Houston Charity Guide
Tony's for free

Legendary Houston restaurant offers luxurious free lunch to federal workers

Houston restaurant offers luxurious free lunch to federal workers

Tony's restaurant interior
Federal workers will dine in luxury on February 10.  © Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

The government shutdown may be over, but one Houston restaurateur still wants to show his appreciation for federal workers. Tony Vallone will open the doors to his namesake restaurant Tony's this Sunday, February 10, for a special lunch that will be free for the formerly furloughed employees and their guests. (Update 2/7: The event is now sold out.)

"It was something I was thinking about with a few friends," Vallone tells CultureMap. After explaining he felt like the employees had been forgotten about as soon as the shutdown was over, he adds, "it's something I want to do. I do a lot of charity work, but I rarely tell the press about it. I thought these people, the airport people, the security people; it's good to be remembered." 

Available at three seatings — 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm — the buffet-style lunch will feature several of Vallone's classic dishes such as pansoti, cannelloni, meatballs, Chianti-braised short ribs, side dishes, and an array of desserts. The offer is limited to one per worker (with government ID) and his or her guest; in total, Vallone says he expects to feed between 500 and 600 people. Those who are interested must register in advance via Eventbrite

"It's our food. It's going to be a nice menu," Vallone says. "Planning menus is what I do for a living. I'm creative. I want to give them a nice, great meal." 

Volunteers from To Educate All Children (TEACH), a local non-profit dedicated to teacher training, will provide volunteers to assist with the event. Vallone's wife and business partner Donna serves on the charity's board of directors. 

Houston's restaurant community displayed incredible generosity during the shutdown, as dozens of establishments offered free or deeply discounted meals to people who went over a month without receiving a paycheck. Still, none are quite as luxurious as the 50-plus year old Houston institution — even in buffet mode. Sometimes, when restaurants display such generosity, it's with the hope that those who benefit from it will return for another meal at full price. Does Vallone hope some of the people he'll feed on Sunday will return for a salt-crusted snapper and a sky high soufflé?

"A lot of the things we do, that's a good part of it," Vallone says. "This is not. It's from our heart. Forget the right or left side, we need to take care of our people and pull our country back together again." 

One nation under Tony Vallone's meatballs? Politicians on all sides have certainly floated worse ideas.