Jim Diaz has been a friend and patron of Eric Scheffer for years. They met back in the day when Eric originally purchased the Savoy Restaurant and assumed a leasehold interest at 641 Merrimon Avenue in 2000 from Alan & Suzie Laibson. Mr. Scheffer operated the Savoy, an upscale Tuscan Italian & seafood restaurant. Savvy Scheffer, in anticipation of the Great Recession’s effect on local diner’s willingness to splurge on fine dining, very coyly re-branded the Savoy in 2009 to re-open as Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian. Scheffer was able to maintain his fine dining clientele by offering nightly specials from the Savoy playbook simultaneously serving high quality value based “Old School” Northern Italian comfort food. Vinnie’s has been highly successful, having been voted Asheville’s “Best Italian Restaurant” every year since 2010 in the Mountain Xpress. In 2016, Mr. Scheffer enlisted the services of Jim Diaz to successfully purchase the real estate at 641 Merrimon Avenue; home to his successful neighborhood restaurant, from the Legacy Family who originally converted the building from automotive service station to a restaurant in 1966. Here, to tell the story, in Eric’s words, is the evolution of the deal and how together, he and Jim were able to create a legacy for the Scheffer Family.
“I’ve known Jim for about 18 years; he was a customer of mine at the Savoy. The wonderful thing was getting to know Jim as a person. You build a little more trust that way, as opposed to meeting somebody when they’re just coming to you for business. Jim and I crossed paths over the years and I have friends and colleagues who have done deals with him. He’s always had this stellar reputation, which is hard to find sometimes in this business. I’ve dealt with a lot of real estate agents in this business. When faced with renovation challenges and code compliance ultimatums I realized I had to purchase this building to justify needed capital improvement costs, so I went straight to Jim to figure out how to deliver a plan.
The one thing I really loved about working with Jim was that it wasn’t about the transaction. His approach helped me understand about the legacy that I was trying to create for my family. It was about what I wanted to set up for my daughter in the future. It wasn’t about “in and out, Goodbye, I’ll never see you again. I’m just gonna take my commission and that’ll be it.” I really felt like he was incredibly, incredibly thorough, that he knew my family and knew my situation with my daughter and such. This became very important, because somebody was thinking long-term for me. Somebody was engaging themselves with me, not just for a commission.
I felt very comfortable pursuing the purchase with Jim’s assistance. It was a very difficult process because for one the property was not for sale, and we were contending with a deep family connection to the real estate. The Landlord was the 3rd generation of an old Asheville Greek restaurant family that had owned the property since the 60s. So there was an emotional attachment to it. There was a huge financial implication to selling inherited legacy property owned since the 60s. Jim was able to sit at the table with the family and myself and start the process not only as a real estate agent or broker, but as a deal maker. He inculcated himself into the process with integrity to where they trusted him to work for both them and for me. It was really brilliant, actually.
Jim’s methodical approach to negotiating ensured everyone’s interests were served. Jim earned their trust through a process of sharing information on the Merrimon Avenue Corridor and what was going on in the neighborhood while gathering empirical market data to support a mutual price expectation for the sale. There were some tough questions and push back, but Jim stayed very calm and focused. It took time. I would have gone nuts! He was a real calming factor during the whole process, and patient. His patience is amazing. Seeing that and having him guide me through the process was comforting. I knew I was making the right decision, and I knew I was going to pay fair price. Whatever the deal was on paper it would be a win-win for both of us. I wanted the Apostolopoulos Family to feel they were being respected as well. After all, they’d been in this location since 1966.
Jim’s knowledge of real estate, his knowledge of law, his knowledge of tax law, his knowledge of financial structure and cash flow was invaluable. You just don’t find that in people today in the real estate business. Most people that jump into the broker business that I meet, are more like mechanics. They come in and they’re doing things by following a how to manual. They very rarely take time or step back to understand the big picture.”