A conflict between the owners of Blaxican restaurant and Northland General Store has escalated to the point that the restaurant's owners have decided to pull out before Blaxican could open its doors at 621 Des Moines St.

Phillip Wells, who has planned to open a soul food and Mexican restaurant with his wife, Doris Alvarez, in a front section of Northland General Store, claims that the store's owner, Doug Wermeskerch, stalled in getting the restaurant's plumbing and electricity hooked up. The couple had hoped to open Blaxican last July, but five months later, they are still on hold, with everything else in the restaurant finished.

However, Wermeskerch said it has taken time to get estimates and time frames for the work from plumbers and electricians and to make sure their work meets city inspectors' requirements. The work is almost finished now, but he said Wells and Alvarez still need to put the sinks in and have their counters up to code.

Wells said the last straw for him was when Wermeskerch failed to mention Blaxican restaurant by name in an interview for an article in The Des Moines Register in which he said that he was planning to open three restaurants in his building. The article was published on Saturday Nov. 25, and on Monday, Wells and Alvarez moved out.

Wermeskerch said Wells called him after reading the article and swore at him, and he also claimed that when the couple moved out, they ripped up the floor and walls. Wermeskerch figures that he lost money by having the project fail, because he never collected rent in the six months Wells and Alvarez were working on the restaurant and six weeks ago, he returned the partial deposit they had given him in May. Wells estimates his loss at about $17,000.

Wells and Alvarez said when they decided to move into the store, Wermeskerch wanted them to open as soon as possible. They held a grand opening in July and quit their jobs just before that, assuming the restaurant would open that month. By the end of July, they sold their house and moved into a duplex to obtain some extra money. Wells said Wermeskerch kept telling them it would be another two weeks before they could open.

Wermeskerch and Wells disagree on why it took so long to get the plumbing and electrical work done.

Wells claims, "Doug's excuse is that he could not get a plumber to do the job.

"He was trying to find a master plumber who would allow him to utilize his license, pull a permit [with the city], then say, 'Doug, you do the work.' Whatever work he does, if it doesn't meet code, the licensed plumber would lose his license."

Wermeskerch responded by saying, "No plumber is going to risk their license for me. ... It costs a fortune and every inspector knows what's going on. I don't have any family, relatives or friends who would try to do me any favor like that."

Wells also claims that "he (Wermeskerch) told me to lie to the electrical inspector and tell him we weren't going to be a restaurant." Wermeskerch said "every article that has been out there, we have mentioned restaurants. ... It wouldn't matter what I tried to say to the electrical inspectors; he would see them serving food."

In another dispute, Chef Joe's Pasta to Go, which was serving food in the back of Northland, was temporarily shut down by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals because the restaurant does not have a license to serve food. Wermeskerch said that the restaurant owner had taken out a temporary license for the July open house, but Wermeskerch was unaware that it expired in two weeks. The owner has applied for a license with the state.

Wells said he'll consider opening his restaurant again if another opportunity arises. Wermeskerch said he would like to move on and hopes to find another restaurant to replace Blaxican.