Gluten-free deli, bakery Truly Free closing; owner, landlord spar over 'disgusting' sewer issues, rent _lowres

Photo provided by Truly Free -- The logo for Truly Free, a bakery and restaurant in Baton Rouge that offered gluten-free and vegetarian menu items, closed Monday due to a battle with its landlord over sewage problems.

A Baton Rouge bakery and restaurant that offered allergen-free foods has closed its doors after a dispute with its landlord over "disgusting" sewer problems and unpaid rent.

Truly Free, a bakery and restaurant that sold gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan items, closed its doors on Monday.

Owners Erick and Ashley Coughlin told patrons on Saturday that they would close the store permanently in a lengthy Facebook post.

In the post, the owners said the closure is due to “a battle with our landlord over a very serious and quite frankly, disgusting issue. We have had major sewer problems for over 3 years, and to our frustration, this problem was never fully fixed ...”

Landlord Donnie Jarreau of Donnie Jarreau Real Estate said he’s sorry the Coughlins' business didn’t work out, but there are other problems at hand.

“He has not paid rent in three months,” Jarreau said. “He has never contacted us. We’d love to put him in something more affordable. It’s a business that services Baton Rouge. At the same time, you can’t not pay rent.”

Erick Coughlin said the sewage problems got so bad that he sent Donnie Jarreau a letter two weeks ago in which he explained why Truly Free was withholding rent. The letter also complained about leaks in the roof, he said.

Truly Free opened in 2009 in the Southdowns Village Shopping Center at 4321 Perkins Road.

According to the Facebook post, the owners said the sewage problems have persisted and become more problematic over the last year.

“The real issue is that the ancient cast iron sewer line has multiple locations throughout the line that need to be fixed because there are multiple rusted out broken points,” the post said.

Jarreau acknowledged that the building is 45-50 years old. “All these pipes are old, and we repair them when they break,” Jarreau said. “We’ve got documentation every time we did repairs.”

Coughlin said when the line clogs, sewage flows into an area behind Truly Free and around other tenants at the Southdowns Village Shopping Center.

“The water flow was affected, and customers would come in and can’t flush the toilet,” Coughlin said. "He (Jarreau) kept saying, ‘There’s no problem.’ This is pretty embarrassing as a business owner.

"Imagine what I’m going through,” Coughlin said. “‘I’m so sorry, Mrs. Customer, but our toilets don’t flush, but here’s an eight dollar cupcake.’”

Coughlin said he is considering legal action against Jarreau. “There’s no other choice at this point,” he said. “I’m in the right here. He has forced me to close my doors, at least temporarily.”

The Truly Free co-owner said it would take “a lot of things” for him to remain open at Southdowns. “There’s a severe list of demands on my part,” Coughlin said.

Jarreau said the Southdowns shopping center is one of the most popular areas in town. "I am confident we will find a new tenant for this high visibility, high traffic location," he said.

Towards the end of the Truly Free post on Facebook, the owners said they hope “the sun is not setting permanently,” and thanked customers for their support.

“The worst part about all this is that we feel that we are failing you,” the post said. “We pray you can see past that failure, and know we worked hard, long hours, and even though we weren’t perfect, we couldn’t have cared anymore ... we gave all that we had.”

Follow Matthew Sigur on Twitter @MatthewSigur.