CLEVELAND -- Anticipation for the summer is building with the potential opening of the Rascal Flatts restaurant, but after nearly two years after the plans were announced, many are wondering: When is it opening?
A spokesperson for the Flats East Bank development says a previously projected July 1 grand opening date was made in error, and no official opening date has been confirmed.
Channel 3 News has learned that the company behind the restaurant chain is being sued in California for backing out of a planned Rascal Flatts Restaurant in Hollywood. We've also uncovered a bizarre connection between the company and a former mafia turncoat.
According to Ohio Secretary of State business registration filings, the company behind the restaurant chain is Nevada-based RF Restaurants, LLC. Documents show that the authorized agent, or manager of the company, is Tawny L. Costa, who according to our sister newspaper, The Arizona Republic, is the girlfriend of an Arizona businessman named Frank Capri.
Capri was the head of a failed chain of restaurants branded by another country music star, Toby Keith. The newspaper's investigation sought to uncover the reasons behind the sudden failure of more than a dozen Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill restaurants in several states.
The Arizona Republic published an extensive, multi-part investigation called, Mafia in our Midst. Reporter Robert Anglen uncovered Capri's secret past as a former mob informant who entered the Federal Witness Protection Program and was given a new identity, in exchange for his testimony against more than 70 mobsters.
In a video accompanying his investigative series, Anglen explains, "Before he was accused of using a chain of Toby Keith restaurants to defraud developers out of tens of millions of dollars, Frank Capri had another identity. He was Frank Gioia, Junior, a soldier in one of New York's most notorious mafia crime families."
A Toby Keith restaurant was planned for the Flats East Bank, but construction was abruptly halted in 2015, as Capri's company was faced with lawsuits and accusations of unscrupulous business practices.
How much, if any, involvement Capri has with RF Restaurants is not clear. But Capri and Costa have been named as co-defendants in at least one civil lawsuit in Arizona.
Channel 3 News reached out to RF Restaurants, but received no response. Efforts to reach the band members of Rascal Flatts were also unsuccessful. The country music trio is composed of Joe Don, of Picher, Oklahoma and Columbus, Ohio-area natives Gary LeVox and Jay DeMarcus. However it's believed that the band members are not directly involved in the restaurant chain.
Attorney Dan Goodkin, who represents the plaintiffs in the California lawsuit against RF Restaurants, tells Channel 3 News that none of the Rascal Flatts band members are named defendants in the lawsuit. Goodkin believes that the band merely licensed its name for the restaurant chain.
There was so much promise and excitement two years ago.
"A restaurant supported by a national name like Rascal Flatts is the perfect addition to the Flats East Bank," said Scott Wolstein, developer and partner of The Wolstein Group, in a 2016 release.
Today, in front of the more than 10,000 square foot restaurant, a sign reads: "Coming soon."
"We are excited to get the Rascal Flatts open as they are under construction, but we are waiting on an official opening date from their team," Flats East Bank marketing director Heidi Yanok said.
Coast Taco Executive Chef George Matos welcomes the idea of new restaurants in the Flats.
"The more the merrier. We just want a heads up of when it's happening," Matos said.
Many customers have asked about the opening of Rascal Flatts, but Matos says the uncertainty isn't affecting them.
"It hasn't hurt the East Bank at all. It hasn't hurt my business."
For more information on the Rascal Flatts restaurant, click here.