By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The servers said Dallas assured them the wine would be returned to Lone Wolf after the party. But they suspected Overstreet was reclaiming wine inventory before pulling the plug on the operation. So they asked the driver where he was taking the wine. He replied that his destination was California. "It didn't make any sense," snaps the server. "They must have thought we were real idiots or something."
Guenthner of the TABC says this move also violates Texas law. There are only two circumstances under which alcoholic beverages can legally be removed from a restaurant in Texas: If a patron takes out a bottle of unfinished wine ordered with a meal; or if an operator removes inventory after shutting down the restaurant, canceling the liquor license, and filing a final inventory with the state comptroller.
The TABC says Lone Wolf's liquor license is still active, and there is no record of a final inventory filed with the state comptroller. Dallas, who returned to California two days before Lone Wolf closed, refused to respond to the servers' charges. "I didn't know that Lone Wolf had closed," she says. "I thought they were still operating." Dallas directed all inquiries concerning Lone Wolf to Los Angeles attorney Perry Wander, who is listed as The Wine Merchant's registered agent. Neither Wander nor Overstreet returned repeated phone calls.
But Winston West, an employee of Norris' television production company and an investor in Lone Wolf, categorically denied the servers' allegations. "Oh my God. No. Not true," he says firmly. West quickly added that he was not involved in the day-to-day operation of Lone Wolf. Yet court records show that West is chairman of the board of Lone Wolf International, while state records designate him manager of Norber Associates, the company Norris and his investors formed to operate Lone Wolf and the firm that holds Lone Wolf's liquor license.
Contradicting West, attorney Gerrit Pronske confirmed that Overstreet did indeed ship pricey wines from California to Lone Wolf and back again. "When they closed down, yeah they did that," he concedes. "It was all Dennis' wine. He had brought that in. It was primarily...the more expensive wines that he brought in."
Court records show that Pronske is Lone Wolf International's bankruptcy attorney, while state records list him as registered agent for the Chris Overstreet Corp., the firm through which Dennis Overstreet managed Lone Wolf. Pronske also is listed as the registered agent of Norber Real Estate Corp., the company that owns the property housing the lounge.
Pronske adds that the decision to close Lone Wolf was reached mutually between Overstreet and the Dallas partners. Several servers at Lone Wolf said business fell off precipitously after former Mansion maitre d' Wayne Broadwell and chef Matthew Antonovich backed out of their partnership deal with Overstreet. "They just got tired," says Pronske of Overstreet and the Dallas partners. "The place was losing money, and they made a decision to close it; they made a joint decision to shut it down." He says Lone Wolf most likely will not reopen, and the Dallas investors are reviewing options to either bring in other operators or sell the real estate.
It is perhaps ironic that Norris, a former karate champion and reserve officer in the Terrell, Texas, police department who plays a law-enforcement official in his TV show, may have had a potential bootlegging operation transpiring right under his nose. But the demise of Lone Wolf and its concomitant missteps don't surprise IWA's Orenstein.
"If you look around the country right now, cigar bars are all having problems," he says. "[Lone Wolf] tried to take the cigar bar and bring it to the next level with food and music. But it's still a cigar bar. You don't want to hang your hat on such a thin nail. In my opinion, everybody was caught up in the deal of, 'Ooh, I'm going to be around movie stars.' And that's when people lose track of what the hell they're doing.