Back in (Ruggles) Black

Bruce Molzan Turns to Crowdsourced Fundraising for Baby Ruggles

Does the city need another Ruggles? Does it need a paleo bakery? Does Kickstarter actually work?

By Katharine Shilcutt July 29, 2015

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"So do I just press this button and then money happens?"

Image: Shutterstock

As an increasing number of restaurateurs attempt to crowdsource funds for the construction of a new and/or improved location, some are finding that this modern method of raising capital isn't as easy as simply setting up a Kickstarter and pressing the "give me money" button on the Internet.

For every staggeringly successful fundraising campaign, such as those for Houston bakeries Hugs & Donuts and Fluff Bake Bar which brought in a combined $112,000, there are equally, staggeringly unsuccessful results. Maine-ly Sandwiches owner Buddy Charity fell $98,928 short of his $100,000 goal to retrofit his existing restaurants while Karl Camerzind has only been able to raise $2,155 of his $150,000 goal to reopen Karl's in Richmond. The odds can seem so uneven as to make a gambling person consider the idea that crowdsourcing capital won't replace traditional methods of obtaining liquid assets (i.e., taking out a loan or taking on a partner) any time soon.

Still, there are gamblers. Gamblers such as Bruce Molzan, who many Houstonians know as the man behind Ruggles Grill, the restaurant that dominated Montrose's dining scene throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, the restaurant that eventually—through a complex series of leases and legal arrangments—lent its name to other concepts that popped in and out of existence over the years: Ruggles Café Bakery, Ruggles Grill at the Ballpark, Ruggles 5115, Ruggles 11th Street Cafe, Ruggles Green, Ruggles Black and possibly a Ruggles 151 Chartreuse; it's honestly tough to keep them all straight anymore. Being a gambler, Molzan has also had 28 different lawsuits filed against him since 1991, ranging from breach of contract suits to allegations of fraud and false imprisonment to relatively straightforward paternity suits. Ruggles Grill narrowly avoided involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy twice in two years before Molzan finally closed the restaurant in February 2012, three months after his waitstaff staged a walk-out on a busy Saturday night. The servers alleged that Molzan hadn't paid them in weeks, even months.

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Bruce Molzan hopes to raise $50,000 to help open Baby Ruggles Bakery & Food Bar.

As one who apparently subscribes to the illegitimi non carborundum school of thought, Molzan has taken these lawsuits in stride. In recent years, he partnered up with Corner Table owners Darla Lexington and Michelle Coopwood as the chef of the paleo-focused restaurant in River Oaks, which opened in December 2012. By June 2014, Molzan and Corner Table had parted ways; the chef announced another partnership with Neera Patidar, former owner of Nosh Bistro, the day after he left. Patidar and Molzan's new concept, Ruggles Black, ventured even more boldly into paleo territory, combining the fad diet's staple ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, horrifying amounts of almond flour) with Indian, Middle Eastern and East Asian flavors.

Now, we're not saying that a professional career full of thrilling highs and brutal lows has necessarily made it difficult to find solid, stable funding and/or partnership for one's further culinary dreams. But the Indiegogo campaign Molzan launched 12 days ago may attest to that possibility (as well as the possibility that the world perhaps does not need another paleo-focused eatery). Less than two weeks in, the fundraiser has netted 1 percent of its goal to raise $50,000 for the construction of Baby Ruggles Bakery & Food Bar. Should the fundraiser ultimately find its footing, Molzan hopes to open a restaurant that brings "[p]aleo cuisine and classic French pastry together in a modern and electric atmosphere." As the newly self-appointed "King of Paleo" (complete with Twitter hashtag), Molzan claims to be leading the "Paleo Revolution" through this new venture, if it gets off the ground.

Though it's typically kings who get deposed in revolutions—not who lead them—it's tough to imagine a Houston in which Molzan is permanently deposed, whether from his paleo throne or otherwise. There's something oddly appealing in the notion that Molzan will always get up again no matter how many times he's knocked down, but whether or not he'll be able to convince others to bankroll that 92nd wind through Internet fundraising remains to be seen. Then again, we shouldn't have to wait long to find out. A solid answer to that question—as well as whether or not the city needs another Ruggles, or needs a paleo bakery—should be provided when the Indiegogo campaign wraps up in 34 days.


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