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The Legal Drama Surrounding Midtown’s Taste Bar and Kitchen Just Keeps Getting Juicier

The restaurant’s chef and owner are suing each other in a pair of lengthy lawsuits

the patio at Taste Bar and Kitchen Taste Bar and Kitchen / Facebook

Following a lawsuit from his business partner Kevin Kelley, Taste Bar and Kitchen chef Don Bowie has now filed a countersuit in response to Kelley’s claims of misusing funds and outright theft, and it’s a doozy.

Filed on August 7 in Harris County District Court, Bowie’s countersuit denies all of Kelley’s allegations, including claims that he stole cash and food from the restaurant, improperly took out Payroll Protection Program loans, and conspired with the valet provider to pocket that cash. It also claims that Bowie isn’t beholden to the terms of his agreement with Kelley because the restaurant has a different name than the one outlined in that agreement.

According to Bowie, that agreement doesn’t apply to Taste Bar + Kitchen, the Midtown restaurant operated by the duo, because the name of the restaurant specified in the partnership agreement is “Taste Restaurant and Bar.”

Bowie also claims that Kelley hired his sister, Aundreal Wilmore, to serve as Taste Bar + Kitchen’s accountant, and that she wasn’t qualified to do that work. He also claims that, Wilmore’s license as a certified public accountant was “on probation” — something unbeknownst to him — and that Wilmore urged Bowie to transfer $60,000 in funds from the restaurant’s bank account to Kelley, which left the restaurant in poor financial health and unable to pay its sales and alcoholic beverage taxes.

In the fall of 2019, not long after the restaurant’s March 2019 debut, Kelley hired a forensic accountant to examine the restaurant’s finances. In his countersuit, Bowie says that he fully complied with that investigation, but was not provided with a copy of the accountant’s report. Throughout this time, Bowie claims that when he would ask for financial records or details on the investigation, Kelley would use his position as an attorney to threaten Bowie with lawsuits.

Bowie’s suit further claims that Kelley sometimes claimed that he was acting “in the capacity of Bowie’s attorney,” and told Bowie that conversations between the two of them were “privileged.” “Bowie shared confidences with Kelley under the pretense of attorney/client privilege,” the suit reads. “Kelley now violates this attorney/client relationship to reveal communications made under the pretext of privilege.”

On March 31, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Bowie contacted Kelley with plans to take out a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan from the Small Business Administration to keep Taste Bar + Kitchen afloat while dining rooms were closed to stem the spread of the virus. In response, Kelley told Bowie that taking out a loan without his consent would be considered a “criminal act that could lead to imprisonment,” but it’s unclear which criminal law Kelley is accusing Bowie of breaking.

“I strongly suggest you tread carefully because I will not allow you to do what you want in this matter to my detriment and in violation of the law,” Kelley allegedly wrote to Bowie. “If documentation is signed for Taste to receive government funds, I will ensure you will be held accountable for such an act. I encourage you to follow the law.” According to Kelley’s suit, he opposed taking out the PPP loan because he didn’t want to “saddle” the restaurant with significant debt.

Even though Kelley told him not to, Bowie’s suit indicates that he took out the loan anyway, and received funds in April. “I applied for this when everything first hit and it was before I knew that we were going to be one of the few restaurants who weren’t going to apply for assistance,” Bowie wrote to Kelley in an email. “It was my understanding that it was a grant that didn’t have to be paid back. I’ll be using the funds to pay rent today.”

Making matters worse, Bowie also claims that Kelley disparaged him to Sterling House owner Amir Ansari, who was preparing to invest in Bowie’s forthcoming pastry shop, Dripped Donuts. In his suit, Bowie alleges that Kelley told Ansari that Bowie “wouldn’t stop stealing,” and threatened to sue Ansari if he entered into the venture. After speaking with Kelley, Bowie says that Ansari withdrew a “substantial” financial investment in Dripped Donuts.

In May, the partnership between Bowie and Kelley completely fell apart, allegedly because Kelley would not provide financial information related to Taste Bar and Kitchen to Bowie. The following month, Kelley announced that he would open his own restaurant, called True Kitchen and Kocktails, in Downtown Dallas, without Bowie.

But according to Bowie, the recipes and other intellectual property for True Kitchen and Kocktails are his own. Bowie isn’t a partner in the Dallas restaurant, but claims that Kelley stole the recipes for dishes like chicken and waffles from Taste Bar and Kitchen. As a result of this alleged theft, Bowie wants a Harris County judge to issue an injunction that would prevent True Kitchen and Kocktails from opening its doors as planned on August 21.

In addition to that injunction, Bowie also asked the court to rule that the partnership agreement that he entered into with Kelley doesn’t apply to Taste Bar and Kitchen because the restaurant’s name is different from the name specified in that agreement. He requests that the court enjoin Kelley from making any business decisions for Taste Bar and Kitchen or any disparaging comments about the restaurant or Bowie, and is also seeking unspecified financial damages.

A hearing on Bowie’s countersuit and the request for a temporary injunction has not yet been set.

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