Just when it looks like the dramatic saga behind the chaos at Treadsack Restaurants, the ownership group behind Bernadine’s, Hunky Dory Tavern, Johnny’s Gold Brick, Down House, and the now-shuttered Foreign Correspondents, can’t get any juicier, new details into the organization’s tumult just keep coming.
After the closure of Foreign Correspondents last year, it soon became clear that there was more to that closure than just a lack of profitability, including allegations of financial fraud, massive tax bills, and questionable management choices. Now, the Houston Press’ Craig Malisow has uncovered a host of pretty explosive revelations about the struggling restaurant group, and none of them are good.
The full report is definitely worth a read, but these five key moments really highlight the dysfunction and drama that have allegedly plagued Treadsack restaurants since its inception, ranging from terrible management practices to a truly ridiculous inspiration for the company’s logo.
Treadsack owner Chris Cusack told restaurant employees they were getting canned while wearing a Darth Vader Christmas sweater.
Allegedly, Cusack was going to let Foreign Correspondents close without providing any notice to its employees, but that “didn’t sit right” with business partner Benjy Mason, who urged Cusack to let the waitstaff down gently. According to a line cook, though, Cusack showed up in an eerily ironic Christmas sweater emblazoned with Star Wars villain Darth Vader. “Because, hey, like, dress up for this,” the employee told the Press. “Take this seriously. You’re telling us we’re out of jobs. The least you could do is wear a fucking button-up.”
Down House almost shuttered in the midst of the drama
Facing upwards of $1.2 million in state and federal tax liens, popular neighborhood spot Down House was “perilously close” to closing its doors as Treadsack allegedly continued to hemorrhage money to keep Foreign Correspondents, Hunky Dory, and the group’s other restaurants open. Things apparently got so bad at one point that Treadsack actually bounced a $58 check to a liquor store.
The group’s logo design is apparently inspired by a scrotum
You probably haven’t read too much into the Treadsack logo — two intertwined circles with parallel lines running through — but it is apparently an insight into the way the once-scrappy restaurant group viewed their place in Houston’s restaurant scene. “It’s a ball-sack getting ran over by a truck,” says former manager Forrest DeSpain. “That’s the kind of guy that Joey [Treadway] is. He would think that’s hilarious, and that he’s playing this joke on the entire city of Houston, to call it ‘Treadsack.’”
Not convinced? Take a peek:
Employees say Treadsack employed "Kremlinesque" nondisclosure agreements to keep them quiet
According to the report, Treadsack employees at Foreign Correspondents and other restaurants were required to sign a “strict nondisclosure agreement that prohibited them from divulging any company information to a third party,” which Malisow says prevented them from making it known that paychecks were bouncing “throughout the Treadsack empire.” Some former employees told the Press that the paycheck issues were so egregious that banks stopped accepting their paychecks altogether.
Some employees paid for health insurance, but did not receive it.
Treadsack offered some restaurant employees health insurance after being hired, but that allegedly didn’t last for long. According to one employee, restaurant staff continued to pay for health insurance for “five pay periods” after their policies had been cancelled. The Press also obtained records that show that Treadsack had been dropped from its health insurance carrier United Healthcare for failure to pay for premiums.
Notably, Malisow also makes a point of calling out Houston’s “overly fawning” food media (including CultureMap’s Eric Sandler, whom he describes as a Treadsack “fanboy”) for being too afraid to sacrifice a scoop to report on the behind-the-scenes drama. Whether or not that is true, it doesn’t look like Treadsack’s public and private woes are going anywhere any time soon.
UPDATE, 1:32 p.m.: Treadsack’s Chris Cusack responded to Eater’s request for comment on whether or not any employees are still owed wages, saying that “everyone who has ever worked for me has been paid in full” in a brief email statement. He also denied the Press’ allegation that employees had paid for health insurance while the company was without coverage.
Cusack declined to comment on whether or not Treadsack has outstanding debts with the IRS or the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, nor did he address how these ongoing financial woes will impact the company’s other restaurant.