Whiskey River Owners Buy Olde Main

The property at 316 Main, previously owned by the brother and sister-in-law of notorious Ames businessman Scott Griffen, has sat closed since its liquor license was suspended for a host of tax violations

A for lease sign in the window of the Olde Main Brewing Co. in downtown Ames in early October, before the property was sold to the owners of another local bar. Photo: Gavin Aronsen/Iowa Informer

The Ames Main Street property where the Olde Main Brewing Co. previously operated was purchased last week by an Ankeny couple who own the downtown bar and restaurant Whiskey River.

Olde Main was in business at 316 Main St. for nearly 15 years until it closed in early May after its liquor license was suspended for a host of local and state tax violations. Local businessman Scott Griffen was the public face of the business and the target of the investigation that led to the suspension. However, the property was owned under the name KCJ Enterprises Inc. by his brother, Len, and sister-in-law, Sue, who are residents of Potomac, Maryland.

The new owners, Joe and Nicki Romare, bought the property on Oct. 24 for $1.58 million, according to a transfer record filed with the city assessor’s office, through Hunziker & Associates realtor Paul Livingston. That’s nearly $400,000 under its asking price of $1.975 million, and close to $160,000 below the property’s most recent assessed value.

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Reached for comment, Nicki Romare said plans for the property are still being worked out. “I think it will be a different concept” than Whiskey River, which will remain open, she said, “but nothing like fine dining.” Olde Main’s brewing equipment was put up for sale at auctions last month. Romare said the new establishment won’t brew its own beer.

After Olde Main closed, rumors spread about the condition of the building, bolstered by Scott Griffen’s long history of neglect in his business affairs. But Romare suggested that some of the rumors were exaggerated or inaccurate.

“It’s not as bad as you would think it is,” she said. “I mean, it needs some TLC. It’s just kind of run down. It needs a facelift, a new look, a new feel in there. It’s kind of like your grandma’s house, like when you walk into your grandma’s house, whenever she built it, and it’s just stayed the same.

“There’s not any significant repairs that need to be done.”

Romare made a point of adding that she and Scott Griffen did not have any previous business associations. “I met the guy briefly one time, waiting in line at the bank,” she said. “That’s it.”

The 316 Main St. property was purchased through a business recently formed by the Romares called For the Kids V LLC. A warranty deed filed with the Story County recorder’s office signed by Sue Griffen in her role as president of KCJ Enterprises was prepared by Brian Torresi, an attorney with the Davis Brown Law Firm in Ames who has also represented Scott Griffen.

The Ames Tribune has reported that Scott Griffen owned the Olde Main business itself — a separate entity incorporated as LJPS Inc. — at the time it closed. However, this was contradicted by sources for our expose on Griffen’s long history of criminality and unethical business practices who said there was a power struggle between Griffen and his brother and sister-in-law that led to Griffen surrendering his part ownership to Len and Sue Griffen prior to the brewpub’s closure. Before that, Scott Griffen owned 50 percent of the business, according to records filed with the state. On July 11, Sue Griffen filed paperwork with the Iowa secretary of state’s office changing the registered agent representing LJPS from Scott Griffen to Brian Torresi.

The Romares’ For the Kids name is also a catchphrase of Carson King’s fundraiser for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital that took off after his sign asking for beer money went viral after it was featured on ESPN’s College GameDay. But the similarity was just a coincidence, Romare said. A certificate of organization was filed for For the Kids V on Aug. 13, a month before the King story began. And four previously formed LLCs bearing the For the Kids name date back to October 2012, according to records filed with the secretary of state’s office.

Instead, the name reflects the Romares’ investment in the future of their children, who are now 12 and 13, Nicki Romare said. “We were sitting in an attorney’s office one day and we were like, Hey, how about ‘For the Kids’? We’re never going to reap these benefits, but the kids will someday.”

The Romares’ first business venture was Whiskey River in Ames, she said. The couple later opened Founders Irish Pub in Bondurant and a second Whiskey River location in Ankeny.

Scott Griffen still owns both the property and businesses at 125 Main Street, Corner Pocket and DG’s Tap House, the latter named for his late father, Daniel Griffen. They were also closed after their liquor licenses were suspended for similar violations. The property was then put up for sale through Keller Williams Realty agent David Sinnwell, the controversial former CEO of Dahl’s Foods and father of former Olde Main general manager Matt Sinnwell who had a shadowy, off-the-books role in helping with Olde Main’s finances.

In May, Griffen received a $425,000 mortgage loan through his stepmother, Jean Griffen, who lives in an Ames retirement home, and since then he and Matt Sinnwell have been working on renovations inside Corner Pocket. Throughout this time, there have been persistent rumors that Griffen plans to reopen the bars under different ownership in an effort to skirt the two-year liquor license suspension against him. Sinnwell has met with at least one local music promoter about organizing future shows at DG’s, a popular music venue, and the Facebook pages of both businesses have made posts teasing plans to reopen. Under new ownership, license suspensions tied to the bars themselves would be lifted Nov. 13.

Meanwhile, Griffen continues to owe tens of thousands of dollars to other businesses that he neglected to pay after they provided services for his businesses. He is also under investigation by both the IRS and Story County attorney’s office.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.