A lawsuit filed in Harris County District Court alleges that Houston chef Bryan Caswell, the mind behind spots like Reef and El Real, owes a former investor more than $200,000.
The lawsuit, filed by attorneys for prominent restaurateur Bill Floyd, is a little bit complicated. It claims that Floyd sold his stakes in Midtown seafood restaurant Reef, Tex-Mex eatery El Real, and the now-shuttered Little Bigs in June 2018. As part of that sale agreement, Caswell was allegedly expected to pay 35 percent of the profits from 3rd Bar Eating House and El Real, Caswell’s restaurants at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, to Floyd every month.
The suit alleges that Floyd was entitled to monthly payments that amounted to that 35 percent of monthly proceeds from the airport restaurants, which are operated by HMSHost, until the restaurant’s contracts at the airport expire. It also claims that Caswell stopped making those payments regularly in January 2019. “While several ‘catch-up’ payments have been made, Caswell has not made the ‘35%’ payments for May, June, and July 2019,” the suit reads. “Upon information and belief, Caswell is diverting the funds received from the airport restaurant operations to other obligations.”
In the initial filing, attorneys for Floyd petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order that would block Caswell from using those 35 percent of funds from the airport restaurants for any reason other than paying Floyd back or doing anything that “may jeopardize the restaurant and bar operations at Bush Intercontinental Airport.” It also claims that the missed payments could void the agreement between Floyd and Caswell to sell Floyd’s stake in the restaurants.
Caswell and Floyd have been inextricably linked in the Houston restaurant scene for about a decade. The duo opened Reef to major acclaim in 2009, including multiple James Beard Awards nominations. In June, Caswell told the Houston Chronicle that the two had parted ways amicably, and called Floyd the “hardest working man I’ve seen in my life.”
It’s been a really tumultuous couple of years for Caswell, who just reopened his acclaimed seafood restaurant Reef in May, almost two years after significant damage caused by Hurricane Harvey forced it to close. He also split with his wife and business partner Jennifer Caswell in 2019, who told the Chron that Bryan Caswell “fired” her from Reef without notice.
When reached for comment, a representative for Caswell told Eater that the lawsuit was “dropped” last month, but an employee at the Harris County District Clerk’s records center confirms that the suit is still pending. Eater has reached out to Joshua Verde, attorney of record for Bill Floyd, multiple times for comment with no response.
In the suit, Floyd seeks damages between $200,000 and $1 million. Court records indicate that Caswell received the lawsuit on September 3, but do not indicate that he has filed an official response to the suit.