NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The owner of a Black-owned restaurant/nightclub on Granby Street whose permit to operate wasn’t renewed Tuesday night by Norfolk City Council calls the decision “pre-meditated” and that he’s being punished over a simple mistake.

He shared leaked emails with WAVY on Tuesday that show communication between city officials before the eventual denial of the permit, one of which shows that at least one councilmember voted no based on reasons that other officials said were already addressed.

“I was in shambles. I was honestly surprised .. but then again I really wasn’t,” said co-owner Clarence “CJ” Reynolds of Caior Bistro & Social in the NEON District, who was looking to renew his already existing permit.

On Tuesday night, councilmembers Paul Riddick and Danica Royster were the only two on council to side with Reynolds in voting to approve the permit. Now, just before the holidays, Reynolds says he can’t even reopen his business as a restaurant because of the denial.

The move comes after council revoked the same permits for several downtown area businesses this year, citing the possibility for future violence after multiple high-profile shootings downtown in 2022. The businesses have been mostly Black-owned with mostly Black clientele.

A big people-person and fan of music, Reynolds said he put more than $100,000 into starting the business and opened on Cinco de Mayo 2021. He owns the business along with his partner, Serena Harris.

Caior has primarily operated as a restaurant, but would stay open late on the weekends and have nightlife. Reynolds said he was there every day it was open, and never had a fight or had police called.

“I’m real big on customer service … I’m really into vibin’ … just being around people. I was seeing the development of Granby Street and I said, ‘Well, this would be a good place to put a place for folks to come and have a good time, have a drink, in a safe environment.’ … It’s always a good time.”

Reynolds emphasized in an interview that Tuesday night’s vote was for a renewal of his conditional use permit, which expired this fall. The CUP is a Norfolk regulation that’s needed if a business wants to offer what’s considered nightlife; typically that entails staying open until 2 a.m. and offering a DJ.

In the months ahead of the renewal vote, Reynolds said he did everything the city wanted, from tearing down a roughly seven-foot privacy fence to removing tinted stickers at the front of the business.

The fence teardown allowed for a surveillance camera requested by the city to be set up at the site, Reynolds said. He later agreed to stay open until midnight, an agreement made with Norfolk’s planning commission as he won a narrow 3-2 approval recommendation this November.

He invested more than $25,000 in additional renovations – and paid rent during the time he was closed, which was roughly another $20,000. He also kept on staff around 15 to 16 employees during that period.

In all, he said he paid about $80,000 in total with hopes of getting approved for the renewal, though he had doubts he would get the CUP. He said he was tipped by his landlord in July that someone with the city called and indicated it wouldn’t be approved.

“[Norfolk Current Planning Manager Susan Pollock-Hart] kept saying you have to be in compliance,” Reynolds said.

However he said he later earned the blessing of the Downtown Norfolk Civic League. They initially concurred with the CUP back in September with the caveat of those changes Reynolds undertook, according to an email about the concurrence that was forwarded to him – until a Nov. 15 meeting with Pollock-Hart just two days before Reynolds’ meeting with the Norfolk Planning Commission.

It had to do with a LLC name change that was done before the business opened, Reynolds said. There were spelling errors with the initial LLC name, and his agent made the change in December 2020, Reynolds said.

“In my whole two years of operating [Pollock-Hart] never mentioned this to me before … until the week of my planning commission meeting,” Reynolds said. “I basically walked into the meeting blind and had to cry my eyes out to get a [3-2 vote] and then that same day [Pollock-Hart] asked for a meeting, the Downtown Norfolk Civic League took back their concurrence [that would have allowed Reynolds to renew].”

Reynolds also shared with 10 On Your Side an email sent from the DNCL President Lelia Vann to Pollock-Hart and other city officials at 11:30 p.m. Nov. 14, the day before Reynolds met with Pollock-Hart.

In it, Vann says the DNCL “no longer concurs on the CUP renewal,” saying that since initial approval “we have since learned that Caior has had several violations, including overcapacity, zoning, ownership issues and NPD service calls.”

Reynolds disputed those allegations, especially the calls for service. He also said the overcapacity summons was dismissed and that he and Harris have been the only two owners of the business.

Reynolds added he wanted to share his story and set the record straight during Tuesday’s council meeting, but wasn’t allowed to speak despite being signed up to do so.

Reynolds’ lawyer, Steve Heretick, did speak on his behalf and asked for a continuance on the matter, saying council had received “inaccurate” material about police calls of service allegedly to Caior’s address. He said he thought he had cleared information up at the Nov. 17 planning commission meeting.

“There were no calls of service to this particular business … [owner] CJ Reynolds is the manager on site every day it’s open, there were no police calls for service,” Heretick said in a follow-up interview with WAVY on Wednesday.

Heretick said the calls, which included reports of a shooting and a stabbing, were actually to areas nearby such as an adjacent city-owned parking lot. He said at least two times the business wasn’t open when police were called. His office planned to use the Freedom of Information Act in that continuance to get detailed police reports to clear the record.

Councilwoman Andria McClellan in Tuesday’s meeting said she understood what Heretick was saying about the calls of service, and instead emphasized she was more concerned about the restaurant’s business practices.

“I’m very troubled about the ownership going back and forth … it’s very strange. Business entities were dissolved, and then the CUP was created for one, and then another was dissolved, and another was picked up. It’s very, it’s not good practice,” McClellan said in voting against the continuance. She also joined in voting no for the CUP resolution.

However, in an email from Downtown Norfolk Council President Mary Miller to Norfolk City Council on Monday, Dec. 12, the day before the vote, Miller wrote “the question of ownership, per the staff report, has been resolved.”

Reynolds says he got that email from a whistleblower. WAVY has reached out to McClellan twice for comment but hasn’t heard back.

In addition, Heretick focused blame overall on the CUP’s denial on Pollock-Hart and her staff, saying they omitted documents to city council that had been shared with the planning commission.

“All we can do is wonder why in the world the planning staff and Susan Pollock would basically lie to the city council? And give us no opportunity to address misstatements in the same way we able to do with the planning commission, by the way got approval from the planning commission above Susan’s objection.”

Heretick says he believes the issue with Norfolk leaders shutting down nightlife has at least in part something to do with race.

“If you compare the way white-owned businesses are treated in downtown Norfolk and now to see how this Black-owned business has been treated, I think there are are significant differences,” Heretick said. Councilman Riddick, who had his final council meeting on Tuesday, and the NAACP have shared similar sentiments.

Reynolds said whatever the motive, “I just want the City of Norfolk to know that they hurt people with their judgement, a personal judgement, because this was not business, this was personal, the way some of the city council was acting … I just hope they understand that they are playing with people’s livelihood … instead of closing people’s establishments the way they are closing them they should have a conversation with them.”

Reynolds added that he wants more communication and fairness in the overall decision making when it comes to things like conditional use permits.

“There’s no fairness in the city of Norfolk, they are not transparent, they do not reach out to communicate to with small business owners unless you probably have connections to them,” Reynolds said Wednesday. “I have the same concerns that anybody on Granby Street has: violence, car theft, break-ins … I’ve been a neighbor before I’ve been a business owner … no one’s reached out to me,” mentioning McClellan and Councilwoman Courtney Doyle by name.

“What information they’re handed, that’s what they go with. They don’t reach out to the business owners and want any type of clarification … and that’s unfair,” Reynolds added.

WAVY reached out to the city for comment from Pollock-Hart. A city spokesperson deferred to remarks from council on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, another nightclub whose permit was revoked, Legacy Lounge, officially ended their appeal process with the city this week. A judge also recently denied a temporary injunction that would’ve allowed Scotty Quixx to reopen as a nightclub after the Granby Street business sued the city.