Tax Dispute Padlocks Murfreesboro's Century-Old City Cafe

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Murfreesboro’s greasy-spoon staple and oldest restaurant, City Cafe, was shut down last week due to Internal Revenue Service nonpayment. Owner Scott Perkins contends that the $180,000 the IRS expects the company to pay is an "astronomical" demand that does not reflect what the company owes.

Perkins said he hopes to work a deal to reopen on Monday. In the meantime, the venerable cafe's closure is a painful blow to Murfreesboro's restaurant scene.

City Cafe opened more than 100 years ago, and on any given morning, the meat-and-three at 113 E. Main St. near the Rutherford County Courthouse is a hotbed of local politicians, business owners and students ready to get their day started with a conversation and a cup of coffee.

Aside from the popular breakfast options, the cafe served the best turkey and dressing this side of your grandma’s house — not to mention fresh-grown fried okra, to-die-for blackberry cobbler and a chocolate pie that just might make the IRS forget the cafe ever owed any money.

OK, they probably won’t forget, but maybe it's worth a shot.

“We never received a detailed statement of what or why it was owed,” Perkins told the Tennessean. “What they are claiming that we make in sales is astronomical.”

The creator of the restaurant, Dorsey Cantrell, operated the business for more than 50 years. Before Perkins bought it in 2007, three other families held the reins throughout the past century.

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The six-figure amount owed would mean the small-town cafe brought in more than $1 million last year, something Perkins said the business has contested since February. However, the Murfreesboro Post reported that county records indicate that Perkins has not paid county or city taxes on the cafe since 2007, and that Rutherford County has filed four lawsuits during the past five years on the business.

The documents accounted for 14 federal tax liens totaling more than $88,000 since 2007 on the business, and a state tax lien was filed in 2008. Its total is private under state law.

Billy Trout, Department of Revenue spokesman, told the Tennessean that while he could not comment on the case, there were many steps in the process of seizing a business and that business owners are often informed in writing. But he also said that each case is a little different.

Thirteen cafe employees are out of work, and the business will remain closed until arrangements can be made with the IRS, which the Perkins family says they hope will be as early as Monday. The owner also apologized to customers for the closure of the eatery.

I’m sorry, too — sorry I didn’t go for that one last piece of chocolate pie before the IRS up and ruined everything.

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