Manager of Penguin restaurant evicted as judge gives possession to landlord

The management of the Penguin restaurant has been evicted from the property, according to an official with the group that serves as landlord for the landmark Plaza Midwood eatery.

After a hearing before U.S. District Judge J. Craig Whitley on Monday, possession of the Commonwealth Avenue restaurant was given to the landlord, 1921 Commonwealth Ave. Holdings.

Don Rawlins, an attorney listed as an official with the holding group, said the move was the result of a settlement between the group and Lisa Ballentine, manager of the restaurant and daughter of Jim Ballentine, who opened it in 1954 as an ice cream shop.

The restaurant’s future has been in doubt since news surfaced several months ago that it had closed.

Lisa Ballentine initially said it would reopen Aug. 6, but that didn’t happen.

Ballentine couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. A voice mail for her bankruptcy attorney, Samantha Brumbaugh of Greensboro, wasn’t immediately returned.

The restaurant, famous for its burgers and fried pickles, has been featured on the Food Network. But it has changed hands in recent years amid financial setbacks and management struggles.

The landlord sued the restaurant’s management last year, accusing the eatery of defaulting on its lease and a $17,763 loan.

The business filed for bankruptcy protection last year, but in May a federal judge threw out one of the Penguin’s two bankruptcy filings, ruling the business hadn’t paid necessary fees or filed required financial documents.

A second bankruptcy case associated with the restaurant also was dismissed, but the restaurant again filed for bankruptcy in August.

An itemized list filed in October showed the restaurant’s management owed more than $75,000 under its lease. It showed multiple bounced rent checks, and more than $43,000 worth of attorneys’ fees were due to the landlord under the lease.

Asked whether Ballentine still owes the money, Rawlins said “that’s to be decided” as the bankruptcy case continues. Asked whether the restaurant will reopen, he replied: “That’s a good question. We currently don’t know. There are still things in the court case that need to be decided.”