A family friend was vacationing in Tampa, Florida a couple of weeks ago and sent me a news item from the Tampa Tribune that she thought I’d find interesting. An Ohio corporation by the name of Unit 44 Inc., owner of three popular restaurants and clubs in Florida, Margarita Mama’s, Banana Joe’s, and the Velvet Room, filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy a month ago. The business listed assets of under $500,000, with liabilities of $1-10 million. One of the restaurants, Margarita Mama’s, is located on the second floor of a big center named Channelside Bay Plaza, which holds dozens of other businesses, many of them restaurants. Owners of seven other restaurants in Channelside Bay Plaza all reported rising revenues, and hinted at infighting caused partially by the raucous crowds that Margarita Mama was attracting to what was meant to be a family-oriented shopping center.

As a small business bankruptcy lawyer with offices in four cities in Indiana, I found one detail of this sad story to be especially interesting. The creditors with claims against Unit 44 Inc. included the IRS and Florida Department of Revenue, which is quite typical for businesses that are driven to file bankruptcy. But the biggest claim against the corporation came from a woman who in the past had been a business partner of the owner’ in several different ventures.

I see this situation so often – people team up in business because they appear to have skills that complement each other, and, of course, to share the risks and the capital costs of owning and operating a business. While some partnerships last for decades, with the partners’ reliance on each other’s strengths carrying them through difficult times, very often the stresses of the business turn friends into enemies. Perhaps one of the partners feels the other isn’t pulling his or her weight. Perhaps family members interfere in the partners’ decisions. Many different factors result in rifts between business partners, and, more often than you might imagine, one partner sues the other. I then end up hearing the story from the partner being sued, who is seeking my help in dealing with the partner and with all the other creditors.

The Tribune article tells us that the owners of the mall can’t be reached, and the business owner said he’s “dealing with personal matters”. As a bankruptcy attorney who deals with thousands of different situations each month, I know only too well how business and personal affairs are intertwined for small business owners.