Drink Wisconsinbly pub co-owners allege they’ve been frozen out

Lawsuit seeks $136,000, dissolving of business

Drink Wisconsinbly Pub & Grub,135 E. National Ave.

Two co-owners of Drink Wisconsinbly Pub & Grub in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood are suing their business partner, alleging they’ve been locked out of the restaurant and blocked from reviewing the businesses finances.

Drink Wisconsinbly Pub & Grub,135 E. National Ave.
Drink Wisconsinbly Pub & Grub,135 E. National Ave.

Laura and Tom van Heijningen filed the lawsuit against Ryan Dolan and 30 Watt Holdings Inc. in late February. The defendants are now seeking to have the case moved from Milwaukee County Circuit Court to the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin.

Chad Snyder, an attorney representing Dolan and 30 Watt, said his client denies nearly everything in the complaint and the case is the result of a long running dispute between the parties. He said he generally does not comment on ongoing litigation, adding he would be making filings in the near future detailing Dolan’s side of the story.

The van Heijningens are seeking more than $136,000 they say they’re owed in profits from the business and licensing fees that Dolan allegedly began charging for the “Drink Wisconsinbly” brand.

The complaint says the van Heijningens started talking with Dolan in late 2015 about partnering on a casual bar in the former Blue Jacket space at 135 E. National Ave. after it closed during the summer of 2015.

In February 2016 the parties signed an operating agreement that set up the company behind the bar. The complaint says 30 Watt holdings was to contribute $25,000 in working capital along with the “Drink Wisconsinbly” brand in exchange for a 50 percent ownership stake. Laura and Tom, meanwhile, were to contribute the equipment and inventory from Blue Jacket, ability to lease the property and knowledge in launching a restaurant. In exchange, they each received a 25 percent ownership stake, the complaint says.

Dolan was named as the chief manager of the business and Laura was named as treasurer. Those documents also list Laura as the registered agent of the business, DW Pub LLC. State records show Dolan as the registered agent of the business, which was organized in November 2015, more than three months before the operating agreement was signed.

The complaint also alleges that Dolan decided in February 2016 that the new company would have to pay Minnesota-based 30 Watt a $4,000 per month licensing fee for the “Drink Wisconsinbly” brand, featured on apparel, drinkware and other items. He also allegedly changed the $25,000 contribution to a loan that he would be paid back with interest.

Laura was barred from entering the restaurant in March 2016 by Dolan and he announced she would no longer be working for the company, the complaint says. He allegedly changed the locks on the business in October and gave the van Heijningens a key after being confronted. The locks were then changed a second time.

The van Heijningens also allege that starting in August they were blocked from fully accessing accounting records and the restaurant’s point of sale system was changed in November, preventing them from monitoring the bar’s revenue.

Based on the records they have reviewed, the van Heijningens allege the bar is reporting lower than industry standard profit margins for food, alcohol and merchandise sales while showing above average costs for labor and accounting services. They say these discrepancies add up to roughly $231,000.

They say they are entitled to half that amount, plus $21,212 in “so-called ‘license fees’” from the past 12 months.

The van Heijningens are also seeking an order requiring 30 Watt and Dolan to share accounting records with them. They’re asking a judge to dissolve the company and require 30 Watt and Dolan to participate in an orderly wind up of the business.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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