STUART — On their way to securing a long-term lease with the city, Linda and Paul Daly pledged they had no current plan to sell their beloved, Old Florida waterfront restaurant on city-owned property.
One month later, the owners of the Pelican Cafe are looking at prospective buyers.
The owner of the Stuart Boathouse met Tuesday with City Attorney Mike Mortell, asking questions about the Pelican Cafe lease. Broker Dale Armor, principal of Stuart-based Acquistion Experts, said he has reached out to as many as three potential buyers.
The Dalys on Tuesday confirmed their intention to sell their business of 13 years.
“He’s 75. I’m 70, Linda Daley said. “With all of the work and effort we did to put the lease together, we think it’s time to move on.”
City Commissioner Kelli Glass Leighton broke the news to her colleagues Monday night.
“Frankly, I feel like I was lied to right to my face,” Commissioner Merritt Matheson said.
City officials were still fresh off negotiations with Dalys last month — to a backdrop of a public “Save the Pelican Cafe” campaign — and discussions of how much the city should subsidize a business that maintains Stuart’s charm but is supported mainly by people from out of town.
More: A vision for Stuart collides between city officials and Pelican Cafe
Commissioners worried they could give the Pelican a new lease, only to see the Dalys flip it for a profit.
For their part, the Dalys insisted they had no intention of leaving the Pelican Cafe.
In the end, the City Commission on Oct. 28 signed a lease for up to 20 years. If the Dalys wanted to sell, the deal needed the commission’s OK and the city could negotiate a new lease.
This way, commissioners argued, they could protect their constituents and try to bring the business up to market value in its next lease.
Less than a month later, the city got wind of the “For Sale” sign about to go out.
“I think the actions of the owners were an indication of their thought process all along,” Glass Leighton said.
The deal the city struck with the Dalys was for $2,000 a month, up $300 a month from before, and 3% of its gross sales.
By comparison, the Pelican Cafe paid the city of Stuart about $42,000 in rent this past year while Mulligan’s Beach House and Bar, just down the Riverwalk, paid the city $201,000.
More: Stuart agrees to a new lease with the Pelican Cafe
“If I were to sell the business,” Linda Daley told TCPalm In an early-October interview, “I probably would’ve done it years ago.”
On Tuesday, the Dalys explained that after coming back from a planned vacation, they had a change in heart.
“All of those negotiations we went through really took our breath and flattened us,” Linda Daly said.
The terms of the lease they signed, Paul Daly said, also made it more expensive for them. Building a pavilion overhang onto the restaurant was going to be too costly now and not necessarily worth the risk.
A new lease, the Dalys said, made the business more attractive for a sale. They have put out feelers and received some interest, including from the owner of the Stuart Boathouse.
“If we don’t sell the business, our plan to date is to continue running it,” Linda Daly said. “We should be allowed to retire. We should be allowed to sell our business that we built from for 13 years.”