At first glance, the abrupt closing of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill at Patriot Place appears to be one of the oldest stories in the restaurant business: a tenant unable to sell enough pulled pork and fried Twinkies to cover escalating rents for a sprawling 19,000-square-foot space that seats 400 customers.
But the back story is, oh, so much more interesting. As in, made-for-a-movie interesting.
The Toby Keith’s in Foxborough was a great survivor, the last of a chain of restaurants bearing the country star’s name that were opened by a man the Arizona Republic described as a Mafia-soldier-turned-protected-witness-turned-legitimate businessman.
I use the term “legitimate businessman” loosely because there are some people who would dispute that Frank Capri, a.k.a. Frank Gioia, was ever on the level.
Two years ago, the Arizona Republic published an eye-popping series about Frank Capri/Frank Gioia and his audacious business model for Boomtown Entertainment, which opened 20 Toby Keith’s restaurants across the country, including the one in Foxborough, while pocketing construction fees and leaving a trail of lawsuits that was stunning in its scale. By the time the lawyers were done, Boomtown faced $65 million in court judgments. Let’s just say Frank Capri’s Boomtown would never be confused with Rex Trailer’s Boomtown.
Debbie Corvo, the owner of Toby Keith’s in Foxborough, who said she is Frank Capri’s mother, disputed the Arizona Republic stories but declined to say exactly what they got wrong. Corvo also said it wasn’t Capri who ran Boomtown and all the other Toby Keith’s restaurants into the ground, but the company’s lawyer, Gregory McClure.
“Because of his past, everybody is making Frank out to be the bad guy, but it was Greg,” said Corvo.
Court records show that McClure last month was charged by the US Attorney’s Office in Arizona with money laundering and accused of embezzling nearly $1.5 million in Boomtown’s funds in 2015 to feed a gambling habit while all the Toby Keith’s restaurants were going belly up. On Jan. 15, McClure agreed to plead guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Corvo insisted the money listed in documents filed by federal prosecutors is only a fraction of how much was actually stolen, saying, “That’s all they could document.”
McClure’s lawyer, James Park, did not respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Developers in various states accused Capri of deliberately letting his restaurants fail so he could pocket development money, including tenant incentives at various malls. Corvo claimed it was McClure who was behind the company’s shady business practices, saying her son’s only crime was “not paying enough attention to the business.”
All of Boomtown’s Toby Keith’s restaurants closed in an 18-month period between 2014 and 2015 amid allegations of theft and fraud, except Foxborough. In 2015, as Boomtown found itself under siege by creditors and lawyers, it placed the Foxborough restaurant in a holding company called CRGE Foxborough, for Capri Restaurant Group Enterprises, where it remained a viable entity until Wednesday.
I would encourage you to read investigative reporter Robert Anglen’s series because, among other things, it will leave you utterly amazed at how Frank Gioia was able to reinvent himself and how the Toby Keith’s in Foxborough was able to stay in business, given the track record of its founder.
According to Anglen’s reporting, Frank Gioia was a third-generation gangster with the Lucchese crime family in New York. After he got caught moving heroin between New York and Boston in 1993, and after learning the Mafia was going to whack his father, Gioia cut a deal with the feds, agreeing to testify against his erstwhile criminal associates. Prosecutors credit Gioia, who admitted to a catalogue of crimes including murder, with providing information that led to the convictions of more than 70 Mafiosi from the Lucchese and Genovese crime families. Among the crimes he helped solve was the murder of a police officer.
The people he testified against are known to harbor grudges, not to mention the occasional pistol, so he was placed in the federal Witness Protection Program and remained there even after leaving prison in 1999 and resurfacing in Phoenix as Frank Capri, real estate developer and wannabe impressario.
Anglen said Frank’s reinvention worked because the government gave him a new identity and potential business partners would come up empty while doing their due diligence.
As Anglen put it: “No background checks, no amount of vetting, no financial examination and no legal review would have revealed Capri’s record as a confessed murderer, drug dealer, gun runner, arsonist, extortionist, loan shark, and leg breaker. That’s because the Witness Protection Program isn’t set up to protect the public.”
While Frank Capri was initially involved in the Toby Keith’s at Patriot Place, he hadn’t been for years, Corvo said. She accused the management at Patriot Place of bullying her restaurant out of business, stringing her management team along with a prospective deal on rent before lowering the boom, summarily ending the lease, and seizing the business and its equipment.
“The ultimate goal was for them to take the business for themselves,” Corvo said. “It was just pure greed on their part. And now 100 people are out of work.”
Corvo said she was originally paying $100,000 a month for rent when the restaurant opened eight years ago. But as foot traffic at Patriot Place fell the rent was reduced to $65,000 a month. She said they jacked the rent again more recently.
She said that after a Globe investigation in 2016 found that Toby Keith’s in Foxborough had the highest number of customers cited for drunk driving of any Massachusetts establishment, the restaurant improved staff training and hired a private police detail. She said Patriot Place then instituted its own police detail for the center, charging Toby Keith’s $2,200 per week.
The folks at Patriot Place declined to get into a back and forth on Corvo’s claims, nor answer whether they knew about Frank Capri’s past at any point. In fact, Jeremie Smith, a spokesman for Patriot Place, said in an e-mail, “Patriot Place has never met or worked with Debbie and therefore do not know the basis for her comments. We stand by our statement.”
That statement claimed that Patriot Place and Toby Keith’s mutually agreed to terminate the restaurant’s lease, something Corvo insists is categorically untrue.
Debbie Corvo scoffed at Smith’s claim that the Patriot Place folks don’t know her, and produced copies of checks she signed to pay the restaurant’s rent.
“We endured 12 months of them bullying us, running up our legal bills,” Corvo said. “They were horrible to deal with. They were greedy.”
After initially agreeing to talk, Shawn Richter, Frank Capri’s lawyer, did not return phone calls and e-mails.
Alas, the guy I really wanted to talk to, Frank Capri, isn’t talking, either. At least not yet.
“Maybe some day, down the road,” Debbie Corvo told me.
I can’t wait.