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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.