Former Gainesville CRA-backed restaurant Southern Charm Kitchen to be sold at auction

A once popular east Gainesville restaurant renovated using taxpayer dollars will soon be sold to the highest bidder.

Southern Charm Kitchen, located at 1714 SE Hawthorne Road, and all of its equipment will hit the auction block on June 1 starting at 11 a.m. with an opening bid of $250,000, officially ending what has been a long rocky road between city officials and the restaurant's owner.

The group running the auction, Campen Auctions, will also sell off three containers of restaurant equipment that will be sold individually and in lots on June 2.

The Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency invested a little more than $330,000 to redevelop the land between 2008 to 2010 in hopes of encouraging economic development in the southeast part of town. The restaurant, which battled its own issues for years, never spurred the outcome officials hoped.

While the restaurant faced its fair share of challenges, city spokeswoman Rossana Passaniti said it's ultimately a "success story."

"GCRA creates opportunity for entrepreneurs who may not have ready access to the resources needed to thrive," se wrote in an email. "By providing financing options to Southern Charm when traditional lenders would not, the GCRA helped seed a small, diverse, local business in East Gainesville. Helping add property back on the tax rolls, as in this case, is fundamental to continued economic development in this community."

The former Southern Charm Kitchen restaurant will go up for auction on June 1 with a starting bid of $250,000.
The former Southern Charm Kitchen restaurant will go up for auction on June 1 with a starting bid of $250,000.

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The city leased the property to local restauranteur Omar Oselimo, who also owns Reggae Shack Cafe along West University Avenue.

Olesimo in 2011 agreed to a five-year lease with the city, which included an option to buy the property at the end of the lease. After some delays, Southern Charm Kitchen opened to much fanfare on Sept. 25, 2012.

"For a long time, the people who live on the east side have wanted a nice place to go and eat and fellowship with one another," said state Rep. Yvonne Hinson Hayes, who at the time represented District 1 where the restaurant is located.

About five years later, the plan began to unravel for Olesimo.

The owner opened a third restaurant, The Twisted Peacock, on Southwest 13th Street in February 2016, only to "temporarily" close the eatery in late 2017 so that Olesimo could concentrate on his other ventures.

“I thought, ‘I’m spreading myself too thin,’ ” he told The Sun in November 2017. “I like to have my hands touching everything I do.”

A year later, however, it was revealed on Sept. 11, 2018, that Olesimo had defaulted on loans totaling about $1 million, largely stemming from the failure of The Twisted Peacock restaurant.

Omar and Arpita Oselimo, owners of Reggae Shack Cafe.
Omar and Arpita Oselimo, owners of Reggae Shack Cafe.

Southern Charm Kitchen closed in 2018, reopened in 2021, then shut down for good

A month later, Olesimo then closed Southern Charm Kitchen for what he called a "rebranding." Oselimo failed to make monthly rent payments for the Southern Charm property from January to July 2018 resulting in past-due payments totaling $16,551.

Southern Charm eventually reopened in January 2021 before abruptly closing again for good.

In December 2018, Alachua County Circuit Judge Donna M. Keim awarded Georgia-based Fidelity Bank a nearly $700,000 judgment against Oselimo after he defaulted on his small-business loan with the bank. The ruling ultimately led to the foreclosure of his Twisted Peacock restaurant and his warehouse properties.

Alachua County property records show Southern Charm Kitchen Inc. purchased the property from the city in October 2021 for $215,000.

Passaniti said Oselimo fulfilled all his financial obligations, including all past due property taxes and lease agreement requirements, before the sale.

All proceeds from the sale will be reinvested into the Eastside Redevelopment Trust Fund.

The property was transferred to new ownership on Feb. 9, 2022, according to property records.

This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Former Gainesville CRA-backed restaurant to be sold at auction