Houston chief Don Bowie sued by partners including Andre Johnson and Akon on missing money charges

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — A new steakhouse on the Washington Corridor is at risk of closing amid a legal battle with investors, attorneys say.Chef Don Bowie, part owner of the Rare Steakhouse which opened in March, is being sued by partners Akon and Houston Texans legend Andre Johnson.

In a civil lawsuit filed in May, the duo allege hundreds of thousands of dollars are missing.Johnson and Akon contributed about $1.2 million to fund the restaurant, and Bowie was supposed to donate another $700,000. Although the investors wrote in the lawsuit that they don’t believe the chief ever gave away any money.

When asked if all the money was gone, Rusty Hardin, who represents Johnson and Akon, replied: “Well, we have to turn to him on that matter. We can’t find where he is. That’s one of the things we’re using forensic accounting for.”

Months after the restaurant opened, the plaintiffs said they discovered employees and vendors weren’t being paid on time and some weren’t paid.

“The near total absence of cash deposits in a restaurant – and actively encouraging customers to use cash – is highly suspicious and suggests embezzlement or theft by Bowie or others,” wrote attorneys for Akon and Johnson in the civil suit.

They said bank statements showed unexplained transfers from restaurant accounts. Lawyers believe the money earned at Rare is being used to fund Bowie’s other restaurant and for personal use.

“I think he got into a situation where everything is closing in and people are starting to find out the truth,” Hardin said.

In a court filing in response to the lawsuit, Bowie’s attorneys said he denies the allegations against him.

The claims about Rare are similar to those made by its business partner at popular Midtown restaurant, Taste Bar and Kitchen.

Dallas attorney Kevin Kelley also filed a lawsuit against Bowie in 2020, calling it “a classic case of restaurant manager embezzlement.”

Kelly paid the full $220,000 to open the restaurant, according to the lawsuit.

Bank records show that less than a week after the first payment was wired, Bowie made unauthorized personal ATM withdrawals, according to the lawsuit.

Kelley hired a forensic attorney who he said discovered $900,000 missing in just over a year. His lawyer included a breakdown in the civil file showing the accountant’s findings. They claim Bowie took cash receipts, valet payments, hosted big private events with celebrities and pocketed the profits, and gave money to family and friends.

Bowie denies all claims against him in a court filing. Instead, he claims the Kelley-appointed accountant neglected the welfare of Taste Bar and Kitchen.

ABC13 also found records showing two Bowie-owned LLCs that received more than $650,000 in coronavirus-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that were intended for payroll.

Kelley said in his lawsuit that he was not consulted about the loan taken out for his restaurant with the chef and did not know how the money was spent.

Bowie is also embroiled in a legal battle with the owner of this popular Midtown restaurant.

Amir Ansari said he had been trying to evict the chef since March for non-payment of rent. He attempted to lock out Bowie and the Taste staff, but was able to regain access.

In claims made by the owner in civil documents, the Chief made unauthorized additions to the building, including adding a second-floor terrace.

Ansari hired a structural engineer who inspected the Taste Bar and Kitchen in March and noted in his report that there was a considerable amount of rotting wood on the building and believed that part of the building could collapse in depending on the extent of structural damage.

The owner went to the Houston City Council with his frustrations.

“I am stopped by armed guards who are there,” Ansari told the council. “So I’m asking the HPD to help protect me so I don’t get shot.”

“But if you have a right, you have to go to the courthouse and the judge has to be the arbiter of that dispute,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in response. “I hear what you’re saying. Let me talk to the legal department.”

In court filings, Bowie claims he paid the rent and that Ansari breached their tenancy agreement.

The Rare Steakhouse chef’s partners said they were unaware of the legal issues Bowie was a part of before going into business with him.

“I think ultimately (Bowie) destroyed this place and the partners wanted to see if they could save it,” Hardin said. “They wanted to see if they could save the restaurant, if they could save the jobs of the people there. It looks like that won’t be possible.”

ABC13 contacted Bowie and his attorney, Ben Hall, for more than a week to try to get their side of the story. Bowie responded late Thursday afternoon and said he was very interested in clarifying the speculation. We’ll update the story when that happens.

No criminal charges have been filed in this case. Houston police said they could not confirm or deny whether they were investigating the allegations.

For more on this story, follow Mycah Hatfield on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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