A chef and various customers at Little Italy restaurant Chez Ann told Eater they were upset and disturbed by the establishment owner’s aggressive attitude during a special Chinese New Year dinner last week.
Chef Seven Yuan, who occasionally runs a pop-up series called Nice To Meat You, had arranged to do a pop-up multi-course dinner at the St-Laurent restaurant on February 4. She claims she was confronted with major disorganization and violent behaviour from Chez Ann owner Kimberly Houston before she, her visiting kitchen staff, and all guests were thrown out of the restaurant partway through the meal.
Customers say the drama began midway through the night, when one table in the fully-booked restaurant reportedly showed up with their own drinks. Five guests (some of who are friends with Yuan) and one kitchen worker at the pop-up told Eater that Houston lost her temper and became highly aggressive with people in the restaurant.
Houston countered that claim, saying that many guests brought their own alcohol in knapsacks.
“In the end it’s me who get punished, I lose my liquor permit...I don’t check people’s bags, is that what I’m going to have to start doing?”
But one customer says he felt Houston overreacted, saying that only one table appeared to bring drinks.
“We understood the owner’s frustration. The guys at the table didn’t yell or cause a scene, and they began to leave the restaurant. Kim [Houston] kept on yelling and swearing at them,” said one customer, who asked not to be named. This person and other guests said they only saw one table bring in alcohol illegally. One guest, Chloe Caristan, who was next to the table that brought their own alcohol said Houston was pouring beer on those guests’ plates and cussing them aggressively.
However, one server on the night (who asked for her name to be withheld, but who is also a friend of Houston), disputes this in an email, and suggested that more than one table did this, although she did not go into detail.
“I’ve never seen ‘clients’ give me me so much grief, it really seemed like all the customers brought their alcohol, which made me so uncomfortable and afraid for the buisness (sic).”
Multiple guests, Yuan and one of Yuan’s assistants all say they believe Houston was drunk, with Yuan saying she saw her drinking shots throughout the evening. However, Houston says that Yuan was drinking in the kitchen.
Houston then went into the kitchen, where Yuan claims Houston threw a plate of food at her, accusing her of deliberately inviting the guests to bring their own alcohol to cause problems. However, a Facebook event page for the event clearly noted that the event was not BYOB — although on that same page, the official Chez Ann Facebook account commented “Bring your own bumps”, a reference to cocaine.
Houston also allegedly accused one kitchen staffer of theft, kicking him out of the restaurant.
“It made me feel extremely uncomfortable to be working under someone felt comfortable spewing such venomous, false accusations without any hesitation,” says Ethan Gan, who was working in the kitchen at the time.
This behaviour allegedly continued outside the kitchen, too, says guest Alexandra O’Sullivan.
“Chaos was breaking loose in the restaurant, and the owner was hurling insults and profanities at all of the guests and the chef.”
Yuan and three guests say that Houston then ordered everyone to leave the restaurant, while belittling Yuan in front of the full dining room.
“[Houston said] she would not be compensating Seven for the food aspect of the night. She charged everyone for their drinks...and [was] saying she was going to call the police on everyone,” said a third guest.
Yuan, who paid for all food herself without help from the restaurant, says guests later voluntarily transferred money to her, although she says received nothing from Houston.
Most guests stayed, but a few minutes later, Houston left, only to return with a man who was unfamiliar to the guests contacted by Eater.
“I overheard him say to the table of women near us that ’you don’t want to know who I am’, and if they didn’t leave right away, ‘something very bad would happen’,” says O’Sullivan.
Houston says she was not sorry for emptying the restaurant.
“I know it must be a shitty feeling to get kicked out of a restaurant but when you do something illegal, you deal with the consequences.”
It was now around 10 p.m., and the guests left, with one saying he waited outside out of concern for Yuan’s safety, being left inside with the man and the owner. However, Yuan says the man, who said he was the landlord, heard her side of the story and apologized to her.
Yuan and Houston had worked together before: a similar dinner in 2017 at Chez Ann’s former location in Griffintown went smoothly, Yuan says. Houston says Yuan also caused problems last year, and she felt she should offer a second chance — although a comment from Chez Ann on Instagram after last year’s dinner saying “Best New Years best chef” seems to contradict that.
But Yuan says this year, there were plenty of red flags even before the night started: she says she was unable to get into the restaurant to prep the day before, and screenshots sent to Eater indicate that Houston was uncommunicative. The day of the dinner, she says Houston only came to let her into the restaurant around 1:30 p.m., five hours before the dinner, even though Yuan felt she needed ten hours of prep time. Houston says this is not true, and that she offered Yuan restaurant access the day before the dinner.
On top of that, Yuan brought her own kitchen staff with her, but worked with servers from Chez Ann. But she says Houston initially asked her to not have any outside staff with her during service, despite the full restaurant and lack of prep time. Houston says she offered her own help in the restaurant’s small kitchen.
Yuan says she didn’t feel the evening was a total failure, though, and that she was proud of sous-chefs Nate and Ethan.
“I’m proud of myself for the way I handled the situation...I didn’t regret it; I gained so much more than just making a profit; a lot of people sent me messages to check in on me, telling me that they loved my food.”
“The saddest part was throwing away a lot of food because we couldn’t pack them up. I cried a bit when we walked home, but that all went away when we sat and shared leftovers from the night.“
An update to this story added comments from Kim Houston.