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Critic beloved Galleria restaurant fights off closing rumors: Chef proud, but he'd like to be busier

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Osteria Mazzantini with John Sheely standing in front of mural
John Sheely is standing up for his new restaurant Osteria Mazzantini. Photo by Paula Murphy
Osteria Mazzantini interior with crowd
Osteria Mazzantini is rumored to be in trouble, but owner John Sheely says things are status quo.  Osteria Mazzantini/Facebook
Osteria Mazzantini with John Sheely standing in front of mural
Osteria Mazzantini interior with crowd

Another week. Another set of rumors that a restaurant is in trouble.

Unlike the buzz about Trenza (which was refuted by the chef to CultureMap), this week's name may surprise Houstonians who've read a series of positive reviews about it, including its selection by both CultureMap and Texas Monthly as one of 2013's best new restaurants.

Despite the positive press is Osteria Mazzantini about to close? 

"Not at this time," chef/owner John Sheely tells CultureMap, although he acknowledges that closing rumors are swirling.

 "Of course, we're not as busy as we hoped we'd be. I'm happy with what we've done so far. Our staff's been wonderful."  

"I'm not looking for anybody" to take over the space, Sheely adds, although he says he has been approached by people who see the restaurant's monthly TABC numbers and think they could do better. In the newly released TABC mixed beverage gross tax receipts report for May, Osteria Mazzantini reported approximately a third of the sales as neighboring restaurant Caracol ($6,041 in taxes paid versus $19,235).

Even though Caracol is roughly twice Mazzantini's size, that discrepancy has attracted suitors eager to take advantage of the restaurant's prime Galleria location. 

"Of course, we're not as busy as we hoped we'd be," Sheely admits. "I'm happy with what we've done so far. Our staff's been wonderful."

Asked about whether he's had conversations with either The Union Kitchen or Ruggles Green, Sheely says those names "may a ring a bell" but he elects to decline to comment on either one specifically. 

Sheely says he's also heard the rumor that he's ill and will be closing the restaurant. "My health is fine," he says. 

As for the future of Osteria Mazzantini, everything is status quo for now.

"We're still there every day," Sheely says. "We're doing our best."

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