Along with nearly everyone else in the city who participated in last year's super-extended Houston Restaurant Week, we joked that -- at this rate -- the organizers were going to have to rename it Houston Restaurant Month.
Now, it appears that may happen. Cleverley Stone, host of The Cleverley Show on 650 AM and chair of the Houston Restaurant Week committee, announced last night on the event's Web site that it was her intention to formally "upgrade" the weeks-long charity event and rechristen it "Houston Restaurant Month."
There's just one problem.
Houston Restaurant Month is a registered business name in Harris County, and has been since August 2010. And Cleverley Stone isn't the one who registered it.
"There was a lot of talk last year -- by a lot of different people -- about Houston Restaurant Week and how it needed to grow beyond one person, to showcase Houston's food and chefs and restaurants instead of a single personality," said Mark Hanna by phone this afternoon. Hanna and his company, Customer First, registered the Houston Restaurant Month name last year in anticipation that Stone would attempt to officially rename the event.
"The purpose is not to attack Houston Restaurant Week or Cleverley Stone," Hanna said. "She didn't 'found' Houston Restaurant Week, as she often claims, but she did revive it from another program."
"She's done a great job with it," he continued. "But it comes down to who owns an event."
Many people in the restaurant community were upset last year to see that the emphasis on Houston Restaurant Week, which benefits the Houston Food Bank, wasn't on either the charity or the restaurant aspect of the event, but on Stone herself. In the past, Stone has gotten into public scraps with others in the radio industry as well as a large portion of the Houston Chowhounds, and there were rumors that she strong-armed the Houston Food Bank into letting her have sole control over an event that raises more than $500,000 each year.
Hanna was among the people concerned when -- at the close of last year's Houston Restaurant Week -- a check was presented to the Houston Food Bank bearing Stone's own signature instead of the typical "Houston Restaurant Week" signature that had been present on past checks. It was viewed as a signal that the event had truly shifted from being a charity function involving Houston's restaurants and diners to what was seen as more of a vanity project for Stone herself. And that was the last straw for Hanna, who went to the Harris County registrar and purchased rights to "Houston Restaurant Month" for the next 10 years.
"To grow," he explained, "it's going to have to evolve to where it's more than just one person. It needs more oversight."
However, he's quick to point out that he does not want to run the event himself. "I sent Cleverley a note this morning saying that we own the name and asked her to please refrain from using it." The registration protects any business or charity from operating under the name "Houston Restaurant Month" in Harris County, but not because Hanna doesn't want it to be used.
"I hope she'll reach out to us," he said. "Ideally, what I hope to do with this is have it directed by a board or a committee and involve a lot more media sponsors, sponsors that she turned away in the past."
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"I just want it to focus on Houston," he finished. "On Houston's food and its chefs and its restaurants, and raising money for the Houston Food Bank. That's what's important."
Although we briefly reached Stone by phone earlier today, she had no comment save for a follow-up email that read, "I could not answer your question in front of the people I was with. It would have taken too long. I'll get you an answer in writing soon."