vintage generosity

Courageous Houston chef battling cancer uncorks April fundraiser to help restaurant workers in need

Houston chef battling cancer uncorks fundraiser for restaurant workers

Daniel Wolfe City Cellars
Daniel Wolfe of City Cellars HTX is turning his negative into a positve.  Photo by Kirk Surber Photography
Daniel Wolfe City Cellars HTX
Wolfe, center, with the staff of City Cellars HTX. Courtesy of City Cellars HTX
City Cellars HTX filet steak lobster
Surf and turf of filet and lobster tail. Courtesy of City Cellars HTX
City Cellars HTX shrimp and grits
Shrimp and grits. Courtesy of City Cellars HTX
Daniel Wolfe City Cellars
Daniel Wolfe City Cellars HTX
City Cellars HTX filet steak lobster
City Cellars HTX shrimp and grits

A Houston chef is using a personal challenge as the opportunity to help others by launching a fundraiser to benefit his colleagues in the restaurant industry.

Anyone who has been to Museum District wine bar City Cellars HTX has likely encountered chef-owner Daniel Wolfe. His enthusiastic presence — along with its eclectic cuisine and lively atmosphere — has helped the business grow steadily since it opened in late 2020.

Unfortunately, Wolfe will be away from the restaurant for several weeks beginning in mid-April. Recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, he’ll undergo surgery and follow up treatment that will divert his attention away from City Cellars. Rather than allow rumors to spread about the reasons for his absence, he wants people to know what’s going on.

“I consider myself to be pretty transparent,” Wolfe tells CultureMap. “Let’s get in front of this. Let’s use this situation to focus on a bigger problem and turn something negative into something positive.”

The chef, who says his prognosis for a full recovery is good, has tried to see the positive aspects of the situation.

“I have insurance. I’m not worried about whether I’ll be able to cover bills or have dinner on the table,” Wolfe says. “The reality is, this sucks, but focusing on other problems helps me bring mine into perspective. It could be a lot worse.”

Wolfe wants to use his diagnosis as an opportunity to help others. Towards that end, City Cellars will hold a Corks for Cancer fundraiser throughout April. The wine bar and restaurant will donate 10 percent of sales to the Southern Smoke Foundation, the Houston-based non-profit that provides emergency assistance to hospitality workers in crisis situations. Wolfe hopes to raise at least $5,000 from the initiative.

Originally, Wolfe intended the event to benefit a cancer charity, but he chose Southern Smoke so that people in the restaurant industry who lack his resources and family support can receive the same sort of care he will. Since being established by James Beard Award winner Chris Shepherd in 2015, Southern Smoke has distributed almost $10 million; it has been particularly active during the coronavirus pandemic when restaurants have struggled to deal with pandemic restrictions, supply shortages, and increased costs. 

“We’re honored that chef Daniel chose Southern Smoke Foundation as the beneficiary of Corks for Cancer,” Southern Smoke executive director Kathryn Lott tells CultureMap in an email. “He’s facing a big challenge with his diagnosis, and yet he’s doing something tremendously selfless and helping his peers in the food and beverage industry who lack a financial safety net. It’s truly moving, and we couldn’t be more thankful."

If Corks for Cancer proves resonates with diners, Wolfe hopes it could become an annual fundraiser like Houston Restaurant Weeks that would be pitched to wine and cocktails bar with significant food offerings. For now, he’s focused on working with his staff to prepare for his absence and getting Corks for Cancer off to a strong start. With the support of wine-loving Houstonians, he’ll achieve his goal.