Owner of Edinburgh's Bross Bagels tells of 'shock' after landlord brands her request to get rent break 'typical Jewish behaviour'

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An Edinburgh bagel shop owner was left “shocked” when her landlord branded her request for a rent break during the Covid-19 lockdown as “typical Jewish behaviour.”

Larah Bross, who runs the Bross Bagels shop in Portobello, said she tried to make alternative rent payment arrangements with Mario Aydemir Demirezen for the next three months due to the economic impact of the pandemic, as she has done with the landlords at her four other Edinburgh shops.

But Mr Demirezen, who is retired and has deteriorating health, said he is stuck in Turkey due to the lockdown after going there recently for private medical care. He says he wants April’s rent payment now because he is unable to sort out any financial assistance from outside of the UK.

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Edinburgh business woman Larah Bross, founder and owner of Bross Bagels.Edinburgh business woman Larah Bross, founder and owner of Bross Bagels.
Edinburgh business woman Larah Bross, founder and owner of Bross Bagels. | Other 3rd Party

Speaking from Turkey, the 66-year-old claimed Miss Bross has the money to pay this month's rent and said that small businesses in other commercial properties he owns in Portobello have done so.

And he said his reference to her “typical Jewish behaviour” in a text message to Miss Bross concerning the dispute should be viewed as a compliment on her ability as a clever businesswoman, and that he has “no intention of upsetting anyone” or “going against any religion.”

But Miss Bross, whose Jewish identity is reflected by the kosher menu in her Montreal-style bagel shops, is adamant she can not pay after being forced to close her five Edinburgh shops – Potobello, Leith, Bruntsfield, West End and Stockbridge – and furlough 39 of her 47 staff.

The 42-year-old says she was “shocked and disgusted” by the text message, which was sent at the weekend and has been seen by the Edinburgh Evening News. She said: “My first thought was ‘wow,’ I can not believe that someone, not only in this day and age but at this moment in time, can say that. It’s incredible.”

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A screenshot of text messages which were exchanged.A screenshot of text messages which were exchanged.
A screenshot of text messages which were exchanged. | Other 3rd Party

Miss Bross says the fallout has exacerbated an already stressful situation which has involved shutting her shops and dealing with endless paperwork for rent rearrangements for her other landlords, bank loans and staff furlough payments.

She continued: “I want people to realise this is a difficult time and want to help other people who might be struggling here, other independent businesses.

“I want landlords to be considerate to their tenants who are just trying to make it through, just like they are.”

Miss Bross says she would like to maintain a relationship with her landlord and doesn’t want to avoid paying rent, but simply arrange with him to pay it back at another time.

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The Portobello Bross Bagels shop.The Portobello Bross Bagels shop.
The Portobello Bross Bagels shop. | Other 3rd Party

She says she also offered a compromise to Mr Demirezen to review the situation with coronavirus in May instead of automatically deferring the next three months’ rent.

But she is unsure if they will be able to sustain a relationship in the future given recent discussions.

An article published today in Scottish Legal News details a recent change in Scots law due to Covid-19. In short, the new legislation gives tenants more protection from commercial lease termination by allowing them 14 weeks warning instead of 14 days to pay rent to a landlord. Scottish Ministers have the power to change the 14 week period by secondary legislation.

'She should be proud'

Mr Demirezen, who says he recently had two heart bypass operations and two strokes and is currently hooked up to an oxygen machine, said: “We are talking about the relationship between landlord and tenant here and she is a clever Jewish lady and she is taking advantage of Covid-19 and making more (money) than anyone else.

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“When I say typical Jewish, I mean they are the richest people in the world and very clever people. She should be proud of her Jewish identity. Jewish people are always clever and there’s nothing wrong with that, she should be proud.

“I have no intention of upsetting anybody. All I was upset about is that all of the people in my other properties have paid up.

“She has got money but not paying it. She is doing quite well in Edinburgh with the opening of all of these branches and she has five shops. If you are running five shops in three years then you must be clever.

“I do not wish to fall out with her as a person and it’s nice to be nice to people.

“I have no intention to go against any religion.”

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Mr Demirezen said he has been living in Scotland for about 45 years and has 22 commercial properties.

Home delivery

Miss Bross says she has furloughed 39 staff across her business and that her new 'Bross Deli' home delivery service is helping to pay some of their wages while they wait on the UK Government's furlough payments coming through.

The new home delivery offering, which is run by eight staff from her Bruntsfield shop, sends deli ingredients to customers to make up their own bagels at home during the lockdown period.

Miss Bross said: “We’re trying to continue the food service and keep the company in operation so there is a business for the 39 staff members to return to.

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“All I want to do is put some kind of arrangement in place."

In response to Mr Demirezen's explanation for the meaning of his text message, Miss Bross said: "I would love to know in any context at any time where the term ‘typical Jewish’ was used as a compliment. I will be happy to offer free bagels for a year to anyone who can provide me with one."

Miss Bross has been in discussions with her Portobello landlord over deferring rent payments since March 23rd.

Bross Bagels also hope to open up a bakery in the old RBS in Portobello later this year.

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Established in August 2017, owner Larah Bross has seen big success with her authentic Montreal style bagels. Organic and kosher, they are homemade in the Bross bakery in Leith.

Financial assistance

Where they are paying business rates, commercial landlords may be eligible for support, including rates relief, grant funding and loans - depending on individual circumstances –during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Landlords can also seek mortgage holidays from their lenders and there is evidence that this is happening in the property market. This will be a private commercial arrangement depending on the individual circumstances of the lender, landlord and tenant. However, landlords must be careful not to breach the financial agreements in their loans so that scope can be given by the lender and their consent obtained.

The Scottish Government has also set up a free helpline to provide support to businesses: 0300 303 0660.