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Premier Health Partners to kill Carmen’s Deli

July 29, 2009, while the economy was in the Dumpster and 5th/3rd was in the process of leaving the old Cit Fed building, my friend Haitham Iman made the gutsy move and took over a space that had failed repeatedly as a deli and put his life savings on the line- here is what I wrote:

I’ve known Haitham Iman for years. I’m sure many of you who have attended events at the David Ponitz center, Building 12, of Sinclair know him too.

He’s the always smiling, nice guy, who makes sure your experience is exceptional when it comes to the food at events.

Now, he’s the guy on the grill- only it’s his grill, in his and his lovely wife Carmen’s new restaurant on the first floor of the 5th/3rd Tower, in the old Swisher’s Too location….

via Carmen’s Deli now open- go see Haitham [1].

He started with 3 employees; now, he has 6. He’s worked hard to build his business and a following, despite being in a building that had its tenants abandon ship, the building go into foreclosure and then be sold for dimes on the dollar to one of the richest, largest companies left in Dayton: Premier Health Partners, owners of Miami Valley Hospital, etc.

Premier is now about to fill the tower with 900 employees, news that made Haitham leap for joy when he first heard the news. His lease ran through 2014 and he looked forward to 900 new customers right on top of his little dining spot. First assurances were that no one would lose out, but, then the powers that be changed the plan, serving Carmen’s Deli with an eviction notice. It seems Premier wants to feed its own people by building a cafeteria – right on the first floor. They offered Haitham a management position, which was what he had before he took charge of his future and started his version of the American Dream. He turned them down- politely I’m sure.

Premier also offered him a chance to take over the old Kitty’s/Thomato’s/Mediterra/piano bar, etc. space- but it requires about a $300K build-out which is beyond Haitham’s reach. My sources say they shopped the same space to other restaurateurs in town but offered the build-out- and still didn’t get takers.

Most of us would think, how can they boot him if he has a lease? If he tried to walk on them, they’d go after him like rabid dogs. Premier’s lawyers claim that his lease didn’t transfer after the foreclosure and they have the right to boot him now. His customers are outraged, some have even offered their legal services pro-bono to help him out. He’s a David without a slingshot getting his lunch eaten by a Goliath who could take care of this within the rounding error on their books. But, he’s at their mercy.


Jimmy Brandell was a thorn in Miami Valley’s side for years. He bought the bar at the corner of Brown and Wyoming streets before the hospital had visions of a grand campus. First it was the second home of the Walnut Hills (first home is now Tank’s) and then when he split with his partner he renamed it Jimmie’s Cornerstone Tavern. He built his business with Dayton’s first CD jukebox and a bar menu that started early for hospital employees getting off third shift. He knew he had it good- and the hospital had decided they wanted his building bad. For years they went back and forth until finally, the hospital made Jimmy an offer he couldn’t refuse: to move him across the street to the old Ladder 11 firehouse, complete with a large attached parking lot. If you hadn’t been to the Cornerstone- you missed a good dive- but, if you haven’t headed over to Jimmie’s Ladder 11 [2] since he opened on 11/11/11, you’re missing out on the Taj Mahal of firehouse bar food and drink.

Jimmy had leverage in bricks and mortar- Haitham, unfortunately only held a lease.

But what about all our “Development” organizations?

Haitham has talked to the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Citywide, the powers that be at the City of Dayton Office of Economic Development- and while they all liked talking about his start-up 3 years ago, now, they like talking about the jobs that Premier is bringing (well not really bringing, they’re just shuffling- but we call that development). Citywide has space in the first floor of “Courthouse Crossing” or did (they might not own it anymore) including the former Roly Poly location [3] that rolled out of downtown under the cover of darkness. There is also the former Chick-filet location in the Key Bank tower (formerly Mead tower) which is too small, but so far, no one has come up with some options to save 6 jobs and a business that committed to downtown when others wouldn’t. Sure- our tax dollars have gone to help Uno around the corner, and Citilites across the way in the Schuster has been butted up with public money, but so far- nothing for Haitham.

Unfortunately, when the “undeveloper” Paul Hutchins sent Boston’s Bistro [4] packing for a plan that never happened- way back in 2006, he also stripped the space of what it needed to become a bar again. That space has been empty ever since- and is spitting distance from Carmen’s. If only…

The reality is, it’s one thing to wheel and deal in real estate, but it’s another to destroy jobs. Yes, Premier will be able to brag about having the only building downtown with 100% occupancy (except for Kitty’s space), but they’ll also be driving a business out.

You can call this progress all you want, but what we’d give to have back Seattle East, Boston’s, the Dugout Deli, Wendy’s, Frisch’s, The Diner on St. Clair, etc. To have a vital downtown, we need diversity and choices in food. Premier isn’t doing itself a favor by tossing Carmen’s out like trash- even its employees may miss options.

I’m not suggesting this should be the taxpayers’ responsibility, but since we subsidize Premier Health through Medicare/Medicaid and not taxing the hospitals- maybe Premier can find it in its heart not to kill this small business. It’s healthy for our community to keep it.

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Mark Duddridge

Haitham has talked to the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Citywide, the powers that be at the City of Dayton office of Economic Development…
 I’m just an immigrant rube, with no experience running a city or a business, but surely little businesses like Haitham’s are what any kind of restoration ideas for downtown should be based upon? That and the fact that it is a “living” example of the American Dream.


You left out Dominic’s…the biggest loss of all!


Not to be negative about this (I don’t like how Premier uses their “influence” to get just about anything they want), but even if Haitham gets legal help, free or not, that determines they in fact can’t kick him out, they simply won’t renew it in 2014. They’ve made their plans known and it’s foolish to fight it.


My guess is a reboot of Kobrick’s, which offers terrible grill food and almost zero healthy options. I quit eating there years ago.

Michael Martin

David…I would be happy to talk with him and see if I can help him relocate in the historic Oregon District or other area that might work out for him…

Harold HB Brown

I will follow Haitham wherever he goes.  He knows all his customers by name and treats everyone like royalty.  His food is excellent and his staff are always friendly.




Wilkies was also closed against it’s wishes by Dayton Public Schools taking over the building at 4th and Ludlow. 


Wow.. I must admit, as a downtown supporter and frequent “cheerleader”, I was pretty pleased with the Premier purchase of such a prominent building.  But at first glance, this Carmen’s deal looks pretty crappy.  I stopped in there once last year to check it out and support the business, and he was extremely nice and accomodating.  And lunch was great.

Sounds like Premier is making a mistake here.  But even beyond that, to think that DDP or someone else can’t find a spot in another nearby tower is nuts.  This guy is clearly committed to downtown.  We can’t afford to let the good ones go.


Dayton will never be a Cincinnati, San Francisco, Middletown, NY by running small businesses from its downtown.  The preimers cafe is going to be a joke, sure won’t be a market tool my me to bring my family downtown.  We need unique businesses like Carmen’s to bring flair to downtown.  East 3rd street is not going to be a food district its a haven for drugs and wildness. Most restraunts have closed on it.  Dayton Mayor needs to man-up and help keep this place open or at least help find/build another place for him.  We do it all the time for lawyers offices downtown.  These people live and work in Dayton and talk good about it.  Can the city commision help here?

Gary Leitzell

@Henry, It is funny how people want government out of their lives until bad things happen. This is a private matter regarding a tenant and a landlord. Government has no business being involved in this case unless it goes to a court. That being said, what you are not aware of is that I met with Haitham about two weeks ago and shared some ideas. He is already in contact with the right people regarding relocation. This is really an issue about fairness and about Dayton being immigrant friendly. In my opinion Premier looks bad at the moment because they are making a business decision and it is based on money, not public relations. They have the power to crush the dreams of a hard working, popular, foreign born business owner. They also have the power to kickstart his future success. The fair thing to do is buy his business which gives him the fair market value and capital needed to do something else several blocks away. Every one then looks good, everyone is happy and Premier can keep the Carmen’s Deli brand or they can change it as they wish. I would hope that they would consider this as a more viable and fair solution to the situation at hand.

Carmen Imam

I was just reading Mr. Esrati’s article for the first time, and the comments that follow, and I wanted to take a moment to thank you.  Words and gratitude expressed on a blog do not truly convey my feelings on your words, your support, and the support of all the loyal patrons of Carmen’s Deli… but since I am not at liberty to voice my own opinion or story at this moment in time, I am grateful there are people like you who can do it- and do it well.  Haitham and I will continue to support Downtown Dayton and the people that live and work there- so many are like family to us now.  The generous out-pouring of support we continue to receive make our resolve to “find a way” even stronger.   Thank you! 

Mark Manovich

The bigger question is why both Premier and Caresource felt the need to build cafeteria’s in their buildings.  It seems like they want to protect their employees from having to actually walk the streets of downtown Dayton.  On one thing we can be sure, our tax dollars are being used.



I suspect it has less to do with protecting their employees from the horrors of downtown than it has to do with offering a convenient, quick dining alternative for everyone. If the workers only get half an hour for lunch, for instance, they don’t have the luxury of a ten-minute walk to a deli down the street followed by a ten-minute walk back to the office. And that’s on a bright, sunny day – forget about raining, snowing, sleeting, etc. Doesn’t leave much time to eat, decompress, socialize with your co-workers, etc. The profits that an in-house cafeteria will generate by feeding 900 employees every day are nothing to sneeze at either. If I worked downtown, I would appreciate a full-service cafeteria in my building and would likely use it every day.


Ooops, I meant . :-)


Mark, how many buildings with over 900 employees do NOT have a food-service or cafeteria ? There’s perfectly sensible reasons why a company would do this. I’ll bet the employees consider having on-site food to be a benefit or a convenience !

And stop spouting the misinformation about “safety” downtown too….  


In all fairness, the Diner didn’t close because of anything the city, a landlord, or a bank did. It closed because the partner who was running things the last few years treated it like his own private piggy bank. This former owner and his wife are now under indictment for food stamp fraud, accused of  a millions of dollars of theft through yet another business they are raping and pillaging. Moving on, my current employer (a small local office of a worldwide corporation) moved into the 40 West Fourth Centre in 1998. We signed a 5 year lease and then an additional 2 year extension. During the second year of the extension the building manager informed us that the legal offices of Premier, who had moved into the suite next to us, required the 2 office spaces of ours that abutted their suite. Nevermind that the entire other half of the floor, on the other side of them, was an empty cavern awaiting build-out. After much back-and forth that swung from “you have to move out immediately” to “we can offer you space elsewhere in the building if you pay for the build-out (again)”, we finally came to an agreement that we would stay in our original space, giving approximately 1/4 of the footage to Premier. We signed a new lease extension at 4:30 PM that evening. At 8:30 am the next morning, a group of women from Premier came in, saying their boss told them to come and choose their new offices. We called down to the building manager, and he said “we decided to give the space to Premier, so get out”. That is very close to verbatim. Our in-house corporate attorneys reviewed our lease documents and told us the landlord was within their rights to do exactly what they were doing. That isn’t the issue. Us and every other tenant in the building – including the sandwich and soup deli on the mezzanine, whose owner/operator was offered the “management” deal with the soon-to-be-built Kobricks, had our leases terminated in the most juvenile, unprofessional manner imaginable. The building manager moved on to managing… Read more »

Sarah Walker

This has ZERO to do with convenience or “fear” of downtown.  It has to do with Premiers draconian rules for their employees.  Premier treats their staff (in my opinion) like 12 year olds. My family owns a parking lot right across the street from MVH.  We are the ONLY lot not owned by Premier.  Those who have read earlier posts by me know that “Burpy” who works at Premier hates the fact that we permit their employees to smoke cigarettes in our lot.  Their private police have tried to “patrol” our lot for smoking violators. From what I have heard, Premier has a $500/quarter insurance “fine” for smokers – they like to take down names of their “smoking” employees in our lot – that didn’t go over so well with me when I caught a PREMIER police employee “performing surveillance” in our lot.  Conniption fit doesn’t fully describe the scene.  The PREMIER police officer attempted to take down MY license plate number because I was a problem (in my family’s lot mind you).  He was trespassing on my property.  But he wants MY information.  Uh huh.  I don’t think so!  Ten to one this new cafeteria for staff will have vegetables, fruits, tofu, maybe a veggie burger but don’t be fooled – this is about CONTROL not convenience.  What a farce.  Not one (beef) burger, taco, pizza or any other items that you or I may be inclined to consume on OUR lunch break.  You know – something with fat and flavor and salt and calories. At least the Imam’s should be comforted by the fact that Premier didn’t sic the Zoning Department on them or worse the Health Department.  Premier took it upon themselves to print up “cards” that had my parent’s home address and telephone number on them to distribute to the public when we legally towed a car for non-payment.  Premier decided to make sure that my mother who was dying of terminal cancer was receiving harassing calls from non-paying individuals at her home by those who had been legally towed.  We have signs for our tow… Read more »


@ Diane not to be augmentative but employee feeding is often operated at a loss and is subsidized by the corporate sponsor. 900 employees it is possible to run as a profit or break even account ..but even then it would be wrong to assume anything about the numbers without looking. I can assure you they have a budget and food service projections completed.  I have eaten in the CareSource cafeteria twice, which is very nice, and it would not surprise me if it was subsidized by the parent company, in fact it would surprise me if it was not. The first time I had a turkey “Reuben” the second the chef , and he was a chef, prepared sauteed shrimp served over pasta. It was very good. I don’t think the the amount charged for the meals covered the cost of the food and labor to create them…but without looking at the numbers you really don’t know from the outside. I don’t think open records laws apply to CareSource provides medical benefits through medicaid to the poor and vulnerable populations of Ohio but that is another story. It would be nice if the increased employment in downtown would have an economic spin off to other small business owners. They could be feeding people in house because they don’t want them to leave the building for lunch, it could be as simple as that or they use it as an employee  benefit. That said in the past when downtown office towers were more fully occupied there were options for people to eat without resorting to company cafeteria’s as they really weren’t any.  My take is that people wish that major stakeholders in the downtown community would see their role and exercise some corporate and social responsibility that extends beyond  their core functions to the people adversely impacted by them and in a positive way to the entire community around them. Not being snippy but  MVH has it’s name on high school stadiums and buildings  throughout the Miami Valley where they perceive a greater benefit to their medical system. A few, very, very small accommodations on their part would have a positive impact on others that would mean the world to them as their livelihoods are being impacted. Not everything has be branded by them does it in order for them to do good? Not everything should be decided by lawyers. Decisions … Read more »


sorry for the typos it is late.


I truly believe that the days of people doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do are long gone. At least around here.