Latest News on the abandoned El Tiempo Cantina in Webster, Texas

20237 N Interstate 45, formerly the Big Ben Tavern is a prime commercial location in the thriving Webster area. So why has the property been empty for the better part of the last 5 years?

Many looked forward to the proposed opening of an El Tiempo Cantina in this location, a staple well established in Houston’s obsession with fajitas and margaritas. Promised with a May 2015 opening, locals were let down and continue to drive past a potential Tex-Mex hotspot seemingly abandoned and dilapidated.

El Tiempo Webster was to be the first franchised location of Domco Inc’s El Tiempo chain. Liquid Gold Hospitality purchased the franchise license with intent to eventually open 18 of their own El Tiempo locations. So what happened to halt the opening of this highly anticipated cantina? Let’s start from the beginning, it gets juicy.

May 2013

The Galveston County Daily News releases plans for Houston Tex-Mex legend Maria Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo’s grandson, Domenic Lorenzo to open an El Tiempo in the former Big Ben Tavern, after renovations.

April 2014

After nearly a year of renovation construction, Domco Inc. terminates the license agreement after claims that Liquid Gold’s payments for renovations bounced, according to Connection’s Biz Buzz. Construction halts. Domco demands Liquid Gold return all trade dress and marks, including the El Tiempo sign which still hangs over the establishment. Liquid Gold refuses.

Liquid Gold claims they instructed Domco to hold the checks and wait to cash them until the renovations were inspected.

Anthony Buzbee told the Houston Chronicle, “We asked that [the checks] not be cashed until we could find out if the construction company—owned by the El Tiempo folks—had actually done the work they claimed. They hadn’t, the money wasn’t owed, and we did not fund the checks. They are using checks they were told not to cash because they didn’t do the work as some excuse to cancel the licensing agreement.”

September 2014

After a refused demand to settle the overdue renovation payments, Domco Inc files a lawsuit against Liquid Gold in federal court claiming the company violated the Lanham Act which governs trademarks and unfair competition, by refusing to return trademark property and continuing with plans to operate as El Tiempo even though the license was terminated by Domco. The lawsuit also pursued Liquid Gold for the payments owed for renovation construction which the franchise license demanded Liquid Gold pay for.

Domenic Lorenzo said this to The Chron in October 2014, “We are awaiting our day in court to stop the licensee from moving forward without our permission, which is what they want to do. That is something we cannot allow for good reasons.”

March 2015

Liquid Gold files a counter lawsuit against MKWW Construction, the construction leg of Domco, for $40million. Liquid Gold claims the April 2014 termination of the franchise agreement was breach of contract and also raises fraud allegations, claiming MKWW inflated construction invoices and claimed to perform renovations that were not completed. Anthony Buzbee states that MKWW ran over budget by nearly 500%.

“MKWW fraudulently induced EGL to pay invoices in an effort to direct EGL’s construction money in the Webster location to other construction sites, to pay debts of other companies that own other restaurants and to pay large outstanding loans,” the suit says.

February 2017

After little development the case is scheduled to begin court hearings.

Will El Tiempo Webster ever open in this prime location? Only time will tell. Stay tuned to the CRISP blog as we will keep you updated on any advancements in the ongoing lawsuit.

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