As the year comes to a close, we're taking some time to look back fondly on some of our favorite memories from the past 12 months. There were wonderful meals, exciting openings and heartwarming stories from some of our best chefs.
And then there were all the scandals, the shocking revelations, the feet in mouths. Without these folks keeping things interesting, 2013 would have been all about good food and good fun. And who wants that, really? We're a culture that savors schadenfreude, wrong though it may be.
So here, to sate your appetite for awkwardness, a list of 2013's best culinary scandals in Houston, in chronological order. Sit back, relax and revel in other people's pickles.
February 12, 2013 Let Them Eat Cake: Chef Bruce Molzan Sends Out Pizza to Protesters Oh, Bruce. You give us such fodder for articles like these. Back in February, Molzan seemingly tried to help a situation, but ultimately made it worse when he had waiters for Corner Table bring two pizzas outside to former waitstaff of another of Molzan's businesses who were protesting because they said he owed them back wages. The chants quickly changed from various expressions of outrage to "No food; pay me!" A representative for Corner Table said simply, "We sent out pizzas. We don't want to be ugly. There's no need to be ugly."
April 4, 2013 Restaurants Behaving Badly: Maggie Rita's Calls Houston Woman "Fat" on Facebook We've seen things like this before. Someone in the restaurant biz forgets it's a service industry and, for better or for worse, gives a customer a piece of his or her mind. I mean, we certainly can't expect chefs, waiters and restaurateurs to be docile drones all the time, but they probably shouldn't say stuff like this either. When Amanda Newman wrote on restaurant Maggie Rita's Facebook wall that she was happy they closed, someone behind the Maggie Rita's computer came back with some choice words about Newman's weight. Our commenters got in on the conversation too, proving that old adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
April 14, 2013 Roots Bistro Makes Tasteless Domestic Violence Joke on Marquee to Sell Beer According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, one in four women (24.3 percent) and one in seven men (13.8 percent) aged 18 and older in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Hilarious, at least according to the now-closed Roots Bistro. In April, the vegetarian-friendly supporter of local farmers changed the marquee outside the restaurant to read "Beer should be like violence: domestic." Immediately, customers and passersby called out Roots on the incredibly offensive sign, which was promptly taken down and replaced with "Sorry a million times over, Houston." But not before it had already been seen on Salon, Jezebel, The Daily Mail and MSN. Roots Bistro closed in June.
April 16, 2013 PSA: This Rat Fetus Was Not Found in Timmy Chan's Fried Rice In sort of the opposite of a scandal, we discovered that the nasty photo of a rat fetus that had been circulating on the Internet and being credited to restaurants across the country was...(drumroll, please)...not from Houston either. Houston Hip Hop News reported on its Facebook page that the rat fetus was found in some fried rice at Timmy Chan's. The world may never know where the rat fetus originated, but Timmy Chan's is making sure those who accused them of making the gross grub pay. The restaurant filed a lawsuit against Facebook, Go Daddy and Houston Hip Hop News in late April.
August 7, 2013 La Fisheria Bans Kids after 7 p.m. and Everyone on the Internet Has an Opinion La Fisheria made national news after an announcement that the owner, celebrity chef Aquiles Chavez, decided to ban kids under 9 years of age after 7 p.m. out of respect for other patrons. Chavez told the Chronicle that the decision came after customers complained about children running around the restaurant while adults were trying to have a romantic or low-key evening away from children -- their own or otherwise. The decision made national news and sparked debate about whether it's okay for a restaurant to ask unruly children to leave or for a "family friendly" restaurant to ban children after a certain hour. Generally, folks seemed to be behind La Fisheria's decision.
August 16, 2013 Corner Table Restaurant Valet Driver Accidentally Kills Motorcyclist So 2013 wasn't a great year for Corner Table or Bruce Molzan (aside from the fact that we gave them a pretty good review). Molzan had nothing to do with the news that in August one of his valet drivers made a right turn from a left lane, striking and killing a motorcyclist on Westheimer. We weren't able to get many more details on the incident from the police or from Corner Table, but folks on Facebook were quick to criticize the valet business in general and its overwhelming presence in parking-strapped Houston.
September 11, 2013 Local Chef Arrested; Suspected of Attempted Sexual Assault Zackery Ray Alolabi, the owner of the Original Napoli Italian Restaurant Chain, was accused of attempted sexual assault on July 19 by a female employee. The police report states that the woman, who had been working for Alolabi for the past two years, claimed the chef, who is affectionately known as "Papa Zack," had been trying to kiss her and had been making "unwanted advances" all day. She stated in the report that he was highly intoxicated and eventually approached her, "placing his exposed penis in her face," before attempting to lie on top of her. In addition, Alolabi didn't realize everything he was doing could be heard ... seems the accuser's ex-husband was listening in via a cellphone that had not been hung up. Whoops. Alolabi is scheduled to be arraigned on December 12.
September 16, 2013 Paula Deen Makes a Loopy Return at Metro Cooking Houston Paula Deen's return to the spotlight after months in hiding was alternately emotional and confusing for both Deen and the audience who came to watch her demonstration at the Metro Cooking Houston show. She walked on the stage and commenced to sob for approximately two minutes, seemingly overwhelmed by the show of support after her months out of the limelight stemming from allegations of racism. We reported that Deen's return was "weird," and many readers thought that was a bit harsh, immediately leaping to Deen's defense in the comments. We stand by the fact that we thought she was weird, but we appreciate your concern for a fallen TV star.
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October 23, 2013 Torchy's Tacos' Suit Against Texas Taco Co. Alleges Theft of Food-Prep Bible As soon as the first Texas Taco Co. opened, in Baytown, diners started sending messages to Torchy's asking, essentially, what's up with your new restaurant? People assumed, because of similarities between the two menus, that Texas Taco Co. was somehow affiliated with Torchy's. Turns out, the two restaurants are entirely different entities, and it does sort of seem like Texas Taco Co.'s menu is eerily similar to that of Torchy's, perhaps because a former Torchy's employee allegedly stole the "Taco Bible" and brought it to Texas Taco Co. That's right, there's a Taco Bible.
November 27, 2013 Woman Files Lawsuit Against Underbelly and The Pass & Provisions In November, news broke of a lawsuit filed against Underbelly and The Pass & Provisions by a former Underbelly staff member who alleges wrongful termination, discrimination and "intentional infliction of emotional distress." The former staff member, Rachel Johnston, claims that she was out dining with friends at The Pass & Provisions when her party was asked to leave their table to make room for other patrons, causing one of her friends to become belligerent. The incident was reported back to Underbelly, who allegedly threatened to fire her, but realized her out-of-work behavior was probably not something they could fire her for. Johnston was later fired for being intoxicated at work, though she claims she wasn't. The case is ongoing, and it's stirred up some commentary on what it's like for a woman to work in a male-dominated kitchen.