Killen's BBQ Bans Negative Comments from Facebook: Censorship or Smart PR?

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Photo via Killen's
Ronnie Killen would like you to stop saying nasty things on his Facebook (as if there's anything mean to say about that awesome barbecue).
In case you haven't noticed, there's a new box on Yelp right above the comments that contains the following message:

Your trust is our top concern, so businesses can't pay to alter or remove their reviews.

While the business review website is making an effort to convince people that the commentary posted on the site is unbiased, Facebook makes no such claim. That's why it was not unexpected to see a restaurateur admit to editing negative responses on his business's Facebook page yesterday afternoon.

On the page for Killen's BBQ, chef/owner Ronnie Killen wrote:

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Corner Table Announces Ja'Nel Witt as New Executive Chef

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Photo courtesy Corner Table
Ja'Nel Witt has joined Corner Table as executive chef.
On the heels of chef/partner Bruce Molzan's "amicable" departure from Corner Table comes news that the restaurant has hired former Hell's Kitchen winner Ja'Nel Witt to take over as executive chef.

According to a press release sent out Thursday morning, Witt joined Corner Table on Monday, June 16.

"We are thrilled to have Ja'Nel join our team," says Michelle Coopwood, co-owner of Corner Table, in a statement. "Corner Table has had a tremendous first year, and with Ja'Nel's help, we are confident the restaurant will be elevated to the next level and offer an even better experience to our customers."

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Bruce Molzan Leaves Corner Table While Restaurant Faces Partial Closure

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Photo by Troy Fields
Chef Bruce Molzan is out at Corner Table.
CultureMap first reported Monday morning that controversial chef Bruce Molzan has left Corner Table, the restaurant he's helmed since it opened in December of 2012.

We called Corner Table for comment and received pretty much the same recited statement as CultureMap: "Corner Table and chef Molzan have amicably parted ways. Both parties are excited about the adventures that lie ahead." The representative for Corner Table went on to say that the restaurant, located at the corner of Westheimer and Virginia in Upper Kirby, will remain open and the owners, Darla Lexington and Michelle Coopwood will be announcing a new chef soon.

Molzan opened Corner Table after he was forced to close his well-known restaurant Ruggles Grill following a walkout by workers protesting non-payment of tips. At the time, the waitstaff at Ruggles Grill filed a claim with the Texas Workforce Commission, alleging that they were owed thousands of dollars in back wages. Molzan eventually admitted that his workers were indeed owed back wages, but not before his reputation became somewhat tarnished in the restaurant industry.

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What's the Deal With Upper Kirby?

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
I mean, with a view like that...
Nearly every evening I run up and down Kirby Drive, taking in the sights (elderly couples ambling into Carrabba's; valets standing around bored in West Ave), the sounds (car horns honking as drivers make abrupt right turns into the Whole Foods parking lot) and the smells (garlic, fry oil, diesel fuel). It's a strange little strip of road between Richmond and Westheimer, but it's what I've come to call home in the 11 months I've been living in Houston. It's changed a lot since I first moved in, primarily thanks to a handful of exciting new restaurants that have opened there recently.

But in the last week, six Kirby businesses have decided to shutter for good, and there's been talk for months that a few struggling West Ave restaurants aren't far behind. What's up with the rapid evolution of my 'hood?

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Business Casual? Man Turned Away From Da Marco for Wearing Sneakers

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Photo by Kent Wang
Today's specials are on the board. The dress code is not.
On Tuesday afternoon, a person who frequently interacts with Eating...Our Words on Twitter tweeted the following statement:

We went to the Da Marco website to search for a description of the dress code that had been violated, but we couldn't find anything. The menu is all there, along with the hours of operation, contact information and the location, all clearly listed. There's a link to make reservations on OpenTable. On Da Marco's Open Table page -- under "More Details" -- is a description of the dress code: Business casual. As far as we can tell, that's the only place the code is listed.

So we emailed the sneaker-wearing would-be customer to get the whole story.

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Woodlands Market Hubbell & Hudson to Close

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Photo courtesy Hubbell & Hudson
The gourmet market at Hubbell & Hudson will be closing in the next few months.
A beloved market in the Woodlands will soon leave residents without nearby access to dry-aged beef, farm-to-market produce and cooking classes -- at least until Whole Foods opens there in 2015.

Hubbell & Hudson market and cooking school will be closing, reported CultureMap's Eric Sandler, after rumors started swirling on Facebook over the weekend. Though the bistro and kitchen will remain open, Sander writes that the rest of the venture will be closed by March 12, if not sooner. An unnamed source provided CultureMap with documents proving the grocery store has lost millions since it opened, and consultants for the company did not believe it could compete with Whole Foods or nearby H-E-Bs.


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Tipping in Restaurants Reaches a Tipping Point...Will 2014 Be the Year It's Abolished?

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Photo by Marya
Tipping after meals is no longer as universally accepted as it once was.
Next time you hear a waiter or waitress complain about his or her tips, remember that the United States and Canada have the biggest tippers in the world (but maybe don't tell them that fact, 'cause it probably won't help). In many other countries, service is included in the bill, and tipping is reserved for truly exceptional service. People in the service industry also make higher wages than waiters in the United States, who rely on tips to bring their salaries up to minimum wage.

Lately, though, there's been a lot of talk about abolishing tipping in America altogether. A Slate article from last July called tipping an "abomination." The author, Brian Palmer, wrote, "Tipping is a repugnant custom. It's bad for consumers and terrible for workers. It perpetuates racism. Tipping isn't even good for restaurants, because the legal morass surrounding gratuities results in scores of expensive lawsuits."

He brings up some good points about the practice. So good, in fact, that others are starting to echo his concerns. In September, Pete Wells, restaurant critic for The New York Times, highlighted a number of restaurants that are moving away from tipping and toward surcharges or higher-priced menu items. The money made from these practices would then go toward paying servers a fair wage -- as in, more than $2.13 an hour, the amount many servers make before their "tip credit."

But what about our right as consumers to let service staff know we're pissed by leaving a small tip? How are we supposed to express gratitude if not monetarily? And how are misguided teenagers going to elicit donations after they're stiffed for being gay (but not really)?

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UPDATE: Is The Burger Guys Closing for Good? YES.

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Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg
The sign on the door says it'll open after Sunday, but we're not so sure.
Update: Owner Jake Mazzu has confirmed that The Burger Guys is closed. See his statement on the next page.

On the heels of the shuttering of The Burger Guys' downtown location, today comes the rumor that the original location on Westheimer is closing as well, or possibly already closed.

We ventured out to the Westside burger shop and found it dark and locked up during the lunch hour when owner Jake Mazzu and chef Brandon Fisch are typically slinging burgers to hungry Houstonians.

A sign on the door reads "Closed due to technical difficulties. Will be open after Sunday."

Unfortunately, we're pretty sure the spot won't be open Sunday after all.

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Top Ten Houston Culinary Scandals of 2013: Lawsuits, Rude Restaurant Staff and Rats

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Photo from Scandal on abc.com
Some crazy things went down in 2013...which do you think was the craziest?
As the year comes to a close, we're taking some time to look back fondly on some of our favorite memories from the past 12 months. There were wonderful meals, exciting openings and heartwarming stories from some of our best chefs.

And then there were all the scandals, the shocking revelations, the feet in mouths. Without these folks keeping things interesting, 2013 would have been all about good food and good fun. And who wants that, really? We're a culture that savors schadenfreude, wrong though it may be.

So here, to sate your appetite for awkwardness, a list of 2013's best culinary scandals in Houston, in chronological order. Sit back, relax and revel in other people's pickles.

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Torchy's Tacos' Suit Against Texas Taco Co. Alleges Theft of Food-Prep Bible

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Photos from Torchy's Facebook and Texas Taco Co. Facebook
Taco wars, not brought to you by the Food Network.
Back in August, we reported on the anticipated opening of a new taco joint in Houston called Texas Taco Co. The Friendswood location was the third store set to open in Texas -- the other two are in Baytown and Magnolia -- and though it sounded like a delicious addition to the Houston-area restaurant scene, we and Eater noticed a striking similarity between the menu at Texas Taco Co. and the menu of another much-lauded Texas taco spot: Torchy's Tacos.

Apparently we weren't the only ones.

As soon as the first Texas Taco Co. opened, in Baytown, diners started sending messages to Torchy's asking, essentially, what's up with your new restaurant? People assumed, because of similarities between the two menus, that Texas Taco Co. was somehow affiliated with Torchy's.

For example, the Torchy's menu offers a breakfast taco called the "Monk Special," which is described as "'Hold the potatoes.' Eggs, bacon, green chilies & cheese. Served on your choice of tortilla."

Texas Taco Co. offers an "Alamo Special," described as "'Hold the potatoes.' Eggs, bacon, green chilies & cheese. Served on your choice of tortilla."

You see the issue?

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