Middletown — Bobby Lerz isn't exactly the sensitive, big-bear-hug type of guy.

Middletown — Bobby Lerz isn't exactly the sensitive, big-bear-hug type of guy.

This one-time chef to shock jock Howard Stern doesn't mince words. He wants his neighbor — the Guild of St. Margaret Soup Kitchen — gone.

Lerz says his problem is the clientele who dine at the soup kitchen's Depot Street site, next to his bar, Poor Bobby's Hard Times Tavern. He says when he is with his daughters at nearby Middletown Thrall Library, soup patrons descend on them and panhandle. Then there's the drug trafficking and public defecation, too, he says.

"I hate people who buy a house next to an airport, then complain about it," says Lerz, who opened late last year. He recognizes the irony in his statement. "I bought this with the intention of moving the soup kitchen. It's a terrible eyesore. It's a crime risk."

He's offered financial help and anything else to make sure the soup kitchen gets a suitable place — somewhere out of the downtown "showcase." Last month he called on the Common Council to help business owners and Grace Episcopal Church, which runs the kitchen, find a better home.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the comparatively small who are genuinely needy," Lerz said.

The soup kitchen serves 100 to 130 people every day, 365 days a year. Lunch is served 11 a.m. to noon, later on Sundays.

Church officials have worked with Lerz to address some of the concerns. Right now, the soup kitchen, here 27 years, is on the second-floor and isn't handicapped accessible. Renovations in the spacious meeting hall displaced clients and kitchen staff to a small, cramped room with only four long tables for dining. The limited space to sit and eat forces many to wait outside for a meal just as Lerz opens for lunch three days a week.

The Rev. John Warfel, church rector, says he would also like to see the kitchen relocate — preferably to a large one-story facility — but still downtown.

"We've never been opposed to (moving), if it were a place more functional," he said. "Particularly if it were free."

Police do patrol the area to disperse panhandlers and loiterers, says Mayor Marlinda Duncanson. Police say the triangle of the kitchen, Lerz's place, and the library generates a large number of calls. From Nov. 1, 2006, to April 30, police responded to Depot Street 64 times for mostly unwanted and disorderly people at the library, a popular hangout for the transient. During that same time period, police responded to 33 calls involving incidents ranging from noise complaints to fights at Lerz's building at 29 Center St. The building also houses apartments. The soup kitchen during that time generated no calls, police said.

For some, this is the only place to get a hot meal every day.

"This place saved my life," says Bruce Baker, a 52-year-old homeless man who eats at the kitchen. Without it, this father-turned-transient-alcoholic, says he'd be "stealing cold cuts at ShopRite" to survive.