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A generous landlord

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As restaurants scramble to adjust to the new normal of closed dining rooms and take-out only service, at least one Petaluma sushi restaurant, Sake 107, is getting a boost from its landlord — free rent.

The Petaluma Oddfellows, which owns the downtown building on Petaluma Boulevard, said it would waive next month’s rent for Sake 107 and two other tenants.

“They decided to waive April rent from all of their tenants,” Sake 107 chef and owner Eiji Ando said. “Because of that I can give my guys more shifts and jobs. Those folks are the ones who work hardest and are supporting their family here and in their country. My biggest concern was those guys.”

He also said that in February, due to the minimum wage increase, his landlord had struck the clause from their contract regarding yearly rent increases.

The Petaluma Oddfellows, also known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows — Lodge 30, was established in 1854.

The Odd Fellows aim is to “promote personal and social development,” and they do this by “promoting the principles of friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice,” according to their website. They strive to support their local community, regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender or station in life.

You may have seen the discrete “I.O.O.F.” letters before or noticed the white, blue and red rings that adorn the front of their Petaluma Boulevard lodge, across the street from Cucina and Boulevard Barbers and assumed those were left over from a bygone era. Quite to the contrary, though, as the Odd Fellows are an active part of our community but like many philanthropic organizations, are not ones to brag about their good deeds.

Past Lodge president and current member of both the local board and a representative at the state level of the Odd Fellows, Randall Dockery is the point man for the organization, and is the one that took Chef Ando’s case to his board. However, Dockery is not one to take credit for the organization’s actions.

“I give our board all the credit,” Dockery said. “Every one of these votes concerning helping our tenants has been unanimous in favor.”

Dockery himself is a Texas transplant, lured to Petaluma during the telecom boom. He stayed and married Alicia Stack, whose grandfather was a long-time Odd Fellow and well-known man about town, Al Stack.

“He joked when he sponsored me to just be a fly on the wall and not to embarrass him,” Dockery said with a laugh.

Dockery is a big history buff and along with helping raise his three children and assisting his wife with her retail shop, Threads A Boutique at 117 Kentucky St., he enjoys leading historic tours for the Petaluma Museum’s Heritage Homes tours.

Odd Fellows Lodges were a town’s social hub and even covered members with healthcare and death benefits before insurance companies came along to offer the same. Workers used to proudly wear their lodge number on their clothes so their employer knew where to turn if the employee needed help. The Odd Fellows are also know for covering the burial costs of those whose family cannot afford it.

“When considering new tenants, we actually look at their credit, their funding and ask ourselves, ‘what can we do to beget their success?’” Dockery said. “Short term pain, like giving away a couple months of free rent up front, brings about long term benefits and not just for our building and our tenants, but for the community as a whole.”

At last one local restaurant owner has reported that within days of the shelter in place announcement his property management company included a reminder in his monthly notice that they expected all renters to continue to pay based on their lease agreement.

Of course, there are landlords that may not seem to mind having vacant spaces, but as Dockery pointed out, vacancies help nobody, especially in a time when filling spaces may take longer than normal. They hurt the community, which is why local landowners are often quick to work through tough times with their tenants.

In this new era of regular fire evacuations, power outages and pandemic shutdowns, finding a landlord that is part of the community could be the biggest factor in a restaurant’s future failure or success.

Whether looking to an organization with as long of a local history as Lodge 30 or to a new local landlord who understands the value of community, restaurants and other retailers should do their research before signing their next lease. And consumers can do their part to strengthen the community by not only supporting those retailers and restaurants but by also looking to join and contribute to organization like the I.O.O.F.

A recent online post raved about how good an east side sushi place’s take-out was. The very first comment to that post was from “rival” Chef Ando: “Thank you very much for supporting local restaurants!!”

It does not get much more heartwarming than that.

For more info on I.O.O.F and what you too can do to help, Dockery invites people to contact him at Ioof30@gmail.com.

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