HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new steakhouse on the Washington Corridor is at risk of closing its doors amid a legal battle with investors, according to attorneys.
Chef Don Bowie, a partial owner of Rare Steakhouse that opened in March, is being sued by his partners Akon and Houston Texans legend Andre Johnson.
In a civil suit filed in May, the duo alleges hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing.
Johnson and Akon contributed approximately $1.2 million to fund the restaurant, and Bowie was supposed to give an additional $700,000. Although, the investors wrote in the lawsuit they do not believe the chef ever gave any money.
When asked if all of the money was gone, Rusty Hardin, who represents Johnson and Akon responded, "Well, we have to look to him for that question. We can't find where it is. That is one of the things we are using the forensic accountant for."
Months following the restaurant's opening, the plaintiffs said they discovered employees and vendors were not being paid on time, and some didn't receive payment.
"The near-complete absence of cash deposits in a restaurant - and one that actively encourages patrons to use cash - is highly suspicious and suggests embezzlement or theft by Bowie or others," Akon and Johnson's attorneys wrote in the civil suit.
They said banking records show unexplained transfers out of the restaurant's accounts. Attorneys believe the money made at Rare is being used to fund Bowie's other restaurant and for personal use.
"I think he has run into the situation where everything is closing in and people are starting to find out the truth," Hardin said.
In a court filing in response to the lawsuit, Bowie's attorneys said he denies the allegations made against him.
The claims regarding Rare are similar to those made by his business partner at the popular Midtown restaurant, Taste Bar and Kitchen.
Dallas attorney Kevin Kelley also filed suit against Bowie in 2020 calling it a "classic restaurant manager embezzlement case".
Kelly contributed the entire $220,000 to open the restaurant, according to the lawsuit.
Banking records show that within a week of wiring the first installment, Bowie made unauthorized personal withdrawals from the ATM, according to the lawsuit.
Kelley hired a forensic attorney who, he said, uncovered $900,000 missing in just over a year. His attorney included a breakdown in the civil filing showing the accountant's findings. They claim Bowie took cash proceeds, valet payments, hosted large private events with celebrities and pocketed the profits, and gave money to family and friends.
Bowie denies all of the claims against him in a court filing. Instead, he claims the accountant Kelley appointed neglected the well-being of Taste Bar and Kitchen.
ABC13 also found records showing two limited liability companies owned by Bowie that received more than $650,000 in coronavirus-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that were intended for payroll.
Kelley said in his lawsuit that he was not consulted on the loan taken out for his restaurant with the chef and did not know how the money was spent.
Bowie is also wrapped up in a legal battle with the landlord of that popular Midtown restaurant.
Amir Ansari said he has been trying to evict the chef since March for non-payment of rent. He attempted to lock out Bowie and the Taste staff, but he was able to regain access.
In claims made by the landlord in civil filings, the chef made unauthorized additions to the building, including adding a second-story deck.
Ansari hired a structural engineer who inspected the Taste Bar and Kitchen in March and noted in his report that there is a considerable amount of rotting wood on the building and believes part of the building may collapse based on the extent of the structural damage.
The landlord went before the Houston City Council with his frustrations.
"I am being stopped by armed guards who are there," Ansari told the council. "So, I am asking HPD to help protect me so I don't get shot going."
"But if you have a right, you need to go to the courthouse and the judge needs to be the arbitrator of that dispute," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in response. "I hear what you're saying. Let me talk to legal."
In court filings, Bowie claims he paid the rent and that Ansari breached their lease agreement.
The chef's partners at Rare Steakhouse said they did not know about the legal troubles Bowie was a part of before going into business with him.
"I think at the end of the day, (Bowie) has run that place into the ground and the partners wanted to see if they could save it," Hardin said. "They wanted to see if they could save the restaurant, if they could save the jobs for the people who were there. It's looking like that is not going to be possible."
ABC13 reached out to Bowie and his attorney, Ben Hall, for more than a week in an attempt to get their side of the story. Bowie responded late Thursday afternoon and said he is very interested in clearing up speculations. We will update the story when that happens.
There have not been any criminal charges filed in the case. Houston police said they could not confirm or deny if they are investigating the claims.
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