Family man

Dallas restaurateur Dale Wamstad portrays himself as humble entrepreneur and devoted father. The family he abandoned in New Orleans has a bone to pick with that.

But Roy was desperate. He had a wife and a baby daughter at home. He pleaded with his father to give him back his job. "Stupid me, I wanted to see if he could help me out," Roy says. "I did it for my family, really, 'cause I knew better. He said, 'I don't know what I can do for you. You're not my son anymore. I don't want nothin' to do with you.'" Roy says his father pulled a $20 bill from his wallet, telling him this was all he could do for him, and let the bill fall to the floor.

"That was the last time I spoke to him," says Roy, now the father of two daughters. "And I'm having a good life now with him not in it."

Lena Rumore -- formerly Lena Wamstad -- and her son Roy, who they say was disowned by his father.
Lena Rumore -- formerly Lena Wamstad -- and her son Roy, who they say was disowned by his father.
In television interviews and elsewhere, Wamstad has steadfastly denied abusing his wife.
In television interviews and elsewhere, Wamstad has steadfastly denied abusing his wife.

"He came behind me. He pushed me, and I fell backwards on the bed. While I was down on the bed, he jumped up on the bed, and he kicked me in my face and hit my nose, and it was just like a sharp pain. I jumped up and the dresser was in front of the bed with the mirror, and I saw blood gushing out of my nose, and I said, 'Oh God,' and he said...'You bitch. Look what you made me do.'"

-- Lena Wamstad testifying during her 1986attempted murder trial

Lena Rumore, 56, bristles as she scans a full-page III Forks ad from the Dallas Business Journal. In the center of the ad, under the headline "A Great Steak & Seafood House," is a cozy family portrait of her ex-husband, Dale Wamstad; his wife, Colleen Keating; and their three children. "Do I believe he's changed his life around and he's a great family man?" scoffs the former Mrs. Wamstad, who now goes by her maiden name. "For his family's sake I hope so. But I find it hard to believe."

She tosses the III Forks ad atop one of the stacks of legal papers that litter the dining table in the home she shares with her third husband, Don. She moves to a scrapbook and flips through the pages filled with pictures and documents collected during her tempestuous 23-year marriage to Wamstad, a union that included a separation between 1979 and 1981, a divorce, and remarriage in time to launch the first Del Frisco's.

Her ex-husband sold Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse -- which included a Del Frisco's under construction in Fort Worth and the rights to the name elsewhere -- for $22.7 million in 1995 before building the gargantuan III Forks at the North Dallas Tollway and Keller Springs Road. The fact that he is relishing his riches under the guise of a family man is a sore point with Rumore.

Since her second divorce from the restaurateur in 1987, Rumore has sold cars, jewelry, and furniture to finance her legal skirmish with Wamstad, a fight waged to get an accurate picture of his assets, which Rumore says include her sweat and blood. Literally, if you believe the parade of witnesses who testified during her attempted murder trial. Rumore and her lawyers spent more than seven years trying to decode Wamstad's maze of corporations and partnerships. The brilliant puzzle, which Wamstad once admitted was set up solely for asset and tax protection, proved so confounding that in civil suit depositions he was able to deny having any ownership interest whatsoever in Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House. Rumore says that over the course of her legal struggles, Wamstad even pleaded impoverishment.

Exhausted, she reluctantly surrendered her fight in 1992, agreeing to a community-property settlement that put $45,000 into her pocket. That's why the millions he reaped when Wichita, Kansas-based Lone Star Steak & Saloon bought Del Frisco's just three years later hit her like an open-handed slap.

Less than two months after the deal closed with Lone Star in 1995, Rumore filed a lawsuit against Wamstad seeking to nullify their 1992 community-property settlement, alleging that Wamstad fraudulently concealed the true value and ownership of his assets. But Wamstad was able to derail her suit in February 1999, arguing that her consent to the 1992 agreement nullified any further claims. In April 1999, Rumore filed an appeal, and last month, a Louisiana appellate court reversed the lower court's ruling. The case is expected to go before a jury this summer.

Today, Rumore deals poker at The Grand Casino in Gulfport, Mississippi. "I work for tips while he's got all the money that I worked for too," she says. She pulls out a 1982 newspaper clipping that ran after their Del Frisco's restaurant in Gretna, Louisiana, had been open just 10 weeks. "We're too new, too humble, and too grateful for all this publicity," Wamstad says in the article.

According to Rumore and others who entered business with him, Wamstad shrewdly cultivated this diffident, folksy posture over the years -- spinning stories and adopting various characters. There was the affable Del Frisco, who later evolved into the fiercely independent and elusive Capt. Bob Cooper at III Forks.

"He's very smooth," says Lou Saba, who claims he lost his $150,000 life savings in seven months in 1987 after partnering with Wamstad in a Del Frisco's restaurant in Houston. "He overwhelms you with 'I'm a nice guy, an honest guy.' He bombards you with this big teddy bear image."

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