Almost every square inch of wall space at Village Pizzeria on Larchmont Boulevard is adorned with tchotchkes and photos that gives the Los Angeles slice shop its bicoastal feel.
A 2000 Subway Series poster and Brennan and Carr bumper sticker show its founder grew up in New York. A “Made in Los Angeles” neon sign and a San Francisco 49ers banner highlight the state he calls home.
Steve Cohen spent more than 25 years painstakingly decorating his Larchmont Village restaurant with keepsakes from his past. Since he sold the eatery last year, he has furiously battled the new owners over many issues, none as emotionally fraught as what to do with all that stuff hanging on the walls.
“You’ll see pictures of my family, my concert tickets, my baseball tickets, my signed autographs from when I was a Giants fan,” said Cohen. “Very personal things. My roller skates from the 50s when I played street hockey in Brooklyn. I’m a pack rat and a collector. My restaurant was like my gallery, my museum.”
Cohen — a loquacious white-haired man who was long a ubiquitous presence outside the restaurant on the bustling, walkable boulevard — believes he doesn’t just have the emotional right to the memorabilia, he said he has the legal right. A line in the contract that he struck with the buyers indicates that assets “excluded” from the sale included “all clocks, select beer neon signs, and memorabilia.”
Despite that, Cohen has been battling with the new owners over the memorabilia for more than a year. The spat has escalated from a neighborhood squabbleto a fight that could end up in court.
On the opposing side of the simmering pizza war is an ownership group with Hollywood ties. They include actor Frank Grillo, producer Jeff Bowler, and Amy Saxon, whose husband, producer Bret Saxon, helped them with the purchase. Bowler and Saxon have produced films together and were the subject ofin November over allegations of fraud in lawsuits and proceedings that have dogged their productions.
The new owners of Village Pizzeria directed questions to their attorney.
Leading up to the purchase of the restaurant, the relationship between buyer and seller seemed rosy. In an Instagram post announcing the sale, Bowler wrote: “It’s a dream come true for me. Village Pizza was started 27 years ago by Steve Cohen and his family. They built an amazing business and incredible pizza. I’m honored for us to carry the torch from here.”
But issues bubbled beneath the surface.
Cohen was frustrated the buyers were posting about the sale on social media before the close of escrow.
He was particularly upset by an Instagram post from Grillo in March in which he wrote he was going to bring the pizza up “a notch or two,” according to a screenshot reviewed by The Times.
Escrow was supposed to close the first week of June, according to Cohen, but the transaction wasn’t complete until July. That’s when Cohen says he began requesting the return of his memorabilia.
The new owners painted a different picture.
Their lawyer, John Schlaff, alleges that Cohen breached the original contract on numerous occasions.
Cohen turned over books that make the restaurant appear in better financial shape than it was, according to Schlaff. Cohen denies that claim.
Cohen created scenes at the eatery and threatened workers, Schlaff said. He alleges that Cohen broke into the restaurant at night using his old keys and took property after the sale that did not belong to him. Cohen said he entered the restaurant and took things that belonged to him before escrow closed.
When it comes to the memorabilia, Schlaff points to a lease agreement signed by both sides. It states that anything Cohen did not retrieve by June 1, 2022, would become property of the new owners, Schlaff said.
“All furniture, fixtures, equipment and improvements… remaining on the Premises after the Transfer Date, shall be deemed abandoned by [Cohen] and shall immediately become the property of [the new owners],” the agreement reads.
Memorabilia on the wall at Village Pizzeria. (Photos courtesy of Steve Cohen.)
“It’s technically not his property anymore,” said Schlaff. “My clients have said, look, we are happy to turn all that stuff back to you if and when we stop running the restaurant.”
Jordan Bernstein, an attorney who handles restaurant acquisitions and represented Cohen in the sale, disputes Schlaff’s argument. He points to the contract provision that said “all clocks, select beer neon signs, and memorabilia” belong to Cohen.
“There’s specific contract language excluding something from the sale. General language that is added later in time doesn’t override it,” Bernstein said.
He added that the language in the lease agreement specifies “furniture, fixtures, equipment and improvements,” not memorabilia.
“If your laptop is there, does that mean because that sentence exists that laptop is now their property?” he asked.
The bad blood over the memorabilia spilled onto social media. Cohen has also refused to turn over access to the restaurant’s Facebook page, Schlaff said.
Cohen used the page to post customer comments about the memorabilia issue as well as his own views on the debacle. Some customers threatened on Facebook not to eat at the restaurant until the new owners return to Cohen his souvenirs and trinkets.
“I would call it a boycott,” said Jeff Nimoy, a voice actor and filmmaker from Brooklyn who said he’s been to Village Pizzeria easily more than 100 times. After hearing about the memorabilia imbroglio, Nimoy cut his Larchmont pie intake to zero.
“All New Yorkers knew about this place and it’s a shame,” said Nimoy, who posted about his boycott on the Facebook page. “I know it’s just stuff. But it’s important to him. So it’s important to me. He’s fed me so many great meals over the years and treated me like family.”
The spat moved from social media to mediation. Both sides have proposed settlements that the other won’t accept.
Schlaff said in a proposed settlement this month that the new owners would be happy to return the whole restaurant to Cohen if he pays $275,000 — half of the sale price.
Cohen said he has no interest in buying back the restaurant. He believes the new owners have “buyers’ remorse.”
A second proposed settlement from Schlaff asked Cohen to turn over the company’s Facebook page and to “stop disparaging my clients in such social media” in exchange for the return of the memorabilia. Cohen hasn’t taken them up on that offer.
He said the battle has drained him, exacerbated his ulcerative colitis and kept him off the street where he once held court. The new owners have barred him from the pizza shop, he said.
“I’m no longer welcome.”