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Controversial chef plans new restaurant as TV reality star takes his place at Paleo palace

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Ja'Nel Witt Corner Table official headshot
Hell's Kitchen winner Ja'Nel Witt is stepping in for Bruce Molzan at Corner Table.  Photo courtesy of Corner Table
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Bruce Molzan has left Corner Table to work on a new concept in the Nosh Bistro space.  Photo by Michelle Watson/LastNightPics.com
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Molzan's new concept is being pitched to investors under the tentative name "Ruggles Black." Photo by Sarah Rufca
Ja'Nel Witt Corner Table official headshot
News_Taste of Texans_Bruce Molzan
nosh bistro

Bruce Molzan's departure from Paleo restaurant Corner Table has brought new opportunities for both the former Ruggles Grill chef and reality TV star Ja'Nel Witt. 

Confirming rumors that have circulated among industry insiders, Nosh Bistro owner Neera Patidar tells the Houston Chronicle that she has partnered with Molzan on a new concept that will open in the Nosh Bistro space on Kirby Drive.

According to a CultureMap source who has seen their business plan, the duo are shopping the concept to investors as "Ruggles Black," although that may not be the name when the restaurant opens. The proposed menu blends elements of Nosh's global cuisine with the Paleo elements Molzan served at Corner Table. 

According to a CultureMap source who has seen their business plan, the duo are shopping the concept to investors as "Ruggles Black," although that may not be the name when the restaurant opens. 

On Twitter, some people reacted skeptically to the announcement. Tastesmakers Best Chef nominee Michael Gaspard indulged in his usual obscenities about a restaurant that serves "upscale paleo," and Hubcap Grill owner Ricky Craig noted that some of his current employees support the allegations that Molzan withheld wages from his staff at Ruggles. 

Meanwhile, Witt brings her experiences from winning Gordon Ramsay's popular TV show Hell's Kitchen to Corner Table, as well as stints at Kiran's and Tinto's. Witt's victory came with a position at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but TMZ reported that the casino withdrew its offer after she tested positive for cocaine. Neither Caesars nor Witt ever commented on the story.

In a statement, Corner Table says that Witt will make "exotic foods more approachable for the casual diner yet unique enough to serve the palate of the most discriminating clientele." Her menu will keep Corner Table's Paleo focus, and well-regarded pastry chef Alyssa Dole remains in her role with a variety of vegan, Paleo and raw desserts. 

"We are thrilled to have Ja’Nel join our team,” says Michelle Coopwood, co-owner of Corner Table. “Corner Table has had a tremendous first year, and with Ja’Nel’s help, we are confident the restaurant will be elevated to the next level and offer an even better experience to our customers.”

In a separate statement, the restaurant says that it is working to avoid having to shut down over 3,000 square-feet of space after losing its attempt to secure a parking variance in traffic-choked Upper Kirby.

"Our architect Craig Garcia is working closely with Senior Planning Officials to bring the facility into conformance. We are reconfiguring our on-site parking spaces as well as conversion of existing occupied space. This along with our off-site leased spaces will more than satisfy our patrons and the city."

So Molzan gets the chance to be his own boss (again), Witt will finally become an executive chef and Corner Table promises to have sufficient parking to keep the dining room full. That's the latest in the ongoing saga of Upper Kirby.

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