Supporters of beloved Third Ward restaurant The Turkey Leg Hut are criticizing a lawsuit filed against the popular smoked turkey leg purveyor in November, claiming that the suit is little more than a thinly veiled attempt to gentrify the neighborhood. And not surprisingly, the plaintiffs who filed the suit are pushing back.
The lawsuit, filed in Harris County District Court on November 20, is drawing ire from those who say that it’s an effort to push out a successful Black-owned business. “These gentrifiers have moved into these areas, and now they want to move out these black businesses,” Houston-born pundit Roland Martin said via his YouTube channel. “What you’re seeing here are white residents in Houston specifically targeting one of the most popular restaurants in the city, in a historic neighborhood, and they want them to leave.” The restaurant has garnered support from Houston and beyond, including shout-outs from Space City rapper Slim Thug and fellow smoked meat purveyor Burns Original BBQ.
Originally, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit won a temporary restraining order that shut down the Turkey Leg Hut’s smokers between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. A judge lifted the order a few days later so that the Turkey Leg Hut could meet demand during Thanksgiving week. The parties are due back in court on December 9 for a final resolution on the temporary restraining order.
Ahead of that hearing, the waters have gotten even murkier as Turkey Leg Hut owners Nakia and Lynn Price released documents claiming that the lawsuit is the culmination of a “conspiracy” intended to force them them to move the restaurant from its location on Almeda Road. In a statement provided to the press, Turkey Leg Hut owners Nakia and Lynn Price shared an email exchange, purportedly sent between individuals involved with the lawsuit, detailing the group of residents’ plan to engage an attorney and sue the Turkey Leg Hut.
The emails detail advice from attorney Cris Feldman, whose firm Feldman & Feldman filed the lawsuit against the Turkey Leg Hut, on how to best approach litigation against the restaurant. “The ultimate goal of this litigation is obviously for the TLH to be somewhere else and not on our corner, but that cannot be the stated goal,” the email reads. The email also claims that Feldman encouraged plaintiffs to establish a nonprofit organization so that they would not be individually subject to personal legal consequences in relation to the suit.
When reached for comment by Eater, Feldman doesn’t deny discussing the Turkey Leg Hut with his clients. “Of course people talked about different ways to approach things because the Turkey Leg Hut has been violating the law for months, and they keep promising to fix it and they don’t,” Feldman said. “Of course people were looking for ways to address the illegal conduct of the Turkey Leg Hut.” He also notes that the lawsuit was ultimately filed by six individuals, none of whom remained anonymous.
Feldman also takes issue with complaints about the Turkey Leg Hut’s operations being described as gentrification. “Every one of the plaintiffs lived in this area prior to the Turkey Leg Hut opening,” Feldman said. “It’s hard to understand how this is gentrification when we’re talking about basic health and safety regulations that every restaurant in the city has to abide by.”
Following the Prices’s release of the email exchange, Feldman’s firm responded with some evidence of their own, releasing a tape of Turkey Leg Hut’s attorney Jeremy Pinckney speaking with Josh King, husband of one of the plaintiffs in the suit. In a tape of the 40-minute call provided to Eater, Pinckney appears to acknowledge that the restaurant’s owners did not respond to complaints about the smoke and noise in a timely manner.
King: I think y’all need to move. This is such a major issue, they need to focus on it more.
Pinckney: You’re absolutely right. That’s not up for debate. They have not been taking this seriously and that is a factual statement. I wouldn’t be arguing with that if we were sitting in court right now.
In an email to Eater, Turkey Leg Hut publicist Sherrie Handrinos confirmed that this conversation was “one of many” phone calls between Pinckney and King. Over the course of these numerous calls, Jeremy did not know any of these calls were being recorded nor was he aware of the allegations or conspiracy that Mr. King was planning against the Turkey Leg Hut,” Handrinos wrote. Texas law permits the recording of conversations provided one party consents to the taping.
“Jeremy is not an environmental scientist. However, we, the Turkey Leg Hut, have retained a world-class environmental scientist that will debunk what has been said and the accusations being made,” Handrinos continued. “Jeremy did not have the benefit of this scientist’s expertise concerning the complaints Mr. King and his conspirators are making at the time of this call.”
Perhaps most explosively, King says in that conversation that he has seen evidence of “political protection” that is behind the city’s alleged failure to act on complaints filed against the Turkey Leg Hut, a position that Feldman’s firm made clear in the press release announcing the lawsuit. “I don’t think it’s a big secret that the Turkey Leg Hut has been getting special treatment from the city of Houston, the question is why,” Feldman said. “The Turkey Leg Hut is obviously a big supporter of Mayor Turner, I can’t elaborate beyond that.” Eater has reached out to the City of Houston for comment.
On December 9, a judge will hear the plaintiff’s request for an injunction that would prohibit the Turkey Leg Hut from using its smokers at all if they are not in compliance with City of Houston ordinances that govern restaurant operations. “The Turkey Leg Hut, they cannot provide you the necessary inspection report for the outdoor cooking facilities,” Feldman says. “Do they have a certificate of compliance? Every other restaurant has to play by the rules, every other restaurant has to comply with the law. Why are they being treated differently?”