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.

Instead, he pursued her, calling her and telling her how much he loved her. He told her that everything was going to be OK and that he needed her to come to Louisville. She wasn't there a week before he convinced her they were destined to again be man and wife. They were remarried in April 1981. Why did Rumore go back to the man she claims abused her and her son for years? "That's the question I can't answer," she says. "Temporary insanity. He conned me, and I guess I believed him."

A short time later, they opened the first Del Frisco's.

Dale Wamstad and then-wife Lena share a happy moment at a Louisiana racetrack -- three days before she shot him.
Dale Wamstad and then-wife Lena share a happy moment at a Louisiana racetrack -- three days before she shot him.

"He shot up the bathroom door in the restaurant. He would take target practice on it...One night we were there alone and everybody else had left and he got mad about something, he had a big black gun...and he pointed it at me, and I got hysterical and started screaming, and then he started shooting the door and I ran out."

-- Lena Wamstad, during her March 1985 grand jury testimony.

Rumore says that the first few months of her remarriage to Wamstad were better than they were at any time during their previous marriage. Roy, who was 18 at the time, concurs. "He seemed like a changed person," Roy says. "It was good. But then it all started happening. Slowly but surely, he started showing his old colors."

His personality shift seemed to parallel the unraveling of his grip on the Del Frisco's restaurant in Louisville. Wamstad was partnered in the operation with Glenn and Audrey Lapp, who operated a steakhouse in Denver called Aurora Summit. They wanted to open a similar venture in Louisville. Wamstad hooked up with the Lapps through his late brother David, a meat salesman. In addition to his investment of $5,000 he received from his wife, plus $7,000 more after he remarried Rumore, Wamstad came up with a name. He hit upon Del Frisco's because, according to Rumore, he liked the sound of it.

The Lapps inked a management contract with Wamstad and put him in charge of the Louisville location. The whole Wamstad family was employed there, with Rumore working the floor and Roy busing tables and cooking steaks in the kitchen. It was a resounding success. "The place was a little gold mine," Rumore says.

Though phenomenally successful, Audrey Lapp says, the restaurant wasn't paying the Lapps any return, and Wamstad refused to let them examine the books. So they traveled to Louisville and proposed a deal to co-manage the restaurant, splitting management duties between the partners. Wamstad balked and tossed out a counteroffer, which essentially proposed the Lapps leave him alone to operate the restaurant as he saw fit, or buy him out. The Lapps found a backer and came up with the cash. As part of the deal, the Lapps agreed to give Wamstad rights to the Del Frisco's name and concept outside of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. "We allowed him to use the name just to get him out of here," says Audrey Lapp. "It cost us about $123,000 to get him out, and he was here just four months."

Wamstad seemed to have a knack for seducing people, getting them to partner with him, and then after a short while walking away with a windfall. No one knows this better than Jack Sands.

In early 1996, Sands, an ex-Marine and a Korean War veteran, decided to find an operator to transform the run-down New Orleans bar in a building he owned into a restaurant. Sands received a call from Wamstad. Wamstad offered to bring down some kitchen equipment from a restaurant he had just closed in Baton Rouge and install it in Sands' building. Sands says he was impressed with Wamstad and struck a deal with him whereby Sands would put up all of the capital to renovate and open the space and Wamstad would operate it. "His investment was his expertise," Sands says. "I had never been in the restaurant business, and I didn't know any better. I was trusting, and I made a mistake."

They signed an agreement giving Wamstad stock in the restaurant called Tavern on the Park.

Their relationship soon unraveled. Sands says Wamstad's equipment from Baton Rouge was junk, so Wamstad told Sands he would purchase and install equipment from a supplier in Mississippi. Six weeks after it opened, a truck pulled up to the restaurant and seized its kitchen equipment. Sands says he learned that Wamstad had purchased the gear on credit and never made payments. When confronted with the problem, Wamstad said he wanted to dissolve their agreement. "He says, 'I've had enough. You buy me out.' Next thing I know, he's in federal court with a suit."

Wamstad demanded that Sands pay him $250,000 for his stock in Tavern on the Park or risk a costly legal battle. In court records, Wamstad describes making a "substantial profit" from his short stint with Sands.

One of Wamstad's partners in a group that operated Popeye's franchises in Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Indiana in the late 1970s shares similar stories. Wamstad was general partner, holding 50 percent interest in the company; a small group of limited partners held the other 50 percent. Operating as many as six restaurants, the business quickly soured, and within a year the partners were $1 million in debt. The group placed the company into bankruptcy, and as conditions worsened, Wamstad agreed to step down and let one of the limited partners see whether he could pull it out. But before the partner could take control, Wamstad "commandeered" one of the best-performing restaurants in the group over one Labor Day weekend and pocketed the receipts. (He eventually returned some $1,500, or about a third of what was normally generated on a busy weekend at this particular store.)

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