UPDATE: GUY MAGNUSSON IS NOW TELLING OUR ATTORNEY TO ‘ADVISE’ US TO TAKE THIS BLOG POST DOWN AND ANNE MARIE ‘CAN’T BELIEVE’ THAT WE WROTE ABOUT THIS… WELL GUESS WHAT… WE STILL CANNOT BELIEVE THAT ANNE MARIE HAD THE AUDACITY TO ATTACK GONCA, WE STILL CANNOT BELIEVE WE WERE EVICTED WHEN WE NEVER MISSED ONE RENT PAYMENT, WE CANNOT BELIEVE WE HAD OUR LIVELIHOOD DESTROYED, WE CANNOT BELIEVE WE SPENT THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FIGHTING AN UNNECESSARY LAWSUIT, WE CANNOT BELIEVE WE LOST OUR INVESTMENT, WE CANNOT BELIEVE WE MADE ALL THOSE SACRIFICES BUILDING OUR BUSINESS ONLY TO HAVE IT RIPPED OUT OF OUR HANDS… BUT MOST OF ALL… WE SERIOUSLY CANNOT BELIEVE THAT STATE FARM WROTE CHECKS THAT TOTALED OVER $70,000+, WHICH COULD BE THE EQUIVALENT OF TWO PEOPLE’S SALARIES AND ALL ANNE MARIE AND BILL ROSE HAD TO DO WAS CONSTRUCTIVELY EVICT US. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!? WE SURE AS HEK CAN’T!!!!!!!! #CANTBELIEVEIT #!!!!!!!
Please note that this story is not only about me (Gonca Esendemir) being attacked by our former landlords, Anne Marie and William Rose or R, Properties, LLC, but also about State Farm Insurance Agency paying out over $70,000 to the Rose couple after they constructively evicted us AND providing them FREE legal representation during the lawsuits that we filed. Some of this post is opinion, some is straight up fact that is supported by a paper trail that both the Roses’ and State Farm Insurance Agency left behind (including emails from their field investigator, Chris Figarelli, who refused to cooperate with our insurance company during State Farm’s investigation). It’s a long story that took place over the course of four years and I have attempted to condense it as much as possible. Some parts of the story that I left out can be further understood by reading our depositions and court transcripts, as well as reviewing the evidence in this case. There was no settlement (though one was offered during a pre-trial meeting with the judge by Guy Magnusson, the attorney hired by State Farm Insurance agency to represent our former landlords) that would have resulted in a confidentiality agreement being signed between all parties. We ended up winning a week-long jury trial and the judge did not seal any parts of this case, so we are at free will to discuss it and are protected under the first amendment of the United States Constitution.
P.S. The highlight of the trial, for me personally, was watching my little sister, Arzu, wipe the floor with Guy Magnusson. It was quite enjoyable to watch Guy squirm like a school boy when Arzu kept bringing up State Farm’s involvement with this case. There is nothing quite like watching your precious baby sister take on an over-paid attorney with his head in the clouds. It was even more entertaining because after Arzu’s direct exam, Guy Magnusson leaned over to Bill Rose and whispered: “don’t worry, we will get her tomorrow…”. He never ‘got her’, actually, it was Guy that ended up being ‘gotten’, much to my enjoyment. WAY TO GO ARZU! She broke State Farm Insurance Agency’s hired attorney down so much that when it came time to cross-examine me, he asked me one asinine question and that was it.
Also, please note that at the time we were ‘evicted’, our rent was paid and Bill Rose, instead of choosing to go pick up the rent check being held at the post office, instead went across the street to his State Farm Insurance Agent, Anthony Migliore, to file an insurance claim. We finally opened up the sealed rent check that the Roses’ never claimed in court because it had been submitted into evidence. Bill Rose testified that instead of going to pick up the rent check being held at the post office- that he went across the street to his local State Farm agent. We never got to see the actual insurance claim, however, judging from communications between State Farm’s field investigator and our insurance company- it seems to appear that Bill Rose was claiming that we not only ‘damaged’ 204 Bellevue Avenue upon being wrongfully evicted, but he was claiming that all the equipment, furniture, and other items, such as patio furniture, non-stationery cabinets, hood, etc. belonged to him because it was there when we rented (which it was not- we got an empty, run down building that WE renovated and furnished). State Farm Insurance Agency also covered the rent for our former landlords when they evicted us, as well as their legal fees for the wrongful eviction.
Before I begin this harrowing story about the biggest fight of our lives and the physical attack that changed my life and direction of our business- I want to make it clear that my sisters and I kept our complete silence on this issue for FOUR YEARS. I kept my silence because the fight was a private one for my sisters and I. Also, at the time this was all occurring, our lawyer encouraged us to remain quiet about it until the lawsuits were settled. I also did not want to show my vulnerability and pain for this situation by writing about it, nor did I want to be forever immortalized as the sister who got hit in the face by her landlord. Lastly, did not want to opening of our Hoboken location to be eclipsed by this story or draw attention to the heavy issues that we face as young, minority, entrepreneurs. However, after all is said and done, I feel insincere for the silence. I feel insincere because this story must be told. I want to tell it now, not to embarrass or hurt anyone or enact any kind of revenge because we already won our lawsuits… but because it’s so much a part of our story now, that it cannot be silenced any longer. Also, the attorney, Guy Magnusson, representing Anne Marie and Bill Rose, attempted to control this narrative so he can destroy our reputation and our legacy. However, we won 8-0 on four out of the five counts we filed, so he doesn’t get to control the narrative, neither does State Farm Insurance Agency or Anne Marie and Bill Rose of R, Properties, LLC (our former landlords).
I also want to tell this story because the multibillion dollar company, State Farm Insurance Agency, that played a despicable role in the whole drama, is making a very big, public marketing push to a minority demographic while presenting the public with an image of ‘community involvement’ and ‘having their backs’. I want people to understand and know who this company is and how little they care about minorities or their communities, because we were the minority in this situation and they used their power, money, and resources to try and take us down, while standing by their clients, who were the victimizers in this situation. State Farm Insurance Agency stood by their clients for one reason and one reason only and I will mention that reason later on in this piece. Though we ultimately won (even while our attorney was a solo practitioner and we had limited resources) and State Farm’s takedown proved futile, it was still disheartening to understand what we suspected all along- that racism is alive and well in this country, the the rich will always oppress the poor, and that ‘people like us’ will always have to fight for our dreams. It was the exemplification of something that kept coming up again and again as we became more successful- that people were completely offended by our success because they didn’t think we (minority women who came from poverty), deserved to be successful, despite the numerous personal sacrifices, hard work, blood, sweat and tears that went into achieving our success.
On October of 2013, our landlord, Anne Marie Rose of R Properties, LLC, physically attacked me at the first Flatbread Grill® location in Upper Montclair, NJ. The place that had become my home, the place where I felt the most safe, the place where I spent seven days a week, 16 hours a day… the place that my sisters and I built with everything we had inside of us suddenly turned into a hellhole for my sisters and I. Flatbread Grill® in Upper Montclair went from being my home to the being the place where my human right to safety was violated. It was the place where I finally learned what it means to be discriminated against and truly hated for your race, religion, and socio-economic background.
I don’t want to get into details of the attack, as court documents that will eventually make their way online once they are transcribed, give some insight into what led to the completely unprovoked attack. I want to focus more on the litigation process that followed that attack and what eventually happened to that location. We were forced out of 204 Bellevue Avenue by Anne Marie and William Rose, our landlords. The attorney, Guy Magnusson, esq. of Farkas and Donahue, representing the landlords was hired by State Farm Insurance Agency to defend them (they had insurance coverage apparently for wrongful eviction, discrimination, harassment, etc. all which were a part of our first complaint when we filed in court).
One of the reasons we litigated is:
1. We had an obligation to fight back because Anne Marie and Bill Rose could and they would do this sort of thing to someone else and that person may not have the courage to fight back.
2. We felt like we were truly wronged and our rights were violated.
If there is one thing this litigation helped us understand is that we, as individuals, do have the power to stand up and fight for what we believe in no matter who our opponent is and how big they may appear to the outside world. In this case, State Farm Agency threw their full support behind Anne Marie and Bill Rose, even at one point treating them as if THEY were the victims. The downhill slide that led to Flatbread Grill® in Upper Montclair being no more was only part of the painful equation. The attorney State Farm Agency hired, Guy Magnusson, made it his personal mission to add insult to injury and take us down (he would ultimately fail miserably and embarrassingly).
Mr. Guy Magnusson opened his statement during our trial by claiming we had saved money by no longer being at 204 Bellevue Avenue in Upper Montclair and that now wanted to profit off of not being in that location anymore by suing our former landlords. He stated that William (Bill) Rose of R, Properties, LLC had actually suffered a loss by Flatbread Grill® not being at 204 Bellevue Ave. anymore because their current tenant (who actually ended up being someone they already had an acquaintanceship with), was not paying as much in rent as we were. Mr. Guy Magnusson blatantly lied to the court. There was one big part of the story he wanted to make sure was hidden from the court and the public (State Farm Insurance Agency probably wanted this part of the story hidden from the public as well). Not only did he fail to mention that as tenants at 204 Bellevue Ave, we paid over $500,000 in rent to R, Properties, LLC, but Guy Magnusson left out the part where Anne Marie and Bill Rose actually made a huge profit off of constructively evicting us and forcing the shutdown of our livelihood. Anne Marie and Bill Rose not only profited, but they were rewarded for all the pain and suffering they caused us by their insurance company. State Farm came to the immediate aid of our former landlords at 204 Bellevue Avenue because of one reason and one reason only: they were a white, affluent couple who victimized a group of working class Muslims and to companies like State Farm Insurance Agency- white people cannot be the victimizers, but they can be the victims. State Farm treated the Rose couple as if they were the victims in this situation, gladly reimbursing them for their bad behavior and taking us on in an effort to destroy not only our livelihood, but our reputation.
When Guy Magnusson claimed that we had profited from what had happened to us and Anne Marie and William Rose had lost out financially, he failed to mention the $70k+ insurance payout that was given to the Rose’s by State Farm Insurance Agency, AND Guy failed to mention that State Farm was defending Anne Marie and Bill Rose for FREE as part of their insurance coverage. Our former landlords were not only cut a hefty check by State Farm without a proper insurance investigation taking place, but they received FREE legal representation, while we paid out of pocket for our legal expenses (this was almost a THREE YEAR litigation process, so please do the math on what is cost us). This $70k+ payout was given to the Rose’s after their local insurance agent, Anthony Migliore, who worked across the street, helped them file an insurance claim following the constructive eviction by our former landlords. State Farm even reimbursed our landlords’ legal fees for landlord/tenant court when they evicted us and then represented them for FREE when we sued our landlords in the civil division. But it gets even more horrendous…THEN, after Anne Marie and Bill Rose were paid out, State Farm Insurance Agency had the audacity to try and collect the $70k+ amount they paid to Anne Marie and Bill Rose from US! Anne Marie and Bill Rose even submitted ‘invoices’ to their insurance company for their supposed renovation of 204 Bellevue Ave. after we left. However, once we analyzed these invoices, they seem to be possibly be invoices for the house on Grove Street that they purchased and renovated for their son, Billy Jr. I eventually contacted the State of New Jersey’s Insurance Fraud Commissioner via email and I got them involved. You can enlarge the photos below to see the email in it’s entirety (email addresses removed).
Email I sent to the State Of NJ Insurance Commissioner
The documents surrounding the insurance claim filed by Anne Marie and Bill Rose left too many open-ended questions. We were hoping these questions would be answered during the trial, but Guy chose not to bring that issue up in court. Their first line of defense against us when we filed our lawsuits was to try and prove that we ‘damaged’ 204 Bellevue Avenue and willingly left because Anne Marie Rose had assaulted me in October. That defense eventually crumbled once I personally got the State of New Jersey’s Insurance Fraud Commissioner involved in the situation. State Farm eventually backed off of that defense when the insurance commissioner opened up an investigation into the matter. Guy Magnusson and State Farm switched their defense of Ann Marie and Bill Rose to ‘elderly, helpless, privileged, affluent white people being taken advantage of by a bunch of poor scoundrels who were like the Kardashians of the restaurant industry’. Guy Magnusson did not want the judge or jury to know about the massive insurance payout State Farm Insurance Agency paid the Rose couple after they wrongfully evicted us (who can blame him- after all, they were paid almost as much as two teachers’ salaries without a formal insurance investigation). Guy Magnusson also wanted us barred from repeating the racial slur Bill Rose used towards our African-American landscapers right before he filed the eviction against us; again, this was most likely done to make the Rose couple appear as non-threatening and classy as possible. That defense didn’t quite work out for them either because they ended up losing the lawsuit.
The State of New Jersey began an insurance fraud investigation into the matter. The investigation not only scared State Farm into backing off their attempt to collect the money that they paid out to Anne Marie and Bill Rose of R Properties, LLC without investigating, it even prompted them to ask the State of New Jersey insurance fraud agent assigned to the investigation to try and get us to drop our lawsuit against our former landlords. After I inquired whether or not State Farm had bribed him or asked him to convince us to drop the lawsuit, we never heard from him again. It struck me as odd that the insurance fraud investigator, after speaking with Guy Magnusson and State Farm, came back and asked us for a written, signed statement from our attorney of ‘everything we took out of 204 Bellevue Ave.’. It was really repulsive for either Guy Magnusson or State Farm to attempt this kind of underhanded scumminess, but luckily, I saw through it immediately and the investigator got called out on it. This should give you some insight into what kind of straight up evil we were up against. State Farm would stop at NOTHING to try and protect their clients. At some point during intermission while we were in trial, Guy Magnusson and William Rose were both following our expert witness around and striking up a conversation with him, which is blatantly an ethical violation.
What is most heartbreaking about this situation is that a company like State Farm Insurance Agency will gladly take money from minorities, and the working class, and then turn around hand it over without blinking an eye to people like Anne Marie and William Rose. State Farm didn’t want it getting out publicly that they will gladly poor thousands of dollars into defending you if you are white and wealthy, while they can’t be bothered to payout even the smallest insurance claims to the mostly working class people who are insured by them. It is a sad, sad tale of the rich getting richer on the backs of the working class.
It is also worth noting that by only did Guy Magnusson drag this lawsuit out mercilessly in the hopes we would give up and walk away (we didn’t- joke’s on you, buddy), but he also had an entire legal team helping him form his case. It was more than likely in his best financial interest to drag it out as long as he did because State Farm was footing the bill, so why not play them for a bunch of suckers. The law firm Guy Magnusson works for more than likely spent HOURS lurking out our blog, reading it, lurking out our Instagram, following our every social media move in hopes to find some hole in our story. In fact, judging from Guy Magnusson’s defense, he pretty much constructed his opening remarks and closing remarks by reading our blog and Instagram posts. I also observed our Google Analytics report to show State Farm was also lurking our out websites (next time- hide behind a firewall guys… seriously). We listened to the advice of our attorney and didn’t post about the case for this reason. However, they took our silence (rather idiotically) and our enthusiasm for Hoboken as a ridiculous interpretation of us having supposedly WANTING to be evicted and harassed and tormented by the Rose’s. We were never able to fully express the pain, the sadness, the anger and the frustration of losing our Montclair store, of knowing the real story that the Rose’s set out to destroy our family, our legacy and our means of living all out of pure hatred. The deepest, most painful part of this story is not the THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS we lost, or the legacy that was destroyed, the sacrifices we made that became obsolete, or our livelihood that was seriously affected- but knowing that a MULTIBILLION DOLLAR COMPANY owned by a white male was taking great pride in trying to destroy a small family business and causing them undue financial hardship…. knowing that it was our race, religion, and socioeconomic background that motivated State Farm Insurance Agency to work so on hard on behalf of their white, affluent clients, was the most heartbreaking part of this story… knowing how deeply personal Guy Magnusson was in his involvement and hatred towards us. Guy Magnusson, even after video evidence that I was physically attacked proves otherwise, was STILL attempting to deny that attack. And all because the victimizers in question where WHITE and came from a background of affluence. They all saw us as easy targets and they took aim and they ultimately LOST.
One thing about the physical attack in October of 2013 I want clarified is this: Anne Marie can claim all she wants that she just meant to ‘knock the phone out of my hand’ (I was recording her on my iPhone the day of the attack because she was arguing with my sister about a ‘water bill’ and I felt like she was trespassing) and Guy Magnusson can claim ‘it was just a little tap’ all they both want, but I was there on the receiving end of that hateful attack. I was attacked with malice and hatred. It was an unprovoked moment even though Anne Marie in trial claimed I ‘brushed her hair’ with the phone (a story that took her THREE YEARS and an entire legal team to put together). I suffered mentally, physically, and emotionally after the attack and the complete denial of all parties on the opposite side and their attempt to diminish the damaging impact of that attack was even more painful. I came out of it eventually, but the scars will always be there. I cannot simply forget what happened that day or the fear I felt or the anxiety that completely paralyzed me afterwards. I cannot ever forget what it feels like to be truly hated. It is difficult for any human being to stare down the face of evil and be on it’s receiving end to ever forget. What Anne Marie and Bill Rose did to my family was repulsive and it was motivated by pure hate. We were targeted for all the reasons I already mentioned and no amount of money poured into trying to deny this by their insurance company, State Farm, can change those reasons. Guy Magnusson actually had the audacity to insinuate during the trial that the attack on me could have been avoided if my sisters and I just signed what Anne Marie was asking us to sign in reference to the lease. My sisters and I stand by our actions (and inactions) on that fateful October day when Anne Marie Rose showed up completely unannounced in what I have always felt was an ambush. We don’t sign anything on the spot without an attorney reviewing it and no one ever should. End of story in that regard.
We didn’t win the damages we were seeking, but all in all, we knew going into it, we could never truly recover what we lost the day Bill Rose filed that fake eviction against us when our rent was paid up to date. Had we wanted to profit in anyway from this situation, we could have easily put the place up for sale after the October 2013 attack and truly profited. But we did no such thing. We stayed in defiance (which probably pissed off Anne Marie). It wasn’t until Bill Rose kept harassing us, told us we could no longer use the outside patio that we had built, and finally evicted us by refusing our May rent check- that it was game over for Flatbread Grill® in Upper Montclair. To be honest, there wasn’t even a price we could put on what Flatbread Grill® was worth. How do you put a price tag on almost a decade’s worth of personal sacrifices?
Despite Guy’s story about us profiting off of the things we took out of the restaurant, the truth is, most of it was thrown away because we could no longer afford to keep paying the storage fees. We had no income when the Montclair store closed and the Hoboken store was delayed in construction. We were getting by the skin of our teeth and that in itself is another story. Guy Magnusson’s weak attempt to paint a picture of us not doing well in Montclair and wanting to start over in Hoboken was a straight up lie. We laughed at his pathetic attempt to make it seem like we were being run out of Upper Montclair because let’s face it- we were one of the most popular, exciting, most talked about restaurants in that area. In fact, after we left, businesses around us shut down immediately or they left as well because we stimulated the economy on that quiet suburban street. We were the biggest deal there was and I say that with humility all these years later. Guy Magnusson, Anne Marie Rose, and Bill Rose can try all they want to convince themselves that our time was up, but all the press we received and the devotion of our customers, many of whom were traveling from out of town to patronize us, proves they were wrong. We were profiled by Inc. Magazine, asked to audition for Shark Tank TWICE, had outstanding reviews in the New York Times and Star Ledger, and built a social media following to inspire others that was generating at the time, MILLIONS of impressions by consistently making the ‘top post’ portion of Instagram. We fought back against corruption, evil, and hate and we WON because we had the courage to follow through on the fight. Sometimes… the good guys do win, even when the bad guys have all the money, power, and resources at their finger tips!
This is only part of our story. Someday, we will tell it all more thoroughly, and no one, not some racist, corrupt multi-billion dollar insurance company, no sleazy, spray tanned lawyer, perverted landlord, or some hateful woman hiding behind her money will ever silence us. And no one will ever discriminate against us, attack us, assault us, hurt us, or maliciously try to destroy us and get away without being called out. We will always fight back. And we will win because the truth does prevail if you have the courage to fight for it. We miss our customers in Montclair, NJ and we miss the days we spent carefree sitting on the patio that we built with our own hands and the moments of extreme joy that we shared within the four walls of 204 Bellevue Avenue. And someday, we will return and hopefully this time- our landlords won’t try to maliciously destroy us.