Ryan Roberts passed away in his sleep over the weekend at the age of 38. As the general manager of Cullen's American Grille & Whisk(e)y Bar, Roberts was well known in Houston's tight-knit service industry community, many of whom took to Facebook on Sunday night to mourn the loss of a man who also left behind two young children, a son and a daughter.
Sarah Habisreitinger, who worked for Roberts at Cullen's, shared a memory of her boss that rang true for many who knew Roberts, writing on Facebook: "I remember when we had tickets to the same concert. It was my anniversary night, and really wanted to go. He congratulated our anniversary, and worked the shift for me. I don't know many that would do that for an employee. We will miss you!!"
Roberts was recently featured in Houstonia for his work at Cullen's, where he'd been steadily amassing a whiskey collection for the massive Clear Lake restaurant complex—a whiskey collection that, as of June 2015, was the largest in the state of Texas. It was a lifelong passion for Roberts, who was intrigued by whiskey from the very beginning:
Roberts came by his love of whiskey early. Born in County Cork Hospital in Ireland, he grew up splitting his time between Scotland and Houston as the son of an oilman, touring distilleries with his parents on weekends. (“They weren’t necessarily into whiskey,” says Roberts, “but it’s just what everyone did on the weekends in Scotland.”) After 16 years with the Pappas Group, much of it spent as a sommelier for the high-profile Pappas Bros. Steakhouses, Roberts was recruited to help open Cullen’s with owners Kevin and Sandra Munz in 2008. As the restaurant grew, so did the wine and whiskey offerings.
“I’ve been buying Pappy Van Winkle since we opened,” says the longtime connoisseur, whose drink of choice happens to be Elijah Craig barrel-strength on the rocks. From the beginning, Roberts cultivated relationships with distillers all over the globe, relationships that eventually granted him access to rare, limited-batch spirits. “So I had all these primo-picked bourbons, and then the market exploded,” he says, referring to the whiskey craze that began sweeping the country in 2012.
Cullen's owners Kevin and Sandra Munz issued a public statement in the wake of Roberts' unexpected passing on Sunday night, writing:
It is with great sadness that we share the news of the unexpected passing of our beloved friend and colleague Ryan Roberts.
He was discovered in his home on Sunday and appears to has passed away in his sleep.
As additional details regarding his final arrangements become available, we will ask your support in communicating that information to friends and professional associates.
On behalf of Ryan’s family, we thank those who have reached out with their condolences and offers of support, but ask you to respect their privacy as they deal with this tragedy.
We cannot find words to properly express our grief over the loss of our friend who, in addition to his warmth and spirit, was a driving force in our shared vision for excellence.
We offer our prayers for his family.
Roberts will be missed by all who knew him.