Basilico’s owner sues, says anti-mask stance led to lease dispute at Huntington Beach eatery

In February of 2020, property investor George SooHoo bought a Huntington Beach strip mall that houses Basilico’s Pasta E Vino. One month later, coronavirus shut down the world.

The Italian restaurant’s owner, Tony Roman, wanted nothing to do with California’s health regulations — and proceeded to make national news audaciously defying them.

Roman filed a lawsuit in late June alleging that SooHoo is trying to boot him from the premises due to political differences.

Attorneys for Roman and SooHoo declined to comment on the case.

Before the pandemic, the lawsuit said, Roman had a good working relationship with SooHoo. Then, when Roman “began publicly opposing and protesting against California’s stay-at-home orders,” the lawsuit alleged, “SooHoo closed the lines of communication.”

In September 2021, Roman erected a large American flag outside his restaurant.

“Thereafter, SooHoo set out on a months-long mission to find a way to require Basilico’s to take it down, incorrectly claiming that it damaged the neighbor’s sign,” the lawsuit alleged.

Roman had signed a five-year lease with his original landlord in 2017. That lease ended last week, on July 31, but included an option to renew for another five years. Roman was required to give written notice of his intent to continue the lease seven to nine months in advance of its expiration.

The lawsuit alleged notices to continue the lease — one was sent in October 2021 and another in December —  “went unanswered.” Instead, the lawsuit said, SooHoo sent letters beginning in January “erroneously alleging numerous purported lease violations” pertaining to the flag and other signage.

Then in April, SooHoo sent Roman a letter stating: “Basilico’s option is terminated.”

“SooHoo has breached its obligations,” the lawsuit argued, causing Basilico’s to “suffer unconscionable injury.”

The lawsuit asked for a judicial “determination that the lease remains in full force … through the first option period, until July 31, 2027.” It also requested unspecified monetary damages.

Roman is no stranger to conflict. In June of 2020, he declared on social media: “If you enter the restaurant for dine in, and want to wear a mask, you must remove it when sitting down.”

A few months afterward, Roman even took his activism 45 miles north to Hollywood. With imagery inspired by “The Godfather” film, a billboard on Los Angeles’ La Cienega Boulevard boasted, “Leave the mask, take the cannoli.”

The restaurant’s Facebook page has continued to publish opposition to mask mandates and other politically-charged posts.

Roman also posted anti-masking and anti-vaccination signs in his restaurant windows. One featured a photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top pandemic adviser.

“Wanted for treason,” the poster read. “Reward — pasta, vino and liberty.”

The restaurant remains open at its Brookhurst Street location.

The story’s headline has been updated to reflect the restaurant remains open at its Brookhurst Street location.