UPDATE (10 a.m. Oct. 29): The story has been updated with a statement from Jennifer Caswell, plus more information about employee protests.
Montrose Tex-Mex restaurant El Real has closed suddenly and "indefinitely," per a press release Monday.
Owner Bryan Caswell, who reopened his seafood restaurant Reef this summer, says in the release that a deal to bring in a new operating partner fell apart in "the eleventh hour."
“I am heartbroken and grieving over this loss, not only of the restaurant but of the people who have been so loyal and supportive of me and El Real over the years,” said Caswell, who also claimed he's feeling "extreme grief and sorrow" over the restaurant's closing. “El Real has been a rewarding endeavor, but I have decided the best recourse is to focus on Reef, my family, and my health. I am indefinitely grateful to my staff, investors, vendors, and all of those who have been facilitators and constants in the accomplishments of the restaurant. I am grateful for those who have been loyal from beginning to end. This is simply the right thing to do at this time.”
Meanwhile, Eater reports that several employees of El Real are claiming that they're owed unpaid wages. According to the report, one employee said a check received Oct. 11 bounced after she deposited it into her bank account. Another employee, per Eater, said some El Real workers were directed to Reef to be paid in cash.
On Monday morning, per reports from ABC13, employees of El Real demanded payments in protest outside the restaurant and outside Reef. Caswell told ABC13 that employees should expect payments by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, it hasn't been a happy time for the chef. Per a Houston Chronicle story from July, the chef has been going through a divorce with wife Jennifer, who alleged she was fired from the restaurant without being given a reason. Moreover, his home with Jennifer was struck by lightning on July 6, per the Chronicle.
The press release noted Caswell "has recently gone through a traumatic series of personal life events," adding that he has custody of his son.
El Real, a venture between Caswell, business partner Bill Floyd, and author and former Houstonia dining editor Robb Walsh, opened in 2011 inside the former Tower Theatre. Serving Tex-Mex classics and regional fare like Mexican pollo del Norte, San Antonio puffy tacos, and "tin can" crispy street tacos, it's been a familiar neighborhood haunt.
Jennifer Caswell responded to the report in a statement offered Tuesday morning:
“I was saddened to read of the closing of El Real and hope that Bryan Caswell honors his financial commitment to the restaurant staff who have been forced to protest with signs in front of El Real and Reef. They are the backbone of any restaurant and deserve to be paid for their hard work.
"Furthermore, I am disappointed that Bryan felt it necessary to involve our minor child in his press release in hopes of deflecting attention from his own business failures; those failures including being sued by one of his former business partner for breach of fiduciary duty. While the family court has not made any final rulings in our divorce (including any issues of custody), the place to litigate those matters are at the courthouse—not in the press.
"Although I was wrongfully fired by Bryan months ago, without cause and had no role in the demise of El Real, I am hopeful that our wonderful staff, many of who I consider friends, are paid in full and that they can find other employment; they were honorable and loyal employees who deserve better."