the breakfast klub
the breakfast klub Credit: Photo courtesy of the Houston Airport System

The Houston-area has another “food fight” on its hands as the breakfast klub sued longtime City Hall consultant Cindy Clifford, claiming “fraudulent inducement” to a contract along with additional issues.

Filed in December 2022 by tbk owner Marcus Davis, the lawsuit accuses Clifford and her partners of using the breakfast klub’s name and reputation to help secure the airport food and beverage contract and then cut tbk out of the deal once the bid was secured.

An excerpt from the lawsuit states: “Clifford and her partners used (the breakfast klub) to win the airport contract and are now taking steps to try to exclude (the breakfast klub) from the promised airport concessions agreement… Clifford is now evincing the real purpose of the fraud — i.e., to take over all the operations so that Clifford and her partners can make all the profits to the exclusion of (the breakfast klub).”

Under the terms of the contract, tbk was to have two locations in George Bush Intercontinental for a 10-year period. Since 2017, tbk operated two locations in IAH’s Terminal A: a full-service restaurant and an express location, counter service. The lawsuit involves the express location, which Davis says was operated by Clifford and her partners but failed to meet tbk business standards.

According to the lawsuit, “(W)hile Clifford’s partners were controlling (tbk) site customers were ignored… Customers constantly complained that (tbk)’s assigned facility had no personnel at its counter, lights were turned off during business hours, and the food items were either not consistently available and/or food items were poorly prepared and presented.”

The lawsuit alleges Clifford made several promises to secure tbk’s participation and then promptly broke them once the deal was signed. Among them: that the restaurant would be in the airport for 10 years and that tbk’s food quality and customer service requirements would be honored at all times.

The restaurant, represented by former city attorney and two-time Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall, is seeking at least $1 million in damages.

“I’m not trying to make a big stink of it,” Davis told another publication. “We put a lot of work into that. … For an operation my size, I’m not a billion-dollar corporation, I can’t just put that effort in. To have the deal snatched out from under us, in the way and manner that it was snatched from us, I thought it was unfair and I thought it was unjust.”

Clifford is neither new to securing airport contracts nor to being sued.

Clifford, who has managed airport deals and other contracts at City Hall for multiple decades, is part of Houston 8, the business group that won in 2015 the vaunted IAH concessions contract, doing so as partner to HMS Host International, a global concessionaire.

Clifford claims she’s guilty of no wrongdoing, while her lawyer, John Thomas, called the tbk lawsuit a “shakedown” attempt.

Three of Clifford’s Houston 8 business partners — NBA Hall of Famer and former Houston Rocket Clyde Drexler, Rafael Acosta and Ricardo Castaneda — sued her in 2020 for fraud claims while securing the 2015 IAH contract. Again, Clifford denied all charges, and the lawsuit was eventually settled in March 2022.