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A restaurant divided: New Augusta owners part ways with original Oxford owners, head chef


Augusta relocated to 630 Iowa Ave. after closing its original location in Oxford, Iowa. It will now close its doors again at the end of the year. -- photo by Frankie Schneckloth.
Augusta relocated to 630 Iowa Ave. after closing its original location in Oxford, Iowa. It will briefly close its doors again in January. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth.

Augusta Restaurant (630 Iowa Ave.) will be closing its doors briefly in early January for updates after co-owner Derek Perez had a falling out with Ben and Jeri Halperin, the founders and co-owners of the original restaurant, last week.

History: From Oxford to Iowa City

In 2008, Ben and Jeri Halperin opened Augusta Restaurant in Oxford, and the New Orleans-style restaurant was well-received by locals and critics alike, earning accolades for its burgers and pork tenderloin, which was named the best in the state for 2008.

Augusta head chef and co-owner Ben Halperin offers up their award-winning pork tenderloin. -- photo courtesy of Augusta.
Augusta head chef and co-owner Ben Halperin offers up their award-winning pork tenderloin. — photo courtesy of Augusta.

After years of success and demand from fans, the Halperins opened the Iowa City location in February 2016 in collaboration with Derek Perez and Scott Kading.

Derek Perez, who also owns El Banditos, had recently closed the bicycle-themed restaurant Ride, which had previously occupied the building at Iowa Ave. and Dodge St.

Perez holds 51 percent of the Iowa City restaurant and Kading holds 49 percent. To maintain ownership of 630 Iowa Ave., Perez said he sold his investments in Short’s eastside, a farm property and the building where One Twenty Six, Hearth and Moonrakers are. The Halperins were not part of the ownership at the new location, according to Perez, but Ben maintained his role as head chef.

“It’s not like they ever put any money in, so there’s nothing that they lost in that way,” Perez said. “The only thing they lost was by walking out the door and quitting.”

Tensions peak

The restaurant had been doing okay, Perez said, but a “payroll issue” served as a point of contention.

Amidst rumors that the Halperins were fired, Perez said that the couple quit following disagreements over a difference in “work style.”

“They wanted to work a certain way and, since I was the person who had the most money involved, I wanted them to work a different way and they didn’t want to do that, so they quit,” Perez said.

When contacted for comment, the Halperins said they are cautious to say much about the situation. However, they did confirm that they are no longer part of the operation, even though the establishment is still using the same name despite their departure.

Going forward

Perez said that for now the rest of the staff, and therefore the menu offerings, have remained the same, but that the restaurant will change names and introduce new menu items in the future. Perez did guarantee that any reservations through the end of the year will be honored, and gift cards purchased for Augusta will still be valid for use at the location.

“In the long run it is not going to be Augusta, they [the Halperins] are going to have the option to take it, and they’re not going to have to pay for it, and move it wherever they want to move it,” Perez said.

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Perez confirmed the closure after the first of the year will be for no more than a week and that the current staff will be keeping their jobs.

“The whole point of it being Augusta was that those guys [the Halperins] were coming to work and become part of the ownership after a certain amount of years,” Perez said.

The Halperins said they hope to stay in the area to continue to serve their Iowa City clientele and are looking for investors for a new venture.

“We’ve been building this for years, and it feels wrong that they’re running it anyway,” Ben Halperin said.


Comments:

  1. This is truly a shame. The idea that the Halperins would “walk away” from a business that they had built, from scratch, for eight years, is laughable. I believe Mr. Perez was looking to get ahead of a story that has been bubbling up on social media, that this business was expropriated from the Halperins through a shady business agreement. Whereas I don’t contest Mr. Perez’s assertion that he and Mr. Kaeding had made the initial capital investment in the new venture; I do contest the idea that a share of equity wasn’t earned by the Oxford couple. It was their name, their reputation, their menu and recipes, their award-winning sandwiches, and mainly their kitchen equipment and staff that opened in the new location. That is worth something. To use it, without a benefit to the Halperins… you make the decision on what to call it. I applaud the decision to change the name. I encourage any fans of the old Oxford location or even the new fans built over the past seven months to consider all of this before visiting 630 Iowa Ave. again. No Ben, No Jeri… But don’t worry, they survived Katrina, they’ll survive this shadiness. How would I know? I worked at both Augusta locations. I know that missing the inspiration from the artists that created it, no matter what they call it, it won’t be Augusta.

  2. Anyone who knows both Ben & Jerry know for a fact they have never walked away from anything in the end the guy with all the money still loses because he lost what sounds like the best thing that’s probably happened to him perhaps he gets off on failing businesses. Thank goodness that Ben and Jerry will leave this with their reputation their name and their menu Bad Business mr. Perez

  3. I will never go into a restaurant owned by Perez after this. He’s nothing but a crook. Every word that he said here is a lie to make himself look like he’s the victim here. I call BS! Ben and Jeri would never just walk away and quit like this unless they were forced out, or they were completely and morally against the “new direction” he wanted to take the restaurant. I for one loved the neighborly vibe I received when I dined there. I felt like I was being welcomed by family. Perez and Kading should be ashamed of themselves. Crash and burn, boys!! You mess with them, you mess with an Iowa institution. Our Family! We love you Ben and Jeri!

    1. I stopped going quite awhile ago. With out Jeri in the front all just went to hell.
      I also will never go to a Perez businesses again. And I intend to spread the word to all my friends.
      Sure miss Oxford. It was always worth the drive and never ever a disappointment.
      Miss You guys. Wish you the most very best. Hope to see you again sooner than later.
      What a shame.

      1. You know what? The gloves are coming off. I have tried to play nice. I asked Ben and Jeri personally to back off the slanderous statements as far as the restaurant goes, because all they are doing is hurting the staff that tried to help them for the last 10 months. Do you think Derek or Scott are really gonna be hurting for cash that badly because of the things you say? No!! The servers, the kitchen guys, the dishwashers are who hurt the most.

        For this clueless commenter to say “it isn’t the same” without Jeri in the front of house shows just how little you know and also how little you have been there over the last few months. The only thing she did well was schmooze the guests and some guests thought she was over the top and too fake. Some guests didn’t come in at all when they saw she was working because they didn’t want to sit through hours of small fake talk. If you enjoyed it, then good for you, but those of us who worked with her knew the truth and we absolutely dreaded it when we saw her car pull up. In the few hours she was there a week, she would manage to screw up credit cards regularly, yell at the kitchen for taking too long, run food to the wrong tables, or just get upset at you for making one comment about something insignificant, or fight with Ben to the point that you are uncomfortable to be around them. Oh, and that is if you are actually on her good side. There were many servers that have quit, been chased off, or never even started after working with her for one shift. She is quite well known with most of the bartenders around town, feel free to guess why they know her, also ask if she was ever there during business hours.

        Jeri and Ben signed a deal. That was their decision. Jeri and Ben deleted comments on their facebook page from the other owners trying to work things out because they want people to think they didn’t have any other options. Jeri and Ben decided to crap all over the staff who tried to help them not drive the restaurant into the ground like they did with the one in Oxford(If they hadn’t driven into the ground, wouldn’t they have had money to put into this one?). I’m sick of the pity and heartache that people are giving them. This is their doing, they could have fixed it, they could have never signed the deal in the first place, but to put the staff that helped them over the last few months into a downward financial spiral because you are petty, small, and upset with yourselves for poor decision making, and THEN want the world to feel bad for you?? That is the lowest of them all. You have your restaurant back, now take it far away from me please.

        Sincerely, one pissed off former staffer

  4. If I created a business from scratch, built it up, etc etc, how could it possibly come to be that all of a sudden one previously uninvolved man owned 51% of my business, and another man the remaining 49%?

    This arrangement, to me, sounds like: I sold all ownership, and am a 0% owner. I’m missing the part where something shady occurred…

    I don’t intimately know the situation, but what I’m seeing, clearly, is: they sold the business.

      1. Faulty written agreement, or you had no options and took what you could get at the time? Which was ownership after 3 years. Seems like they were trying to help if you ask me.

    1. According to the article they were suppose to gain some ownership over so many years, so I wouldn’t say it was a ‘sold the business’ deal but rather an investment, or lease to own situation.

  5. I am a former server at Augusta Restaurant. In fact, I was one of the first servers at Augusta Restaurant. I joined in the blood, sweat, and tears the Halperins sacrificed to their dream. In fact, their sanctuary helped me through some of the most challenging times of my adult life. Their sanctuary bred a culture of inclusiveness for a gay man in a small town. Their sanctuary bred a paycheck that allowed me to pursue my dream of a career in education. For years, I joined them in their dream as they helped me pursue mine. I am now just shy of a PhD and never forget the power of gumbo, fried grit cakes, and buttermilk chicken. Augusta, and Augusta’s dreamers, helped me become the me I am today. The fact that their dreams are being torn away as my own dreams become reality makes my heart cry. Just like a phoenix, we will rise again. That is what we do. #WeAreAugusta

    1. So tell me then, did Jeri ever mess things up? or yell at employees? or get in fights with Ben that made you feel awkward being there? or drink on the job? or quite often forget things for tables that she said she’d do for you?

      I’m glad she made you feel welcomed and safe, but that does not mean she is a good businesswoman or a good person to work for…

  6. I miss Jeri and the way she would get paid and not work unless she had a drink in her hand. Ben is talented but if you have an anchor, that drinks too much and cashes her checks then I do not feel that bad. Jeri and Ben look in the mirror, who is the problem? Did you put money in? Did you get paid? Did Derek and Scott get paid? Katrina was a long time ago, so was your award for best tenderloin. As I remember, it your Oxford restaurant was closed for 3 months and Derek and Scott gave you another chance, but you blew that too. Stop your whining and say “I am sorry it did not work out” your Facebook crying is ridiculous.

      1. Sorry Barbara. Please speak with us directly. Theres a dishonest little coward using Jeris name in the replies.

  7. Can this part possibly be true? Why would you sell 3 awesome sounding parcels for that hidden dump on iowa ave?: “To maintain ownership of 630 Iowa Ave., Perez said he sold his investments in Short’s eastside, a farm property and the building where One Twenty Six, Hearth and Moonrakers are.”

    1. Insurance fraud? Put all your eggs into the Augusta basket and then tank it? Anyone looked into what if any insurance he has on Augusta???

  8. How can they go from complete owners….to employees? Augusta name, menu, recipes, etc…belonged to Jeri and Ben. That is at the least intellectual property that had VALUE. They were clearly not paid for that value. There should have been at a minimum some percentage of ownership there for what is (all but the building) THEIRS.

    Something shady happened here…..and this slanted article doesn’t change that.

    1. Read the article maybe? They had basically signed over all the rights so they could eventually become owners again THROUGH WORKING. But they didn’t want to work the way the OWNER (read: the person who the majority share of the money in) wanted to have the business run. It’s quite simple.

      1. Funny how someone using Jeri’s name refers to her as “they”. If the outlet in charge of this article had integrity it would delete comments made in someone else’s name!

  9. I’m very disappointed in this reporting by Little Village. This one-sided account reads like gossip, merely. If you don’t have the full story, don’t post it. I’ve worked with Augusta–which is synonymous with Mr. and Mrs. Halperin–for years. As caterers, they transformed our events in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, which brings visitors to Iowa City from across the nation and around the world. They’re consummate professionals. I trusted them enough to ask them to cater my wedding. They have nourished this community. The statements here attempt to paint them as feckless, petulant children. This is a gross mischaracterization and in no way consistent with my experience working with them. –Amy Margolis

  10. I wish all parties the best. The restaurant business is incredibly difficult, hard work. I don’t doubt both parties have hurt feelings and grieve a loss. In the end, sometimes when a door closes, a window opens. When emotions are running high, things are said that shouldn’t be. Good luck to all!

  11. In the end its the food that never lies. Thats why Augusta was killing it and Ride sucked. I’m sure whatever pops up at 630 Iowa Ave will suck cos obviously these peeps dont get that. Step yer game up brah!

    Ben, Jeri…yer better off. See ya.

    1. You’re absolutely right its all about the food, and Ben is VERY talented, but it seems like you didn’t even read the full article. There were NUMEROUS problems at Augusta, and Jeri’s reputation at the bars around town was even more prolific than her reputation as an “owner” of a restaurant that (as stated) SHE NO LONGER OWNED.

      Are you so closet minded to believe that Ben made every entree served at Augusta? The food is what keeps a place alive, and its the STAFF that made the food. Read some of the former employee comments on this page. These 2 managers mismanaged their staff, didn’t follow the vision the OWNERS of the restaurant had, and QUIT their jobs because it wasn’t what they expected. If they didn’t want to conform to somebody else then they shouldn’t have sold their rights away, stupid move on their part.

  12. Yeah, its a real problem when the parking lot is full all day long…gimmie a break dude. If Jeri this and Jeri that in your little townie bubble is what you are basing your argument on then you lose because its all heresay.

    As far as Ben not making “every entree” …..Even Jordan came outta the game sometimes and the Bulls still won. Now Jordan is gone. Good luck.

    1. Not hearsay when you’re kicking Jeri out of your bar for bringing in her own open containers she walked with from who knows where, this is first hand experience.

      I would continue to argue with you but its clear you don’t understand how the food/bev industry works. Thats fine, you can keep your head in the sand but it doesn’t change the truth of what happened. I would be hesitant to pass judgement on the people who pulled Jeri/Ben out of the dirt without knowing all the facts Jimson

  13. So you are a bar owner now? There is no argument. All you are talking about is Jeri and her alleged drinking? Ride sucked. Fact. Augusta, because of Ben/Jeri WAS great. Fact. 630 Iowa will fail again. Fact to be seen. If I had to deal with those jackasses who “own” that dump Im sure I would indulge in many substances also. Lol.

    1. Jim, my name is Derek. Im not a jack ass. My food doesn’t suck. Stop by and introduce yourself, because you seem to want to know me but I don’t know you. I’m sure you have contributed to the community for many years and would love to hear how all the other restaurants and stores I have been a part of suck. I didn’t buy Augusta, the only thing I regret is actually using the name. Ben would have been fine just being a chef. Hindsight is no good here. I will be there after the name changes and then we can talk. Thanks, D

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