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Updated: Scarborough Meat House closure a sign of bigger trouble?

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Updated: Scarborough Meat House closure a sign of bigger trouble?

SCARBOROUGH — Customers seeking choice cuts of meat, gourmet foods and unique wines are now being greeted by a darkened store and icy sidewalk at the Meat House at 450 Payne Road.

A letter on the front door says the 6-year-old store is closed for remodeling. But an investor lawsuit and the closure of other stores in Maine and New Hampshire suggest the 11-year-old company is facing more than appearance problems.

On Feb. 8, company owners Jason Parent and Justin Rosberg posted an announcement on the Scarborough butcher shop's Facebook page:

"We have made the extremely difficult decision to temporarily close our doors. We are working day and night to reopen, and we look forward to serving you and your community in the very near term."

The statement went on to invite customers to visit Meat House stores in York and Dover, N.H.

Calls to the York and Dover stores and the company office Tuesday revealed all phone numbers have been disconnected. Attempts to reach Rosberg and Parent at their homes in Windham, N.H., and York, respectively, were unsuccessful.

New Hampshire television station WMUR and seacoastonline.com have reported at least four stores in New Hamphsire have closed, resulting in complaints from unpaid employees.

Maine Labor Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Tuesday she could not comment about any possible complaints about unpaid wages from Scarborough and York employees of the company.

On Friday, Rabinowitz announced the department's Rapid Response Team has scheduled two sessions next week to assist workers affected by the store closures.

The first session will be held 1-2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25 at the York Public Library, 15 Long Sands Road. A second session will be held 1-2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26 at the Portland Career Center, 85 Lancaster St.

On Jan. 22, four investors sued Parent and Rosberg in U.S. District Court in Concord, N.H., to force Rosberg and Parent to repay $350,000, plus 20 percent interest and court costs.

According to the suit, Edward Barry of Dartmouth, Mass., William Kenney of Upton, Mass., Scott Nathan of Franklin, Mass., and Scott Tellier of Wrentham, Mass., invested between $25,000 and $150,000 apiece with J&J Investments LLC, the Meat House parent company, in 2010.

The four became non-voting members of J&J Investments. Rosberg and Parent agreed to repay the investments plus 20 percent interest.

"Rosberg and Parent, while acknowledging that monies are owed, have simply refused repayment," the suit said.

The plaintiffs claim they have approached Rosberg and Parent for repayment twice since Nov. 17, 2011. First they were told by Rosberg and Parent the owners were "attempting to attract equity investment and/or refinancing, claimed that investment and/or refinancing was on the verge of closing, and that they could not and would not repay the amounts due. This same story was relayed to the Investors repeatedly over the ensuing eighteen months."

Rosberg and Parent eventually agreed to repay investor Ives Nathan his stake of $25,000 and 20 percent interest and the rest of the investors $2,000 per week.

Because payments have not been made as promised, the investors have sought franchise royalties from Meat House stores along the East Coast and in Oklahoma and California.

The Meat House first opened in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2003. The Scarborough store opened in 2008, shortly before a store in South Portland closed. The franchising arm of the company continues to grow, according to the Meat House website, a store recently opened in Fairfax, Va., and one is soon to open in Chadd's Ford, Penn.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.