Restaurant News

Self-Described "Elitist" "Asshole" Opening a Restaurant

Until last Friday, I thought that the press release I received last year for "the greatest penis shaped muffin restaurant" in Houston was the strangest piece of PR material to cross my desk.

That was before Paul West. That was before Greatfull Taco.

West is perhaps best known to our readers as the former CFO of Sherlock's who has filed a complaint with the TABC concerning the events around a recent fatal shooting at the pub's location on West Gray. Prior to his employment at Sherlock's, West worked for Landry's for 11 years and, before that, as a CPA at Deloitte & Touche.

Needless to say, nothing in West's highly conservative and staunchly corporate background prepared me for the free association, rambling, James Joyce-style press release that I read last week.

Below is a small excerpt from the much longer whole.

Greatfull Taco believes in many things, including: aliens exist statistically; musicians and chef's are common people with special talents and sometimes, extraordinary problems; people globally and locally alike and in fact not alike, are very different despite what the media and politicians try to dupe us into believing; we Americans are generally no better morally than the other guy or our neighbor; that Cain killed Able - so we can start from there as to what humans are capable of; Roger Rabbit in fact did do it; that the Kennedy conspiracy did occur...

And that's only a small portion of the seriously puzzling press release. [Read the entire release here.] Little to nothing is said about the food itself, save this line: ..."the food is hardly gourmet, but is fresh and good." And there's a bizarre comparison that goes like this:

McDonald's : Fuddrucker's :: Taco Bell : Greatfull Taco

Because the release wasn't as forthcoming about the actual restaurant concept, food or opening date as one would normally hope, I reached out to West himself to ask him about the press release and why he refers to himself throughout it as a "ponzi," an "asshole," an "elitist," a "patsy" and -- perhaps most confusingly -- a "soldier of fortune and mercenary."

"I'm trying to have an Earth Day celebration on April 17," was West's answer, seemingly apropos of nothing.

And then he explained: It wasn't a press release, per se, but "a write-up on Greatfull Taco" for the management of a band he's trying to book for the event. That still doesn't answer the question of why West would refer to himself in such denigrating tones, but it became apparent over the course of a looping, convoluted phone call that West is highly self-effacing, highly honest and -- most of all -- incredibly caught up with the difficult business of trying to open your own restaurant with your own money and no other partners.

The concept for Greatfull Tacos is equally convoluted: a main dining room and kitchen devoted to tacos with an Owner's Room housing a Chef's Table that will feature non-taco-based food cooked by Riccardo Palazzo-Giorgio. It's somewhat fitting that Palazzo-Giorgio should turn up here: Greatfull Tacos is in the same location at 2411 South Shepherd as Palazzo-Giorgio's previous restaurant, Sabetta.

"We'll eventually get to the point where we'll have dinners only by reservation in the Owner's Room," West explained. "We'll book 12 people, hand them the menu. That'll keep Riccardo's interest. Otherwise, just doing tacos could disengage someone quickly."

Meanwhile, the main dining room will be turning out an all-day menu (yes, including breakfast tacos) inspired by Torchy's Tacos in Austin.

"Torchy's Tacos wouldn't franchise, but they've become my friends and asked me to be a partner. By the time they came back around to me, I was doing my own thing," said West. "What I saw at Torchy's, I really liked. I didn't copy it, but in the genre and the spirit of what they're trying to accomplish, I want to go even further down that row."

West is very well aware that the Chef's Table in the Owner's Room doesn't exactly pair with a casual taco joint, even one inspired by Torchy's quasi-gourmet menu. "It's pretty atypical," he agreed. "But think about it. At places like Neiman Marcus and Dillard's, there are all these stores within stores. Neiman Marcus has a Louis Vuitton store," he said by way of further explanation.

As with the earlier Fuddrucker's comparison, extrapolate on this correlation at will.

Regardless, West hopes to be open within the next three weeks. And I received a copy of the menu, which you can see here. The prices are more than reasonable and I like the fresh direction of the menu items, especially as summer approaches. I also like that there's a taco on there featuring a "warm flour tortilla filled with jam, peanut butter, banana." I'm a soft target sometimes.

I also like the look of the open dining room, its bright punches of color bringing life to a location that's seen the demise of far too many restaurants. West is hoping that Greatfull Tacos will break the curse at 2411 South Shepherd, despite his casual tone. He turned momentarily austere toward the end of our conversation.

"We're not playing tiddlywinks over here," he said. "We're serious about our business."

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt