Fans lined up to snap a few photos as Toby Keith walked by before he sang at the April 2013 grand opening of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Tucson Mall. Keith has no direct business interest in the bar’s operator, Boomtown Entertainment.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Tucson Mall is suing the operator of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill for skipping out early on its nearly $1 million a year lease agreement.

Scottsdale-based Boomtown Entertainment had guaranteed it would pay $77,053 a month for five years to lease the 20,443-square-foot space in Tucson Mall, according to court documents. But after being open 14 months, the restaurant and country music-themed night club abruptly closed at the end of business March 7.

The lease, which Boomtown and the mall signed in January 2012, was for a total of 15 years. From years six to 10, Boomtown’s monthly rate would have increased to $86,299, according to the lease. In the final five years, rent would have gone up another $10,000 a month, to $96,655, the document states.

A copy of the mall’s lease with Boomtown was attached to the lawsuit, filed March 13 in Pima County Superior Court. According to the lease, mall owner General Growth Properties invested just shy of $4.3 million to make improvements to the space, which included building a commercial kitchen, creating a giant guitar-shaped bar and installing state-of-the-art audio equipment and lighting. The restaurant also had a number of large, flat-screen TVs throughout.

The Tucson Toby Keith’s opened on New Year’s Eve 2012, months behind schedule. It was the second Arizona location; the first, in Mesa, opened in 2010. There also is Toby Keith’s in Peoria and another is slated to open on Phoenix’s north side in the coming months.

Although his name is on the restaurant, the country singer Toby Keith has no direct business interest in the Boomtown operations, which include 15 locations around the country, said Boomtown’s attorney Neal B. Thomas of Phoenix.

Keith has a licensing agreement with Boomtown that allows the Scottsdale company to open restaurants using Keith’s name. Keith also occasionally appears at grand openings, including an invitation-only meet-and-greet with fans at the Tucson Mall last April.

Thomas would not comment on specifics of the lawsuit or why the Tucson location closed, citing ongoing litigation.

Court documents state that Boomtown was behind in its monthly lease payments, but the mall did not specify by how many months. Brighid Brown, marketing manager for Tucson Mall and its sister Park Place mall, would not comment on the suit except to say in a written statement that “we are looking forward to announcing new restaurants and retailers in the near future.”

David Keating, General Growth Properties vice president of corporate communications, said the company would not comment on pending litigation.

On March 8, the day after Toby Keith’s closed, the mall officially locked out the operators and seized the property and its contents.

This is the second time Boomtown has been sued for skipping out on a lease. A Cincinnati developer filed suit in November 2012 when Boomtown fell several months behind in its $41,066 monthly rent for a 16,000-square-foot space in downtown Cincinnati. Boomtown threatened to countersue, claiming the developer brought in a business that was too similar to Toby Keith’s, according to media reports. Both parties settled the suit last April; no details were made public.. The Cincinnati location had been open less than 18 months.

Sysco Arizona Inc. also is suing Boomtown after the company failed to pay $32,400  it owed for food and restaurant supplies that Sysco sold the Tucson Mall restaurant, according to court documents filed last September.

Boomtown, meanwhile, is embroiled in its own legal battle with former CFO Philip J. Lama. That suit, which Boomtown filed last April in federal court in Phoenix, accuses Lama of taking Boomtown’s trade secrets to launch a restaurant concept with country band Rascal Flatts. Boomtown contends Rascal Flatts American Bar & Grill was too close to Toby Keith’s in appearance and concept.

The band and Lama had hoped to open the first Rascal Flatts restaurant in northeast Phoenix last year and launch another 10 around the country throughout this year. The next court date is in August.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642.

I cover music for the Arizona Daily Star.