The smoke from a neighboring cigar shop has forced a Carrboro pizzeria to shut down its dining room, according to a lawsuit filed this month by Coronato Pizza.
The four-year-old pizzeria owned by chef Teddy Diggs is suing the cigar shop Oasis Cigar Club and its landlord Woodhill NC, LLC, which owns the South Green Shopping Center. The suit alleges the constant presence of smoke from the cigar bar has hurt business at the pizzeria, which has operated as takeout only for most of 2023.
Coronato opened in 2019 as one of the first tenants at the newly developed South Green Shopping Center, serving a thin and crispy Roman-style pizza.
Oasis moved in and held its grand opening in September 2022, operating as a bar and cigar lounge and frequently hosting live music.
North Carolina outlawed smoking in bars in 2009, but it also created new designations for businesses, such as cigar bars. State law requires any new cigar bar opened after 2009 to be built in a new, free-standing structure. But that building rule doesn’t apply to private clubs and country clubs, where smoking is allowed as long as a select roster of members is maintained and the business maintains a non-profit status.
Oasis was formed as a non-profit company in February 2022.
Even before Oasis opened, Coronato’s lawsuit says Diggs made complaints about the bar’s smoke making its way into his restaurant. The lawsuit mentions numerous meetings between the businesses and the landlord, Gary Woodhill.
At one point, the suit says Woodhill bought two portable air purifying systems, installing them first in Coronato and then in the cigar lounge. Diggs says in the suit that the purifiers had no impact.
Early this year, while still complaining about the smoke, Diggs hired Repace Associates to test the air quality in the restaurant. According to the suit, those tests revealed a level of nicotine 1,000 times the minimum level of detection.
“This result demonstrates that secondhand smoke at irritating and health threatening levels is present in the Coronato Premises,” the suit says.
The overall results of the testing reported an unhealthy dining environment, according to the lawsuit.
“Repace Associates concluded that the air pollution created by exfiltration of SHS from the Oasis Premises into the Coronato Premises has exposed Mr. & Mrs. Diggs and their staff and patrons to significantly unhealthy air quality from secondhand smoke that poses both an acute and chronic hazard to their physical and mental health,” the lawsuit states.
While preparing to respond to the suit, Woodhill declined to comment through a representative at Maynard Nexsen law firm. The firm shared a statement saying the company had taken multiple steps to address the pizzeria’s complaints.
Woodhill NC, LLC which owns South Green Center, “works to provide commercial space that supports our tenants in legally operating their businesses,” the statement said. “We have taken significant steps to ensure proper ventilation between tenants which include the installation of commercial grade air cleaners, carbon filters, and an ozone generator. We are working with Coronato Pizza and their attorney to respond to the lawsuit provided to us on April 14, 2023.”
The owners of Oasis also released a statement in response to the lawsuit.
“The Oasis Cigar Club has always sought to be good neighbors,” the statement said. “It has extensive and expensive investments geared to mitigate the smoke in its space. There are 4 Industrial Strength Air Purification Units in the business. There are Ozone filters in the unit, and the HVAC units have been rerouted to negative air pressure, keeping all of the air inside. At this point, Oasis is exploring all of its legal options.”
The suit alleges Woodhill is in breach of the pizzeria’s lease and accuses Oasis of negligence and trespassing. Coronato claims to have lost at least $25,000 due to the smoke and its decision to close the dining room.
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