delta in 1985, Humphrey's is built on Antioch-owned marina land and pilings.
Business owners Eva and Gilbert Romero, who purchased Humphrey's from original owner Bill Peluso in 1995, say it's time to pursue other endeavors and spend more time with family.
"The people of Antioch welcomed our family with open arms and for that we will be forever grateful. We shall miss them," Eva Romero wrote in an email.
The Romeros have had financial difficulties since taking the restaurant back over in 2011, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last summer on all their properties.
They had sold the restaurant in 2009 for about $2 million but were forced to take it over when the new owner defaulted, inheriting many overdue bills from vendors and suppliers, according to court documents.
Antioch found out from Wells Fargo Bank in March 2012 that Romero defaulted on her loan for Humphrey's, and a foreclosure sale had been scheduled for June 1. The Romeros filed bankruptcy the day before the scheduled sale.
To date, Antioch is out about $65,000 in unpaid rent since June 2011.
According to a lease agreement with the city, Eva Romero must pay $4,089 in rent a month or 3 percent of gross receipts, whichever is greater.
One payment was made in July, according to court documents.
"Other than one payment, we have not recovered anything prior to bankruptcy and have not seen anything post-bankruptcy," City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said.
Antioch "preserved its right as a creditor" by filing a claim for the amount it is owed in bankruptcy court, Nerland said. The complex bankruptcy court proceedings continue to be sorted out.
Meanwhile, Antioch and Wells Fargo will work in the next couple months to determine the future of the property at 1 Marina Plaza.
Wells Fargo still has to decide whether it wants to foreclose on the note, thus taking ownership of the property, or if it will be turned over to the city.
The property has a trustee sale date set for Jan. 23, according to Wells Fargo officials.
"We're working closely with the city to find an operator and following their lead," said Holly Rockwood, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman. "We have been actively talking to consultants to help identify an operator who would be acceptable."
Adds City Manager Jim Jakel: "Once this process is completed, we want to be sure to have an experienced, high quality restaurant move in there."
Both Wells Fargo and the city are already receiving phone calls and inquiries from prospective tenants, Jakel said.
While the two parties weigh their options, the city will work to keep the vacant building maintained and secure from squatters and vandals.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.