Restaurant War, Part 2

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The messy separation of the partners who once ran The Quilted Toque (now renamed Cafe Toque) got even more curious last Wednesday when ex-chef and ex-partner Monica Pope carried off the establishment's booze inventory after she had asked authorities to terminate the cafe's liquor license.

Pope's departure from the Toque has had the haute monde of Montrose in a tizzy, as the celebrity chef's opening of the Boulevard Bistrot created ill will with her Toque colleagues and prompted them to freeze her out of her post at the Toque. The parties were in the process of negotiating a final separation when Pope's concerns about the liquor license prompted her raid on the bar.

Though Pope says that taking the liquor was the only logical thing to do, one witness that afternoon at Cafe Toque noted that she appeared to take pleasure in the act, emptying the bar with "glee" and "laughing a lot." The task was by no means small, since she and her helpers carried off about 30 cases of potables valued at between $10,000 and $15,000.

Pope contends all this was avoidable, that she made an offer that would have allowed the Toque folks to keep the liquor license by buying her out for just $510 -- payment, she says, for her initial investment, which set up a separate corporation for the bar business.

Since Pope's name was on the license but she was no longer able to oversee the bar, she was concerned over her liability, she says. So she had the license removed and then, at what she says was the advice of Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission officials, took the liquor back as well.

Whatever the motivation for her raid, Pope admits that having her name on the liquor license was leverage in resolving her disputes with the Toque's current management. "I used the liquor license as some sort of negotiating tool," she says, "but it didn't work."

Scott Bourland, Cafe Toque's manager, is reluctant to discuss the particulars of Pope's actions. Those now running the Toque want to douse controversy by being as "minimalistic on this as possible," Bourland says. "I can't make comments on this because this is a legal dispute in the process of being resolved, or at least I thought it was," Bourland adds wearily, before noting, "Monica's going to choose the avenue of talking. We're not."

Pope thinks that the Toque's not having a liquor license could account for a loss of 20 percent of its revenue. Obtaining a new license could take about six weeks. She hints that all this may have gotten her former colleagues' attention. "I'm going to do what I'm allowed to do legally, and what I have to do, and I'm not going to screw anybody," she says. "I just want this over and done with."

Bourland, too, is hoping it all ends soon. "I wish Monica well with her place and I'd like for her to just leave us be," he says. "But that's not been the case."

Bourland does admit befuddlement as to why Pope took the liquor, though he doesn't dispute her right to do so. And though not having a liquor license may hurt Cafe Toque, it will prove far from fatal, Bourland says. Meanwhile, customers will be treated to free wine. "We just can't sell it," he says. "We can give it away.

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