If you are a restaurateur in Princeton now is the time to be taking reservations — for academic departments having a farewell lunch to alumni returning for Reunions to parents of graduates. But no tables are likely to be available in the near future at JL Ivy, the upscale restaurant and sushi bar that two years ago took over the space on Alexander Road formerly occupied by the Rusty Scupper.
Burdened by unpaid bills and bad checks allegedly generated by celebrity owner Ed “Jean Luc” Kleefeld, JL Ivy closed its doors on Monday, May 18, “until further notice.” The owners, a dozen investors who voted Kleefeld out of the operation about two months ago, still own the lease to the property and the liquor license and are now are weighing options that could include a new restaurateur buying the lease or entering into a joint venture with the existing investors.
Acknowledging the property’s prime location between Route 1 and downtown Princeton, one of the investors, commercial real estate developer Ted Golfinopoulos of TG & Associates on Scotch Road, predicted that a new restaurant operation would be in place “sooner rather than later.”
JL Ivy’s problems, Golfinopoulos said, were partly due to the economic times but much more caused by “overall bad management by Mr. Kleefeld.” As evidence, Golfinopoulos said, “witness the fact that his four restaurants on Long Island are also boarded up.” That’s not the only bad PR for Kleefeld. In early April the New York Post reported that Kleefeld had turned himself into Southampton, L.I., authorities on charges that he had issued nearly $300,000 in bad checks.
In Princeton several businesses, including this newspaper, also reported receiving bad checks from JL Ivy. At least one bad check was accepted in payment for a previous check that had bounced, but the creditor was impressed by Kleefeld’s heartfelt request to be patient and his promise that he would work things out.
Others cut similar breaks to Kleefeld. “He’s a marketing and promotion guy,” said Golfinopoulos. “He’s a fundraiser, not a restaurateur.” One of several former fraternity brothers of Kleefeld from Franklin & Marshall who sank money into the JL Ivy operation, Golfinopoulos said that the investors, who also included landlord Toby Laughlin and eye doctor R. David Reynolds, had requested accounting from Kleefeld from the beginning, both for the lengthy renovations that he ordered for the old Scupper space, and for the ongoing operation of the restaurant.
(Among the oddities: Kleefeld’s renovation reportedly cost millions of dollars, but the new space still had only one set of restrooms downstairs, none for the patrons of the upstairs bar and dining area.)
At a certain point he realized it was a case of sending “good money after bad” and Kleefeld was voted out. At that time, Golfinopoulos said, the investors immediately cut 60 percent of the payroll, partly by eliminating “no-show” employees. At that point, Golfinopoulos said, “we began to see a profit. But unfortunately the debt was insurmountable.”
Two years ago, when Kleefeld first turned up on the Princeton dining scene, he praised the community’s cosmopolitan style and his loyal investors. “It’s the sophistication of these investors — and members of the Princeton business community — that is really driving this. I’m the magician but they’re the ones putting on the show.” But at this point JL’s magic seems to be only smoke and mirrors.