As Dacapo's Turns
In the beginning (in 1994) there was Dacapo's Cafe in the Heights. It was, and is, a cozy bakery-cum-deli, the brainchild of four partners: twins Lisa and Teresa Biggerstaff, and Leticia Guzman and Kirk Graham.

Within a year, a customer who fell in love with Lisa Biggerstaff's pastries begged the four to open a second cafe in his building off Allen Parkway. "We fell in love, too, with that space," says Guzman. "But I really wanted to try a restaurant."

So Graham and Guzman started Dacapo's Cafe on the Parkway in October 1996, with all four partners maintaining financial interest in both operations. The high-ceilinged, dramatic restaurant makes a suitable setting for the operatic tales to come. Chef Charles Clark opened the kitchen; he departed in June 1997 and is now a partner in downtown's Tasca Kitchen and Wine Bar. John Menotti was Dacapo's first bar manager; he now owns Moda's. "If you want to be a success in the Houston restaurant business," laughs Guzman, "just come work for us."

In January 1997, a customer sent her a clipping from the Wall Street Journal. The article featured investor Andrew Segal's challenge to restaurateurs: He wanted someone to open a "vibrant and exciting" cafe at 711 Main, in one of many dilapidated downtown buildings he'd bought. The sweetener? A year's free rent.

How could the partners resist? By April, the lease was inked for the bistro that will (soon) be called Staccato's. It was set to open in late summer.

Meanwhile, back at the Cafe, Clark was replaced by E.P.J. Morgan from La Strada; Morgan lasted two months. Ricky Cruz was elevated from sous chef to executive chef, but soon decided he didn't like the view from the top. Kirk Deloach came on board as executive chef.

Which brings us to June 1998, when the flan hit the fan. Graham and Guzman got married, and Deloach gave his notice as a wedding gift. Then Dacapo's shut down for a couple of days. The closure was blamed on a broken city water main, but it coincided with Deloach's abrupt departure for Cafe Beignet.

By mid-July, Dacapo's had lured chef Dwayne Bosse from Galveston's Wentletrap. But it was too late: Houston's rumor mill had recast Dacapo's temporary closing as something permanent, and business dropped dramatically. At the same time, the owners began negotiating their split, separating the bakery (now solely the Biggerstaffs') from the Cafe and Staccato's (Guzman and Graham's). Guzman insists the "divorce" was amicable.

As summer drew to a close, Staccato's still hadn't opened. All the building contractors were busy, swept up in downtown's fever. "Staccato's will open on December 1," promises Guzman. "That's firm."

-- Margaret L. Briggs


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