Former owner 'heartbroken' after twice-bankrupt businessman took over restaurant without paying for it

The former owner of a once-popular Auckland restaurant says he's been left "broken and heartbroken", after a twice-bankrupt businessman took over his restaurant without paying for it.

Al's Deli on Auckland's Queen Street was among the city's most popular Canadian delicatessens. But after an attempt at rapidly expanding failed, owner Aleksandar Lazic needed to sell to pay off debts. 

The buyer ended up being Jonathan Denize, a twice-bankrupt man with a string of failed businesses behind him, including the upmarket grocery chain Nosh, which folded owing staff and suppliers millions of dollars, a pub that went into receivership owing Lion Breweries more than $400,000, and an egg farm where chickens were found to be starving.

But Denize is yet to actually pay for Al's Deli. Under his ownership, the restaurant was in January given an E food safety rating.

"[Denize] took my business without paying a penny for it. I lost everything, and had to leave Auckland as I had nothing when I didn’t get paid and would have been homeless," former Al's Deli owner Aleksandar Lazic told Newshub. 

"I was broken and heartbroken. It was a tonne of bricks to carry and it broke me," Lazic said.

Denize is now being chased for the purchase price of Al's Deli by EY, formerly Ernst & Young, which is liquidating the company that owned the deli before Denize took over.

"We are not in a position to comment on the nature or progress of the legal proceedings as we do not wish to jeopardise those proceedings," EY's liquidator Rhys Cain said.

Denize wouldn't speak to Newshub but said in a statement that he has not paid Lazic for Al's Deli "as there are 11+ breachs (sic) of contract, Alek skip the country before settlement and don't (sic) fulfil his obligations to us or the company".

Insolvency firm Waterstone is still liquidating Denize's grocery chain Nosh, more than two years after it folded. 

"Denize is a commercial hazard. He is a dishonest person who actively goes out of his way to cheat people out of their wealth," Waterstone Insolvency owner Damien Grant said

"Denize fulfilled none of his obligations, caused massive loss of jobs and commercial opportunities for a number of people, and [Nosh] ultimately ended up in receivership," Grant said.

Once EY's legal proceedings are over, the firm says it will consider making a recommendation to the Companies Office that Denize be forbidden from running another business. 

"Whether consideration should be given to Mr Denize’s suitability to be a director of a company will be decided once the legal proceedings have concluded," Rhys Cain, an associate partner at EY, said.

In response, Denize said: "Once they have complete understanding I wouldn't expect this to eventuate, they will also need to consider Alek's actions as the director alongside (sic) this."

When asked if Denize should be allowed to continue to run companies, Grant said he doesn't think Denize "should be driving an Uber".

"The man is an absolute commercial menace and I just hope that nobody else, particularly as a result of this publicity, that nobody else ever deals with him again," Grant said.