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Avner's labor pains

Unlike Bibendum the 100-year-old Michelin Man, Bibendum the tapas bar went flat after just three months. Sources say legendary bad-boy chef Avner Samuel (Bistro A), who launched the global tapas bar in the McKinney Avenue space that housed his restaurant "Avner's" years ago, admitted he had miscalculated. Bibendum's small tapas menu wasn't drawing enough customers through the maze of McKinney Avenue street construction. His plan was to shut the thing down for a couple of weeks and reopen as a restaurant serving straightforward Middle Eastern fare buffet-style. Apparently Middle Eastern cuisine served from steam tables goes better with jackhammers and backhoes than a little plate of pan-fried sardines.

But according to a few ex-Bibendum employees, street rubble wasn't the main cause of the Bibendum blowout. They claim Samuel shuttered the place in order to duck paying wages and tips he owed them before he opened the restaurant under a new name. "There are about 15 or 20 employees who never got paid," says former Bibendum manager Daniel Levarion. "And he won't pay us because he claims we were ripping him off. He says he was missing plates, he was missing food, and was missing wine." Levarion, who claims Samuel owes him roughly $6,000 in back wages, says he and a group of former employees, including chef Ottis Stewart, filed a complaint against Samuel with the U.S. Department of Labor, which would not confirm the complaint. But this is nothing new. A group of Bistro A employees filed a similar complaint with the agency against Samuel last year. And as one ex-Bibendum employee laments, it seems to make little difference. In the meantime, the McKinney Avenue restaurant has reopened for lunch and dinner with the black Bibendum awnings still in place. But there are a couple of differences: a row of steam tables clutter the bar, and a new menu taped to the window refers to the place as Mazza Middle Eastern Restaurant & Bar. Samuel refused to comment.

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Ocean Grill & Jazz, the seafood restaurant located in the same strip mall as Mediterraneo, shut down this past December. Onetime owner Anson Chan, who still controls the lease on the space, says he's in the process of selling the venue to an unnamed investor who plans to reopen in February as a restaurant serving French-Italian fare...Sources say longtime Dallas restaurateur Mel Hollen is involved in a new restaurant called Pacifico Bar & Grill to be launched in the former Primo's Tex Mex Grill space at Midway near Belt Line.

Mark Stuertz


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