Restaurateur Rikki Vaughn had big plans for his eatery, Let’s Brunch Cafe, which opened in the former space of The Dizz last year.
Before the restaurant had even served any customers in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood, Vaughn said he wanted to launch three more locations of the all-day brunch spot across town, including at the 414 Light St. high-rise, the soon-to-be revamped Penn Station and another near Reisterstown Road Plaza.
But now, Let’s Brunch has shut down and the building at 300 West 30th St. is up for sale. Vaughn, a onetime mayoral candidate, is also calling off the other branches planned for the city as well as two additional restaurants he had planned to open in Northwood Commons.
He blames Baltimore.
Earlier this year, the Baltimore City Health Department shut down his restaurant for operating without a license, but Vaughn said that was due to missing paperwork on the city’s part. “Doing business in Baltimore City is not convenient for business owners,” he said.
Arinze Ifekauche, a spokesman for the health department, said the restaurant had been fully licensed to operate since January 3. “Why they’re closed now doesn’t have anything to do with us because they still have an active license,” he said. He added that they have $200 in unpaid fines.
Licensing issues have become the most common reason for restaurants to get shut down by the health department in Baltimore, prompting around half of the 55 restaurant closures in the city so far this year. In contrast, only six were closed for insect or mouse infestations.
While operating Let’s Brunch, Vaughn said he also faced a disproportionate number of 311 complaints, a common issue for the city’s Black-owned restaurants. He said racism is at work and that some of the calls came for loud music at times when the restaurant wasn’t open. (Complaints of noise are not among the official service record requests listed for the address in the 311 database.) Another call, he said, was for mice outside the restaurant.
Vaughn knows other minority business owners who are planning to exit Charm City, though he declined to say who. “We’re just fed up,” he said. “You gotta kiss everyone’s butt just to bring jobs to the community.” A planned day care center that would have been next to Let’s Brunch has also been nixed.
The restaurateur — who owns various franchise restaurants including Dunkin’ and Popeyes branches in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — has also closed a Let’s Brunch in Federalsburg in Maryland’s Caroline County, while a South Carolina outpost is being operated by a business partner. And Vaughn isn’t done with the restaurant yet: He may open another location in Baltimore County, where he said he’s gotten more support from local officials.
The building that once housed Dizz is owned by former Orto restaurateur Elan Kotz, who stepped back from his now-closed Station North eatery in 2021.
Kotz had initially planned to convert The Dizz, a longtime Baltimore icon, into a new restaurant called Lily’s, but that plan was scrapped. Kotz did not respond to a message from The Banner.
This article has been updated.