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Business/Economy

‘Financial strain’ of Williwaw a factor in bankruptcy case involving company that owns Anchorage bars

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: February 18
  • Published February 18

Williwaw,  Jan. 6, 2015. (Tara Young / ADN)

Money troubles for the company that owns a cluster of bars in downtown Anchorage are tied in part to the ambitious restaurant and venue complex Williwaw, according to a document filed in federal bankruptcy court last week.

A group of creditors says the company that owns Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse, Flattop Pizza and Pool, and Bootleggers 8 Star Saloon owes them more than $2.7 million combined, according to bankruptcy filings.

In a bankruptcy petition filed in federal court in December, the creditors said the company, Hook Line and Sinker Inc., "is generally not paying its debts as they become due," and they are requesting bankruptcy relief. The creditors listed on the petition are Collin Szymanski, Carl Brady, and Arctic Refrigeration & AC Inc., according to the filings. Together, they are owed more than $800,000, records show.

Salamatof Native Association Inc., an Alaska Native corporation in Kenai, joined in on the creditors' filing in bankruptcy court earlier this month. Hook Line and Sinker owes Salamatof — Williwaw's landlord — $1.9 million for four promissory notes Hook Line and Sinker had guaranteed, according to bankruptcy filings.

The bankruptcy petition is basically a lawsuit, said David Bundy, an attorney representing Hook Line and Sinker. The goal of the filing could be to compel the company to file for bankruptcy, or to shut it down, or get paid, he said last week.

"Creditors do this for all sorts of reasons," he said.

In a document filed in bankruptcy court on Thursday, Bundy wrote that "Humpy's current difficulties can be attributed to several causes," including Williwaw, which opened in 2015.

"Increased competition in downtown Anchorage, the impact of a slow local economy in general, and the financial strain imposed by Williwaw start up and mobilization costs, can all be cited," according to that filing. The space used to be occupied by Covenant House, which serves homeless youths.

The group of bars owned by Hook Line and Sinker are all clustered around West Sixth Avenue and F Street, just across the street from Williwaw. The four owners of that company also own another company called Fish or Cut Bait LLC, which owns and operates Williwaw.

Williwaw has had some challenges since it opened. Susynn Snyder, venue and entertainment director there, said that's in part because of how many different things the sleek project set out to do. The space is a venue for concerts, meetings and other events, and is home to upscale speakeasy Blues Central, a SteamDot cafe, Birch bar and loft, and a rooftop bar.

The Williwaw social hall. (Tara Young / ADN)

Now, Snyder said, "we mostly have become a venue hall," hosting 644 events last year. The business has made adjustments to its staff and offerings accordingly. A lot of those changes have been in the menu.

"Before, we were trying to be everything to everyone," Snyder said. "We had wok bowls, entrees, and our kitchen just couldn't keep up."

Now, the restaurant offers more bar appetizers and no longer serves lunch. Williwaw also rents out its loft space more often.

It's not always clear on Google which parts of the space are open when, Snyder said, and that can make for confusion.

"Alaskans are like, 'Oh, what's going on?'" Snyder said. "There's a lot of complexity to it. And when you have that many spaces, you're kind of catering to different genres of people."

Still, she said she feels better about "where Williwaw is today" than she did when the business first opened, and that Anchorage needs such a venue.

"Williwaw is something special," she said.

Snyder also said in a text message that the owners wanted to put out the following statement: "Williwaw acknowledges the recent public reports regarding pending legal issues against Humpy's brought on behalf of creditors associated with the Williwaw project." The statement also said the venue is open and will remain open.

"We are actively negotiating an amicable non-judicial resolution of the Humpy's petition," the statement said.

An attorney representing the creditors did not want to speak to a reporter last week. Dylan Buchholdt, a co-owner of Hook Line and Sinker named in the creditors' court filing, did not return a call seeking comment.

When asked why Hook Line and Sinker has been unable to pay, Bundy said "lots of companies run into financial problems."

Szymanski and his company Mantech Mechanical Inc., also filed a separate lawsuit in November in Anchorage Superior Court against Hook Line and Sinker, Fish or Cut Bait, and the individual owners, alleging money was still owed related to work done on the Williwaw project. A judge last week entered final judgments in favor of the plaintiffs, for a balance of nearly $690,000, according to the state court system's website.

On Friday in federal bankruptcy court, Judge Gary Spraker granted an extension to Hook Line and Sinker, allowing the company to have until Thursday to file a response to the creditors.

This type of "involuntary" bankruptcy case — initiated by creditors instead of filed by the company itself — is "very rare," said Anchorage-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee Nacole Jipping.

Snyder said employees at Williwaw are doing "everything we can every day" to keep the doors open, that the business has no intention of closing and has events booked through the end of the year.

"I've been working six days a week to make sure that (closing) doesn't happen," she said, "and to make sure that it is a viable business."

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