Judge: No one allowed in former Tasty Nut Shop building

·5 min read

An order prohibiting business-related use or occupation of a condemned property in White Pigeon was issued by a St. Joseph County judge last week.

During a show-cause hearing June 29, District Court Judge Jeff Middleton said the order means that, except under special circumstances, nobody is allowed in the building that formerly housed the Tasty Nut Shop and Silver Spoons Catering, located at 100 and 102 E. Chicago Road.

Earlier report: Search warrant executed at condemned White Pigeon building

Earlier report: Judge orders improvements of historic White Pigeon building within 90 days

The 150-year-old building was condemned last fall after a series of safety-related issues – both interior and exterior – were noted by village zoning administrator Doug Kuhlman. Nonetheless, its then-owner, Marjorie Hemminga, continued to conduct business and fulfill Tasty Nut Shop orders through the busy Christmas season before discontinuing operations from the site earlier this year.

Of greater concern, however, the show-cause hearing was scheduled after Kuhlman on June 12 found evidence that Silver Spoons had allegedly catered an event despite the condemnation and risks involved with occupancy.

During the 45-minute hearing, it was determined that Silver Spoons owners Jean and Max Webster – Hemminga’s daughter and son-in-law – had catered a wedding the day before. Kuhlman said he noted an overwhelming amount of evidence that included lights and a TV left on, a cell phone charging on a table, a hot oven, fresh vegetable peelings in a trash can and unspoiled perishables in the refrigerator.

Attorney Roxanne Seeber, representing the village, provided a recap of the situation from the municipality’s perspective. She said the village’s primary concern has always been the safety of anyone in the building.

Seeber said the items shown by Kuhlman confirm there was credible evidence of activity inside Silver Spoons’ kitchen.

“When you look at those photographs, it looks like it’s a lot more than cleaning up (the building),” she said. “There are spots in there that say the wedding was taking place or that there was something in the refrigerator that was labeled for a wedding, we’re a little bit concerned about volunteers going in and out of the building, we do not have an affidavit as required by the International Property Maintenance Code indicating that the new owner will be responsible for the building.”

Seeber said use of the building in the manner that it was for the June 11 wedding was a violation that warranted the arrests of the Websters.

She also said the Websters have every right to continue a catering business, but the work can no longer be done out of the White Pigeon property.

“I understand that catering fight is not our fight,” Seeber said. “At the end of the day, though, it’s our fight if (the Websters) continue to use this building and continue to have access to it.”

Tasty Nut Shop – via quick-claim deed – was put under the control of Union Hall Block Building Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization.

Shifting under the auspices of Union Hall Block Building Inc. earlier this year has allowed the entity to receive donations and potential grants that might otherwise be taxed income if not for the tax-exempt status of Union Hall Block Building Inc.

“We would really like the new owners (Union Hall) to step up, to prohibit access, to turn off the electricity and all the utilities,” Seeber said. “If (the Websters) are going to be in this building with professionals or the owners … would you please just let village know?”

Middleton said he examined photographs provide by Kuhlman. He said it didn’t escape his notice that items in the refrigerator were labeled “wedding.”

“It looked to me like they were using the place as business as usual as a home base for their catering business, which caused the village concern,” Middleton said. “It also appeared that someone may have been sleeping in there.”

Those issues aside, Middleton said it looks as if Union Block is poised to comply with stipulations cited by the village via Seeber.

“They’re going to restrict access to the building, they’re going to have shut off the utilities and the family can’t continue to use it as though they still own it,” he added.

Middleton shared a statement from officials representing Union Hall Block, which said a set of guidelines has been adopted to ensure that from now on, only authorized entry into the building is made. Also, Middleton noted Union Block officials agreed to notify the village when someone will be in the building, the purpose, day and approximate time.

“In short, the moving efforts were necessary in advance of contractor work at the premises,” Middleton read. “The board has not granted access to anyone for the use of the building for any other purpose; the board has nonetheless taken reasonable actions to mitigate safety concerns.”

As a follow up, Seeber said there is indisputable evidence that cooking has taken place in the building despite the condemnation.

“We had heard that Marjorie and (daughter Linda Hochstetler) were prohibiting entry, and that everything was moved out and there was no catering taking place,” she said. “Clearly somebody’s got access to that building. Now, we understand that the deed now has been recorded but the village needs an affidavit, under the International Property Maintenance Code, to establish that the new owner will be responsible for the upkeep, repairs and whatever, understanding basically what it is they now own and … if they’re willing to take the steps to keep these people out of it, I’m fine with that. At the end of the day … clearly the catering company doesn’t think that (safety) is a very serious matter.”

Robert Soltis, representing Hemminga and Hochstetler, said neither of his clients have a key to the building. In addition, he said Hemminga is in poor health and will likely require the need for Hospice care in the near future.

Earlier in the proceeding, Middleton provided full disclosure by stating he, coincidentally, attended the June 11 wedding reception catered by Silver Spoons. He queried all parties regarding whether they felt there was a conflict of interest as a result, but all sides indicated they were OK to proceed with the matter.

In May, Middleton ordered safety-related improvements of the building or there’s a chance he will order the demolition of the Tasty Nut Shop.

Middleton said the parties would reconvene to address that matter Aug. 31.

Signs showing the sidewalk is closed in front of the Tasty Nut Shop building in downtown White Pigeon.
Signs showing the sidewalk is closed in front of the Tasty Nut Shop building in downtown White Pigeon.

This article originally appeared on Sturgis Journal: No one allowed in former Tasty Nut Shop building