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Johnny Rockets flooded, not sunk

Green Tortoise Hostel

An accident in Seattle’s beloved hostel causes trouble with the neighbors. Photo by Joshua Lynch.

Since early May, Pike Street’s Johnny Rockets hasn’t been pumping much Little Richard out onto the sidewalk. In fact, the only sign of life in the restaurant is the blue glow of computer screensavers. Signs in the window explain why: “Due to water damage caused by the HOSTEL Johnny Rockets will be close [sic] until further notice [sic] Thank you.”

The hostel the note refers to is the Green Tortoise, located upstairs from the restaurant and across First Avenue from the Pike Place Market. One of two hostels operated by the Green Tortoise Adventure Travel Company, this Tortoise’s current location has played host to low-budget tourists and wayward travelers for as little as $25 a night since May 2006, when its former location (which the Tortoise had called home since 1996) was demolished to make way for a high-rise condo development. Green Tortoise owner Rex Baldwin explains the aforementioned water damage thusly: On May 11, a guest who dropped his cell phone behind furniture in Room 104 shifted a bunk bed into a fire sprinkler. The resulting downpour—sprinklers can spray more than 100 gallons per minute—seeped into the restaurant below until the fire department arrived four minutes after the deluge started, according to Baldwin.

But since Green Tortoise employees helped clean up the water accumulated in the ’50s-style burger joint immediately after the accident, Johnny Rockets has remained closed. Baldwin says he has tried calling the franchise’s owner, Robert Azinian, but hasn’t heard back. Hence, Baldwin wonders if a lawsuit is imminent, an expense that could be devastating for the hostel, which has fewer beds than its previous location, at three times the rent.

While Azinian, whose Cristcat Corporation operates 21 Johnny Rockets stores nationwide, didn’t return phone calls, corporate spokesperson Kimberly Molinar said that the Pike Street location should be reopening next week. In explaining the long closure, Molinar says “everything had to be brought up to code.” In the meantime, at least 10 interested restaurant owners have inquired at the Green Tortoise about renting the Johnny Rockets location, says Baldwin.

But Johnny Rockets has been faithfully paying its rent, according to Rita Spesanski, a property manager with the building’s landlord, Marketview Place Associates LLC. Though not forthcoming with details of the situation, Spesanski did say the Tortoise and Baldwin have each been “really great tenants.”