The former Union Square Grill in downtown Seattle reopens tonight as The Lost Lady American Cantina. Texas restaurateur Dale Wamstad bought the restaurant from Consolidated Restaurants Inc. (owners of the Metropolitan Grill and Elliott's Oyster House) earlier this year. Wamstad previously founded two national chains: Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouses and III Forks (that's "three" Forks, not "ill" Forks). He sold his stake in Del Frisco's to start III Forks, then sold III Forks in 2000, according to the Dallas Business Journal.
Also in 2000, a lengthy article in the Dallas Observer detailed Wamstad's past lawsuits, "bitter business partners," and an altercation with his ex-wife at one of his restaurants in 1985 in which she shot him three times. Wamstad then sued the Observer for libel, saying his reputation had been damaged. Lawyers for the Observer successfully argued that Wamstad was a public figure, and the libel case was dismissed. (According to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the court said, "Through his promotion of his family man image in his advertising over the years, Wamstad voluntarily sought public attention, at the very least for the purpose of influencing the consuming public. The continuing press coverage over the years showed that the public was indeed interested.")
Details on the shooting from the Dallas Observer:
The purse on the sofa held the .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol her husband had given her two years earlier to protect herself when she closed the restaurant at night alone. As Rumore exited the restroom, she heard a loud slam. Wamstad had burst through the front door. He demanded that Theresa open the front door and he pushed a briefcase in her face. Lena told him to stop. "Then he screamed, 'You fucking bitch, what do you think you're doing closing and putting that sign out there?'" Lena says. "And he hurled the briefcase at me, and I mean with force."
She pleaded with Wamstad to let her explain what had happened, but he came at her again. She reached into her purse and pulled out the gun.
"He kinda laughed, 'You fucking bitch. You better use it on me, because if you don't use it, I'm going to kill you with it,'" Rumore recalls. "He started coming close, like he was going to take it from me. So I fired."
Rumore fired four shots before the gun jammed. One bullet missed. Another went into Wamstad's jaw, while a pair of slugs entered his back. He moaned. She screamed and dialed 911.
The police didn't arrest Rumore.... On July 16, 1986, Lena Rumore was found innocent. The judge ruled that she had acted in self-defense.
One of Wamstad's lawsuits—one he instigated—involved Ruth's Chris Steak House founder Ruth Fertel. Again, from the Observer:
Wamstad sued Ruth's Chris for slander in 1994 after the restaurant's newsletter suggested that the Knife and Fork Club of America, which produced a Top 10 list of steakhouses, was really a front for Del Frisco's. Del Frisco's regularly appeared among the top three on the list. Wamstad admitted in a civil suit deposition that he paid the producer of the list, Thomas J. Horan, more than $60,000 between 1989 and 1994. The suit was later settled....
Wamstad has demonstrated a flair for the dramatic, per the Observer profile:
...Wamstad created a little family to inhabit his grand steakhouse crowned with a 24-carat gold-leaf dome that stretches 55 feet into the air. He invented for himself the character Capt. Bob Cooper, a 257-year-old cross between a North Texas trading-post pioneer and the skyjacker who slipped away with a $200,000 ransom payment by parachuting from an airliner over Washington state in 1971. Capt. Cooper maintains his youth because he drank from the Fountain of Youth 200 years ago in East Texas, or so went the spin.
According to a press release (reprinted here), Wamstad grew up in Spokane and is moving to Seattle to run the Lost Lady American Cantina. The restaurant's website features "The History of the Lost Lady," a tale of the origins of the name from a ship lost at sea between Astoria, Oregon, and Seattle in 1915.
While Wamstad "plans to create a theatrical setting" for the Cantina according to the press release, the former Union Square Grill's faux-Deco interior appeared largely intact at the invitation-only opening party on Saturday night. At the height of the two-hour event, the bar was packed; banana, blackberry, and prickly-pear margaritas were served. An appetizer buffet included cheddar and pepperjack cheese, as well as an unusual cold hors d'oeuvre of a whole-wheat tortilla wrap containing pickles, tomatoes, and a mayonnaise-type sauce. A squadron of female waitstaff, wearing red wrap-front tops and belts with golden rings, served fajita platters in the dining rooms. One server said that the fajitas would be followed by a lobster course; another later said, "There was an idea about lobster, but it never came to fruition."
Wamstad declined to be interviewed for the 2000 Dallas Observer article. Calls to the Lost Lady American Cantina and to the public relations firm seeking Wamstad's comment have not yet been returned.