Food Fight

Legal drama involves prominent Houston restaurateur and chef of buzzy River Oaks eatery

Legal drama involves Houston restaurateur and chef of buzzy eatery

State of Grace preview
A court will decide whether dishes like garganelli pasta in white bolognese make State of Grace substantially similar to Ciao Bello. Photo by Eric Sandler
News, Shelby, Tony's 50th, Nov. 2015, Tony Vallone
Tony Vallone has filed suit against former Ciao Bello chef Bobby Matos.  © Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group
Ciao Bello, dining room
Matos left Ciao Bello, shown here, to work at State of Grace. Photo by Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
State of Grace Ford Fry Bobby Matos
Bobby Matos, right, disputes Vallone's claims. He's shown here with new employer, State of Grace owner Ford Fry. Photo by Eric Sandler
State of Grace restaurant exterior
State of Grace recently opened across from Lamar High School. Photo by Clifford Pugh
State of Grace preview
News, Shelby, Tony's 50th, Nov. 2015, Tony Vallone
Ciao Bello, dining room
State of Grace Ford Fry Bobby Matos
State of Grace restaurant exterior

A legal drama that pits one of Houston's most prominent restaurateurs against this fall's hottest new restaurant may be drawing to a close. On October 26, Tony Vallone, through his company CBR Services, Inc., filed suit in Harris County District Court alleging that former Ciao Bello chef Bobby Matos violated the non-compete provisions of his employment agreement when he left to become the executive chef at State of Grace, Ford Fry's buzzy new restaurant in River Oaks.

Update: On November 25, both parties filed a document with the court in which they agree that "the case can be dismissed without prejudice." It's over.

Those provisions prevent Matos from working for "a competing business with Employer at a restaurant within three miles of Ciao Bello that serves specialty cuisine substantially similar to the specialty cuisine of Ciao Bello," soliciting Ciao Bello employees to work for State of Grace and disclosing confidential information such as "proprietary recipes" and financial information, according to documents filed with the court by CBR Services.

For his part, Matos not only disputed all of Vallone's claims but received support from Terrence Gallivan, chef/co-owner of The Pass & Provisions, who stated in an affidavit that "In my opinion, these two restaurants serve entirely different cuisines. Ciao Bello is definitely Italian. State of Grace is not Italian. In my estimation, the food at State of Grace is influenced by the American South, Texas and Tex-Mex cuisines."

Vallone had sought a temporary restraining order to prevent State of Grace from serving seven dishes that he asserted violated the recipe provisions of the non-compete agreement: white bolognese with garganelli pasta, grilled shrimp with lime broth, beignets, oxtail tortellini, burrata salad, Gulf Coast Cobb salad and scallops with crispy squid rice.

However, a judge denied the request on November 6.   

"There is no lawsuit," Vallone stated to CultureMap when reached for comment. Despite the definitive nature of the statement, the case remains officially active. Online records do not show that any motion withdrawing the lawsuit has been filed with the court.  

More likely is that Vallone has decided to withdraw the case or the parties have reached a settlement, but no one with direct knowledge of the situation is talking. Matos's attorney declined to comment, and Vallone's attorney has yet to respond to phone calls and emails about the case. 

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