clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

One of Wine Country’s Hottest Restaurants Is Caught Up in a Messy Legal Dispute With Its Landlord

Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus finds himself locked in a legal battle with his landlord — again

A chef wearing a white jacket and blue apron pours ingredients into a steaming pot. Brandon Borrman
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

Despite the steep price tag associated with dinner at Cyrus, located just outside the town of Geyserville in Sonoma County, the Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant has become one of the hottest reservations in Wine Country. For nearly three hundred dollars a piece, just a dozen diners per service experience a multicourse tasting menu that involves moving through various spaces including a U-shaped bar with views into the kitchen and a lounge tricked out with a chocolate fountain. Part of what’s made the restaurant a rarity in not just the region but also the restaurant industry at large is the owner and chef Douglas Keane’s commitment to creating an environment that’s sustainable for workers including by offering staff a minimum salary of $65,000 a year, health benefits, and paid vacation.

But according to the San Francisco Chronicle, despite the restaurant’s success, Keane has been locked in an intense legal battle with Steve Oliver, the owner of the building Cyrus occupies. Oliver did not respond to the outlet’s requests for comment, and his attorney Jan A. Gruen declined to comment to the paper. Eater SF has reached out to Gruen for comment but has yet to hear back from the attorney.

The issues started long before the restaurant welcomed its first diners in September 2021, about a year after Keane signed a 30-year lease for the building at 275 CA-128 back in February 2020. The lease included an agreement that Oliver, who owns a 100-acre ranch also in Geyserville as well as a construction company, would be the general contractor for the restaurant build-out — but when subcontractor bids started coming in higher than Keane expected, the business relationship began to sour.

Per the Chronicle, which reviewed documents and emails related to the legal conflict, Keane eventually ended up bringing in a different contractor for the project, which brought down construction costs to about $5 million; in contrast, the construction estimates presented by Oliver had ballooned up to nearly $7 million.

Then, after the restaurant opened in September, the landlord’s attorney allegedly sent Keane a document listing “40 new rules and regulations, many of which contradicted the terms negotiated in Cyrus’ lease,” the Chronicle writes. Keane briefly explored buying the property but the two parties’ offers were too disparate for negotiations to move forward.

Most recently, Keane and his landlord have been battling over parking spaces for the building, which includes three retail units in addition to the restaurant. In one instance, a Cyrus employee parked in one of six spaces that “belong to the landlord and are reserved for tenants of his upstairs rental units,” resulting in a confrontation between Oliver and the employee. On November 11, 2022, the worker filed a complaint against Oliver in Sonoma County Superior Court alleging “battery, assault, false imprisonment and emotional distress,” the Chronicle reports.

Earlier this year, the landlord submitted a new parking plan to the county, which is currently under review — though Keane opposes it in part because the plan would add more parking spaces that “would obstruct the restaurant’s vineyard view.” Keane has also filed a declaratory relief action, which would see the court clarify the terms of his lease.

This isn’t the first time Keane has had to navigate legal issues with a landlord. Keane previously operated Cyrus inside the Hotel Les Mars in Healdsburg but closed that iteration of the business in 2012 after a new landlord attempted to evict him multiple times for allegedly not paying rent, though the restaurant owner claimed at the time that his attempts to determine how to do so went unanswered. Keane and his longtime business partner Nick Peyton retained the rights to the Cyrus name, however, which allowed them to resurrect the restaurant after years of attempts.