Plaza restaurant ghostly reminder of bustling business

Hungry plaza visitors glancing through the window at Pipon's restaurant this Memorial Day weekend will see the deceptive leftovers of a late night of dining and drinking.

A quarter-full beer bottle sits on the bar and a table near the window remains cluttered with hors d'oeuvres dishes and a pitcher. Place settings and laminated menus adorn nearby tables, and a chalkboard says steak fajitas are today's special.

"Then they really look in and they wonder, 'How come there's nobody working?' " says Sam Wong, the building's owner.

What visitors don't realize is that they're looking at the remnants of Jan. 20, the day Pipon's closed the doors for good amid financial chaos swirling around its embattled co-owner and then-Tidings Editor Andrew Scot Bolsinger.

The restaurant imploded, co-owner and manager Jorge Oliva says, from payments on short-term loans and money siphoned off to help float other failing or struggling Ashland businesses owned or co-owned by Bolsinger.

Now, entering into the start of Ashland's summer tourist season, Pipon's remains eerily idle as would-be diners continue to peer quizzically inside, expecting to see some activity.

"It's the most prime location, just sitting there," says Wong, 77, of Ashland. "But what can I say? Sometimes you get in trouble without even knowing it." Wong wants to dig out of that trouble, sever his financial cord with Bolsinger and start over.

He hopes to arrange a public auction soon to unload the restaurant's equipment and use the cash to pay some of Pipon's myriad debts, including more than $100,000 worth of new Internal Revenue Service liens over unpaid payroll taxes and other liens and court judgments that more than double that debt.

That would make way for a new plaza tenant with a chance to salvage some of Ashland's bustling summer tourism season, Wong says.

Financial probe

Ashland police are investigating Bolsinger, 41, on potential theft and racketeering charges from his businesses, which also included Lithia Stationery, The Main Source print shop and Jefferson State Pub, which has re-opened under old owners with no ties to Bolsinger.

Though some of the businesses, like Pipon's, are racked with liens or judgments for unpaid payroll tax withholdings and unpaid city food and beverage tax withholdings, Bolsinger has not been charged in connection with the businesses' problems.

Bolsinger also has pleaded not guilty to unrelated felony sex-abuse charges stemming from alleged sex with a teenager he met while teaching at a Salem-area academy in 2000. He was fired Feb. 5 from the Daily Tidings.

Bolsinger has left town for California, with Wong and others unable to locate him while he awaits a June 18 court date on the sex-abuse case in Salem.

Like many of Bolsinger's debtors, Wong says Bolsinger's community presence and charisma helped create their initial financial relationship when Pipon's moved into the building in 2006.

"He worked for the paper and he owned some businesses," Wong says. "Then you talk to him, he's pretty nice. But you don't know until you make a deal with him."

Oliva, the original owner of Pipon's, says sales at the plaza restaurant were healthy, but debt ate away at cash flows.

Along with the $3,235-per-month rent Wong charged for the 2,200-square-foot facility, the business paid $2,100 a week for short-term loans on Pipon's collateral. Income generated went to feed other businesses Bolsinger co-owned, Oliva says.

As the money disappeared, Oliva claims Bolsinger would say that he was close to securing credit lines of $500,000 &

even $1 million &

to bail out all the businesses and keep the doors open.

"I truly believed his ability to get loans was there," Oliva says, staring through Pipon's window during Friday's morning rain. "I thought, any minute now, he'll get that big loan and I'd say, 'See? He's a good guy.'"

Troubled times

During January's post-holiday lull, the money dwindled to a point where waitresses were buying alcohol with their own money, then getting reimbursed from that night's receipts, says Oliva, who says he was not paid for his work at Pipon's for a year.

With no money and no heart in continually running a business mired in more short-term loans, Oliva locked the door Jan. 20 not expecting to return.

"It fell apart," he said. "I'm done."

Five days later, Bolsinger was arrested on the sex-abuse charges. Two weeks later, Wong changed the locks on Pipon's, which sat virtually unchanged for months while Wong tried to get Bolsinger to clean up the mess, Wong said.

Bolsinger never returned calls or letters, Wong said.

Mounting debts

A series of IRS liens filed against Pipon's claims the business failed to pay $59,438.88 in payroll taxes withheld from Pipon's employees between Sept. 30, 2006, and Sept. 30, 2007, records show.

The IRS also filed separate civil claims against Bolsinger for $48,559.45 in penalties for willfully failing to pay those payroll taxes held in trust, records show.

"It's just guaranteeing our place in the pecking order," said John Sustarich, an IRS revenue officer working on the case.

Last month, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services filed a judgment and a separate lien against Bolsinger and Pipon's for $17,989.55 for workers' compensation claims costs and a civil penalty, the judgment states.

Three other business liens for unspecified amounts were also filed against Pipon's through the Corporate Division of the Oregon Secretary of State.

All the while, the restaurant stood much as it was left in January.

"It's bizarre," Oliva says. "It's like a ghost restaurant."

Restaurant remnants

Wong says he left Pipon's as is because he was unsure whether he could legally remove the tables, dishwashers and other restaurant appliances. He was also unwilling to pay to store them.

"In a way, you want to clean it up, and in a way you want to say the hell with it," Wong said. "I'm still losing money every day." Pipon's now has racked up six months of unpaid rent, Wong said. The city of Ashland, however, kept the electricity on, allowing food to remain in the freezer, he said.

"Eventually, it smelled like hell," Wong said. "Food got moldy."

Wong hired someone earlier this month to remove the food and do a modicum of cleaning. Still, pans with refried bean residue remain stacked in a sink, condiments are strewn about and a few cans of Tecate beer remain in a cooler.

Richard Thierolf, Wong's attorney in Medford, said he has failed to get Bolsinger's help in expunging the remnants of Pipon's from Wong's building and putting the proceeds toward creditors such as the IRS.

"In that regard, we're trying to help him," Thierolf said of Bolsinger. "But it's hard to help a man who won't talk."

Wong says he hasn't filed any claims against Bolsinger and does not intend to.

"What's the use?" he said. "It's OK, I guess. You learn.

"Next one, though, you better watch it," he said.

Reach reporter at 776-4470, or e-mail

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