By Jane Smith
The Pizza Guy won’t be coming to Boynton Beach.
But Johnnie Brown’s might take his place.
Sal Campanile, who wanted to buy the Little House and the Magnuson House, backed out in early July. He sent an email to the Community Redevelopment Agency leaders on July 6 that his investors were withdrawing from the project and asked for another four to six weeks.
On July 14, the CRA board voted unanimously to terminate the contracts with Campanile’s company for the historic homes. He had offered $325,000 for the Little House, also known as the Ruth Jones cottage, and $255,000 for the Oscar Magnuson House.
“We were more interested in his menu than his finances,” said Joe Casello, vice mayor and CRA board member. “We can’t stumble on this any longer, it’s not good for our image.”
Campanile’s company, Ocean Ridge Hospitality, did not make the required 10 percent deposits on the contracts, which would have given him another 90 days from July 3. He said he couldn’t make the July 14 meeting because of a family obligation. He could not be reached for comment for this story.
Documents show that the CRA staff had recommended Philadelphia real estate developer Bruce Kaplan for the Little House and the Oscar Magnuson House. His Local Development Co. offered $550,000 in the spring for both houses.
Kaplan came to the March meeting and explained that his company would fix up the houses and then rent them, but he didn’t make the April meeting when the board chose the buyers. Some members saw that as a snub and selected Campanile instead.
Campanile, a Boynton Beach resident who owns Mastino Wood Fire Kitchen in Delray Beach, spun a tale of growing up in Italy, describing his passion for pizza.
He repeatedly said he had $1.5 million to invest.
Most of the CRA board members blamed themselves, saying they had “egg on their faces.” Two tried to blame the restaurant broker who brought Campanile to their attention.
“Maybe we should have been more vocal about vetting the clients,” said Tom Prakas, the broker who also found Kaplan and West Palm Beach restaurateur Rodney Mayo.
“Everyone drank his (Campanile’s) Kool-Aid. He is a great pizza maker, he threw pizzas in the air. I knew this guy is not closing. He went to everyone I know in the industry asking for money, asking them to be his partner.”
Casello asked twice, “Why did you let us drink his Kool-Aid?”
Prakas said he couldn’t attend the second meeting because of a prior commitment. “I’d like for you to give us one more shot to do it professionally,” he said. “This time I will be more vocal about who I put in front of you.”
The board agreed by a 5-2 vote to hire his firm for four months. Casello and Commissioner Mack McCray voted no.
This time, potential buyers will have to provide two years’ tax returns, a credit report and an audited financial statement.
Prakas said Kaplan is still interested in the properties, as are the owners of Johnnie Brown’s burger place in Delray Beach. The restaurant takes its name from the famed architect Addison Mizner’s pet monkey, Johnnie Brown.
The restaurant’s father-and-son owners also once held 20 Primanti Bros. sandwich shops out of Pittsburgh, Prakas said. The chain became known for sandwiches of grilled meat, coleslaw with a vinegar dressing, tomato slices and french fries between two slices of Italian bread.
They sold the chain to a hedge fund, Prakas said. “They want to do both of the properties,” he said.