It's been just under two years since Ruggles Grill finally came back to life 18 months after Hurricane Ike. And yet the restaurant — a pioneer in the Montrose/Lower Westheimer neighborhood decades ago — is still seeing plenty of drama.
On Saturday, five employees, including one manager, walked out of Ruggles over non-payment of tips, effectively shutting down the restaurant. But Ruggles owner Bruce Molzan tells CultureMap that the issue is not financial problems but a rogue employee.
"The tip issue is kind of amazing. Someone on the management team was collecting cash tips and instead of handing them out he was putting them in his pocket," says Molzan, adding that the manager also corrupted computer files and sales records to cover his tracks.
Houston police confirm that an incident report has been filed in the matter, though they could not give any details on the ongoing investigation.
"I'm a chef and I'm trying to get the food out and make sure that our customers are having a good experience. I can understand them being mad and we're fixing it," says Molzan.
Molzan's account is significantly different than what employees told the Houston Press, which is that the problem has gone on for months, that many of the tips owed are from credit card sales and that they were paid by personal check rather then receiving proper pay stubs recording hours worked, taxes and rate of pay.
"He's been abusing us for a long time," former Ruggles employee Jeremiah Villarreal tells CultureMap. "Bruce knew we weren't getting paid. If someone would ever come to the restaurant trying to get money they were owed, he would just leave. The GM used to try to help us and get us paid with cash but Bruce would take it."
Molzan also tells CultureMap that he is planning to move Ruggles Grill to a new location — but it's not to Cafe Moustache, as has been reported. He plans to open a concept in the former Café Moustache space, tentatively called Ruggles American Bistro.
Molzan also tells CultureMap that he is planning to move Ruggles Grill to a new location — but it's not to Cafe Moustache, as has been reported. Molzan says he and his long-time kitchen staff are looking at a handful of newer spaces and making a final decision soon.
Molzan is opening a concept in the former Café Moustache space, though. Tentatively called Ruggles American Bistro, he says it will be a farm-to-table concept with "fresh, organic produce" and a "daily, revolving bistro menu" and a garden in front for growing vegetables and herbs. Molzan says he also hopes to potentially open a pizzeria in the space next door, and that he's been studying dough for a year.
Villarreal says that news of the new pizzeria opening was what prompted several employees to take action.
"That's what set us off," he says. "We aren't disgruntled employees. We are just disgruntled because we aren't being paid. How is he going to say he can't pay us when he's opening a pizzeria?"
Villarreal says that employees began filing complaints with the Texas Workforce Commission two months ago and that some are meeting with a Harris County district attorney on Tuesday.
The new concepts come as Molzan says he's having the Ruggles name removed from the Ruggles 11th Street Cafe. "I'm real particular about quality," when it comes to licensing use of the Ruggles name, he says. Molzan's drama also involves lawsuits, both as defendant against a contractor who says Molzan promised him a share of the restaurant in exchange for completing repairs, and as plaintiff against his Ruggles Green co-owners over the licensing agreement for the Ruggles name. In August he also settled a suit brought against him by iDine for $500,000.
What do you think is really going on at Ruggles? Are you interested to see the new Ruggles Bistro and pizzeria?