Restaurant News

Farm Living Isn't the Life for Damian Mandola

Damian Mandola and his wife, Trina -- both notable Houston chefs and restauranteurs -- have found themselves in a spot of bother up the Hill County, where they currently reside on a ranch outside of Austin. That spot of bother? Allegations that they had three of their neighbors' Swiss mountain dogs killed.

Mandola is most recognized for founding the national chain restaurant Carrabba's with his nephew, Johnny Carrabba, as well as writing several cookbooks and hosting a cooking show on PBS, Cucina Amore. But in Houston, he's also responsible for such institutions as D'Amico's in Rice Village and the upscale Damian's Cucina Italiana in Midtown. His wife, Trina, was a longtime employee at Swinging Door Bar-B-Que in Richmond. And together they founded Damian's Italian Market in Austin and the Mandola Estate Winery in Driftwood, where they now live and where all of their current troubles began.

Earlier this year, dogs owned by the Mandolas' neighbors -- Jeff and Patty Maddux -- escaped onto the Mandolas' property and accidentally killed Trina's poodle, Peppermint, by crushing it as they played together. Jeff Maddux claims that he purchased a new poodle for the Mandolas to the tune of $2,000 and, additionally, spent thousands more on improving the fencing around his property so that the dogs wouldn't escape again.

But that wasn't enough.

As the Austin American-Statesman reports:

According to a letter from Trina Mandola, which Maddux provided to the American-Statesman, Peppermint's death devastated the Mandola household. "Now, I am living in fear every day," Trina Mandola wrote to Maddux and his wife. "I'm scared to have my children outside to play."

In the letter, Trina Mandola urges the Madduxes to euthanize the three dogs and says she will shoot them if they enter her property again.

On June 30, there were reports that the three Swiss mountain dogs had gotten back onto the Mandolas' property. They didn't come home, and Jeff Maddux searched for them by air for two days. He finally found all three of them lying dead on a brush pile, their bodies devastated by vultures. It was impossible to tell how the dogs died, but Maddux believes that the Mandolas had them killed.

For their part, the Mandolas have maintained that they had nothing to do with the simultaneous deaths of all three dogs. Trina Mandola said on Monday, "It's not fair for people to judge us and for the Maddux family to spread false rumors."

Although there isn't a current criminal investigation around the dogs' deaths, it seems likely that the Madduxes aren't going to let dead dogs lie.

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Katharine Shilcutt