And Then There Was One

The Vallone dynasty is a thing of the past. Master restaurateur Tony Vallone has said adieu to Anthony's, shedding the second-to-last remaining vestige of his eatery empire, apparently as part of the pact he recently made with seafood land baron Tilman Fertitta. In late November, Fertitta and his Landry's crab kingdom, now the second-largest casual-dining seafood chain in the country, with net revenues last year of over $300 million, acquired three Vallone Restaurant Group hot spots: La Griglia and both Grotto restaurants. Sources say that part of the confidential deal stipulated Vallone divest himself of all but one restaurant.

Vallone's empire, a Houston institution almost 40 years in the making, has included a variety of establishments: the famous Tony's, where the elite and elite-wannabes dine, Anthony's, Vallone's, La Griglia and the Grotto restaurants, as well as the odd Mexican-concept eatery Los Tonyos.

But during the last few years a subtle shift in the dynasty occurred. First came the merging of the old Vallone's, a popular River Oaks steak house on Kirby Drive, with Anthony's in Highland Village, which had lost its lease (see "Steak House Shuffle," November 14, 2002). Also named Anthony's, the recently closed hybrid venue never really worked as a concept. Then Los Tonyos fell (see "Adiós, Los Tonyos," April 3, 2003). Finally, Vallone sold La Griglia and both Grottos to Fertitta. Compounded with the changing marketplace was sixtysomething Vallone's bout with West Nile virus.

It's become clear that his time as the restaurant king of Houston has passed. But don't discount the man completely -- he may have lost the kingdom, but he's kept the crown. "I'm only going to have one restaurant now," he says of Tony's, "so I will concentrate all my energy there." The spry-sounding Vallone, contacted on New Year's Eve, was rushing to Tony's to make seating arrangements for that night. In 39 years, he's missed only one New Year's Eve there.

If Fertitta and others thought Vallone wouldn't stay active, they were wrong. In the weeks following the news of his recent sale, Vallone announced he would reopen Tony's for the lunch crowd, and then, that next November he plans to move the restaurant from its current Post Oak location to the Upper Kirby area at Richmond and Timmons. Vallone plans to rebuild Tony's from the ground up.

"It's a very smart move on his part," says restaurant publicist Dick Dace, who used to work for Vallone. "Post Oak has lost its hipness and cachet. Going to Richmond is going back to his customer base." Indeed, with Anthony's closed, the new Tony's may give La Griglia, the reigning see-and-be-seen locale, a run for its money. In the spot where Maxim's once ruled, Tony's will be able to draw patrons from River Oaks and West University, as well as the downtown crowd.

"I think everyone will be happy to have a high-class lunch spot out of downtown," says political consultant Sharon Adams. "A place to go where you don't have to deal with the downtown congestion and parking hassles. And when they move to Richmond, that will be great."

But one power attorney dining at La Griglia last week wasn't too impressed. "I'm not going from downtown to the Galleria for lunch," he said frankly. "But we'll see what happens when they move next November."

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Marene Gustin