Houston Restaurant Week readying 2020 culinary fundraiser, despite hurdles – Houston Chronicle

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in the Galleria will participate in 2020 Houston Restaurant Weeks.

Photo: Becca Wright / Becca Wright

Houston Restaurant Weeks is set to launch its website July 17, announcing the 2020 slate of participating restaurants for the annual culinary fundraiser that will run Aug. 1 through Sept. 7.

Benefiting the Houston Food Bank, the 2020 event will play out against a restaurant landscape battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Because the industry continues to struggle, this year’s Houston Restaurant Weeks will obviously look and feel different than previous years as Texas restaurants offering dine-in service are currently operating at 50 percent capacity.

This year, the event will include the option for takeout and delivery in addition to dine-in menus; and restaurants will make a donation of $1 per meal. That contribution is a marked difference from previous years where multi-course meals – brunch, lunch and dinner – generated donations ranging from $3 to $7 to the food bank. The reduced donation is intended to ease the burden on restaurants that have committed to the fundraiser and encourage participation. More than 250 restaurants in Greater Houston and Galveston have participated annually. This year about 200 restaurants are expected to sign on.

It’s unclear how the reduced donation from participating restaurants will affect the bottom-line donation to the food bank, which in recent years has been about $2 million annually. Since its founding in 2003, Houston Restaurant Weeks has raised more than $16.6 million for the food bank, whose services in addressing the needs of the food insecure have become more crucial during the pandemic.

Brian Greene, president and CEO of the food bank, said he actually proposed that the 2020 campaign continue with a zero-dollar donation from participating restaurants in light of their economic struggle. His position was to ensure that as many restaurants as possible remain in business through the pandemic so they’d be on better financial footing to make donations for future Houston Restaurant Weeks. But, he said, the $1 donation per meal was agreed upon and encouraged by the restaurant community.

“Under these circumstances what is most needed is to help these restaurants survive – to keep waiters, cooks, dishwashers employed,” he said. “That is more important to us than trying to maximize the donation.”

While calling the Houston Restaurant Weeks donation a significant part of the food bank’s budget in normal years, he said this year’s campaign is focused on “leaving Houston restaurants in a stronger position next year.”

“Every restaurant that stays viable is a victory for Houston,” Greene said.

This year’s Houston Restaurant Week kicks off under new leadership. Founder Cleverley Stone, a longtime media presence on the Houston food scene, died May 28 of uterine cancer. In June, Houston Restaurant Weeks announced that Stone’s daughter, Katie Stone, would assume the leadership role for the event. It was Cleverley Stone’s wish that the event continues, and Katie Stone announced she would take on the responsibilities of producing the event to honor her mother’s legacy.

“I am so encouraged by the overwhelming response to Houston Restaurant Weeks 2020,” Katie Stone said in a press release. “It has been a great comfort to me to hear from so many of my mother’s friends and supporters as we gear up for this year’s restaurant weeks.”

However, there was a wrinkle – since resolved – over the event website.

In June, Katie Stone filed a lawsuit against Astoundz, a Houston web design and marketing firm, claiming that Astoundz asserted “unauthorized control over the website” (houstonrestaurantweeks.com) and that the company was causing “further damage to the preparations for and promotion of” Houston Restaurant Weeks. Filing in Harris County District court under the name Kathryn Cleverley Cappuccio, Katie Stone’s lawsuit sought a restraining order against Astoundz from operating and altering the website and asked that it turn over the login and password information for the website.

In its response, Astoundz, which built and administered the restaurant weeks website free of charge for 14 years, acknowledged that Cleverley Stone owned the domain name for the website but that Katie Stone has no “right to, ownership of, or interest in Astoundz’s copyrighted code and databases.”

According to spokespeople for Astoundz, Houston Restaurant Weeks and the Houston Food Bank, the parties came to an agreement on Wednesday and the legal action against Astoundz has been dropped.

Steve Winter, CEO of Astoundz, said that the matter was settled and that Astoundz will continue to provide free website support for houstonrestaurantweeks.com for this year’s campaign.

“We’ve always wanted to help the Houston Food Bank and will continue to do so as long as they want,” Winter said. “It’s a great cause.”

Greene said he is glad the issue has been resolved. “I’ve been thrilled with Astoundz’s work. Their contribution to this has been very significant. These are all volunteers who are trying to do good things. We want everyone to be happy.”

In its release announcing the 2020 event, Houston Restaurant Weeks states it remains a 100 percent volunteer effort. Greene said he is grateful that the event will continue this year in Cleverley Stone’s name.

“Everything about this year is hard. Just getting this going, we knew was going to be difficult anyway,” he said. “The loss of Cleverley was bad in so many ways. I’m just glad we’re on track to make this work.”

Greg Morago writes about food for the Houston Chronicle. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Send him news tips at greg.morago@chron.com. Hear him on our BBQ State of Mind podcast to learn about Houston and Texas barbecue culture.

  • Greg Morago
    Greg Morago

    Greg Morago was a features editor and reporter for The Hartford Courant for 25 years before joining the Houston Chronicle as food editor in 2009. He writes about food, restaurants, spirits, travel, fashion and beauty. He is a native Arizonan and member of the Pima tribe of the Gila River Indian Community.