Frank Carabetta, whose Frantoni's Italian Café on Henderson was snuffed out back in 1997 because of Central Expressway construction, says Frankie's Sports Bar & Grill, the venue he planned to open last October on McKinney Avenue in the former Spasso's space, has hit some snags. "We had some problems with our lawyers and our partnerships," he says. Indeed. Tracie Barthlow, operator of four Bridges Gourmet Coffee shops in the metroplex and Carabetta's partner in the sports bar, slapped him with a fraud suit last December. But while most suits between business partners are long on nitpicky details that glaze the eyes, this one reads like a scene from The Sopranos -- if Beavis and Butt-head wrote The Sopranos.
Barthlow, who has been operating her coffee-shop company for some 12 years, says Carabetta approached her last summer with the idea of opening a sports bar. The onetime friends were to be 50-50 partners in the operation. "The whole object was that Frankie was going to run the place, and I was going to support it financially," says Barthlow, who has sunk more than $40,000 into the bar thus far. But after working with Carabetta for a few months, Barthlow says, she noticed expenses relating to restaurant construction weren't quite adding up, and claims Carabetta was receiving kickbacks.
According to the lawsuit, the business relationship got really interesting when she found a suspicious $10,000 charge on the card posted to a local landscape company and decided to confront Carabetta. To her astonishment, he explained that the charge was made to help pay the $12,800 he owed to the company's owner, who had covered a series of Carabetta's gambling debts. Carabetta said he feared that if he didn't service the debt, the owner and his associates would pay an unscheduled visit to the budding sports bar and rearrange the premises. When Barthlow told Carabetta she intended to dispute the charges, he grabbed a wire brush and immediately began pummeling himself in the face with it until he was bruised and bloodied, she claims. "Desperate men do desperate things," she says he replied in the midst of his self-flagellation.
Needless to say, Barthlow dissolved her ties to the excitable Carabetta. She says she intends to go forward with the project and hopes to open the restaurant within the next 45 days. She also says she intends to retain the name, Frankie's. Maybe the stirring memories of her ex-partner run too deep to do anything else.
Carabetta did not return telephone messages seeking comment on the case, but in an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, he claims that Barthlow never restricted how he could use the credit card.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.