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Final 'nail' in roadhouse coffin
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Tim Hilbert may have been the first foreigner holed up in one of China's famous "nail houses" - buildings occupied by stubborn tenants who refuse to leave despite the demolition of structures around them.

But he told China Daily that he does not want to be tagged a "troublemaker".

"I am not proud to be a 'nail household'. I just want to get justice and be normal," Hilbert said.

Tim Hilbert stands on Tuesday near the demolished site where his restaurant, Tim's Texas Roadhouse, once stood.

Tim Hilbert stands on Tuesday near the demolished site where his restaurant, Tim's Texas Roadhouse, once stood. [China Daily]

Last Thursday morning Hilbert went to collect some belongings, including a few pots and pans and an old Phillips 66 gasoline sign, on a final visit to his Beijing restaurant.

Less than 24 hours later, Tim's Texas Roadhouse, the last business left standing in what was once a dusty neighborhood in northeastern Beijing called Super Bar Street, was demolished, opening the way for a massive new development project.

The restaurant's destruction marks at least the symbolic end of what has been a four-month standoff between Hilbert, his landlord and a local court over compensation Hilbert says he is entitled to receive.

Foreign and local media soon started following Hilbert's fight, labeling him as the first foreigner nail household in Beijing.

"I am not excited to become famous over this matter," Hilbert told China Daily. "I just want to get my money back."

The ordeal started on May 12 when Hilbert and neighborhood tenants were informed of the impending relocation. The lights and water would be shut off in early June, they were told, and bulldozing would start shortly thereafter.

Tenants were also advised to arrange compensation meetings with their landlords, said Hilbert, a Texan who moved to China in 2003.

For Hilbert, no meeting would take place. Instead, the Texan said he received a document from his landlord, a company called Seven Colors, notifying him he would receive one month free rent and his security deposit would be returned.

For someone who had invested nearly US$650,000 in his business since opening it in 2007, this was something he just couldn't swallow. And so Hilbert decided to put up a fight.

He hired a Chinese lawyer and a team of security guards to protect his restaurant to fend off wrecking crews.

At one point, Hilbert's landlord offered to pay him about 360 yuan (US$52) a square meter. "That would have been less than 10 percent of what I invested," said Hilbert.

Lengthy legal process

What ensued would be a hot summer full of endless trips to government offices, arbitration centers and courtrooms followed by more trips to meet with local officials and lawyers followed by letters sent to Beijing authorities.

He also called the US Embassy in China for help. But embassy staff said his case is a commercial dispute with his landlord, and they will not intervene.

Hilbert said he has refused some interview requests since he thought some media were trying to use his story to attack the Chinese government. "I don't want to do it," he said, "although they chase me up for 48 hours."

Yet one thing Hilbert was willing to discuss was his future plans in China: He wants to stay, to open more restaurants and invite the clients who loved Tim's Texas Roadhouse to come to his other Beijing eatery, Tim's Texas Bar-B-Q.

"Absolutely I want to stay in China," said Hilbert. "I don't want to be tabbed as a troublemaker by the government."

He has some rocky roads ahead in his battle, though.

A district court ruled against Hilbert in a lawsuit filed by his landlord in mid-July seeking to break their contract and carry on with the demolition.

Yi Li, from the Chaoyang District People's court, told China Daily they were carrying out "prior execution" to tear up Hilbert's restaurant while the case was actually not closed. She emphasized they acted in line with legal procedures, and the case has not been tried yet.

Hilbert said the Beijing High People's Court accepted his document last Thursday, and promised to give him a reply within 30 days.

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