Public pan Pinelands mall over pizzeria lease row

The restaurant in Howard Centre faces eviction.

The marinara has hit the fan with the public backing a popular pizzeria in its fight against eviction from the Howard Centre in Pinelands.

Pizzeria Villaggio is locked in a legal tussle with Growthpoint Properties, the centre’s owner, after the sheriff served the restaurant with an eviction notice.

Sandra Micovic, the restaurant’s owner, says they renewed their lease and believed they had a contractual right to stay on until it expired in November 2025.

“Growthpoint has disputed this and has instituted proceedings to evict us from the premises – we are doing everything in our power to oppose this,” she said.

Howard Centre manager Lucinda Steyn said the lease was a confidential matter between contracting parties.

“We can, however, confirm that at no point has Pizzeria Villaggio been asked to vacate their tenancy at short notice. Pizzeria Villaggio had a three-year lease agreement, which expired last year. There was no automatic right of renewal, and we did not enter into a new three-year lease agreement with them. We are unable to share any further details as the agreement is subject to a legal process that is currently under way.”

Ms Steyn said they had not yet leased the premises to any tenant due to the ongoing legal process.

“The decision not to renew, or terminate a lease, is never an easy one. The discussions are complex on a commercial and legal level, and the changing retail landscape and a struggling economy only adds to these complexities,” she said.

Stephen Alrick, who has been a regular patron at the restaurant since it opened in 2011, said it saddened him to think it might close as Ms Micovic and the staff had always been accommodating.

“Sandra has always shown support to various organisations in Pinelands, from the neighbourhood watch, to SAPS, to being the pick up/drop-off point for collection drives. It is time that we as a community stand up to support her,” he said.

News of Villaggio’s possible closure spread on social media. In a statement on its Facebook page on Monday February 6, Howard Centre refuted claims that Pizzeria Villaggio had been asked to quit the centre at short notice and said the decision to not renew the restaurant’s lease had been based on market research.

In response, Fay Wood said: “This is a prepared, trite answer. Did you really consider the users of Howard Centre or was it simply a case of ‘going to the highest bidder’? As a centre, it is going to take a long time for you to regain the consumers’ trust. I’ve seen the shopping centre morph from a community shopping centre to a wannabe mall filled with mega chain stores. It has no heart and definitely does not reflect the community in which it finds itself. Your best bet is to actually listen to your real community consumers.”

Debra Hofmeyr questioned how the centre was supporting local businesses. “Please read the comments from the community, and then give your response again. What you are doing is not okay and will not serve you in the future.”

Many said the centre was making a big mistake and would, in essence, be losing its heart.

“Villaggio is the highlight and life of the mall. It’s a Pinelands family-run restaurant that’s become an institution. It would be a mistake to replace them with a bank. You’ll be losing a big drawcard for many people,” said Kirsten Zoliswa Rowe.

Laura Sparkle Hughes added: “Very disappointing, Howard Shopping Centre. What do you consider the soul of your centre? I think you just lost it. A bank versus a community of people? Very short sighted.”

An online petition, at change.org.za, created on February 7, has so far collected more than 1 800 signatures.

Ms Micovic, who moved from Johannesburg in 2011 to help her mother run the business, said Pinelands was her home, and she did not know what would become of them if the restaurant had to close.

“We are truly appreciative of the outpouring of support that we have received from the community,” she said.

Pizzeria Villaggio owner Sandra Micovic.
Pizzeria Villaggio has been operating since 2011.