Visitors bureau pay-for-placement eatery listing draws vocal complaint

Posted Thursday, Jul. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A restaurant seeker using the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau website should be excused for thinking he was getting neutral listings of Cowtown eateries.

But until recently, places that specialized in takeout deli sandwiches or that feature scantily clad bar hostesses but who paid for their listing placement, got prominence over the city’s most revered establishments, like Ellerbe’s, Grace, Bonnell’s, Del Frisco’s and Reata.

And that upset Mike Micallef, president of Reata, the Sundance Square-based haute cowboy cuisine restaurant,and a CVB board member.

So upset, in fact, that he emailed a complaint on June 7 to the CVB’s top folks and a slew of others, from city officials and museum honchos to landlords and electricity providers. He wanted people to know.

The joints that piqued Micallef had paid a few hundred dollars to join the bureau’s Distinctive Vendor program. They were listed before a restaurant listing, itself topped by about half a dozen operations that paid several thousand dollars to be labeled a “Distinctive Dining Partner.”

He was “dismayed to find Locos Ojos was one of the featured restaurants” in the partners list, which had Jason’s Deli in the No. 1 spot, Micallef told the world. Locos Ojos is a Hispanic-themed, Hooters-like sports bar downtown.

While Jason’s does a great box lunch, “I believe we are killing our image when we promote some restaurants – Ojos Locos is a great example but The Vault is another good example from the past – because the CVB received compensation vs. caring about the customer experience.”

A few days later, then-CVB Vice President Merianne Roth defended the Distinctive Vendor program as a money maker, but agreed that the approach was not perfect. Yet, she argued, it “works to the consumer’s ultimate benefit.”

That said, Micallef and everyone he emailed were told that Ojos Locos and their ilk would run in the main restaurant list. (Reata got to the top of the list not by rejoining as a Distinctive Dining sponsor, but by paying the web program $200 directly, saving a few thousand, he told us.)

On Wednesday, CVB President and CEO Bob Jameson said the issue took longer than expected to correct, but that the remedy already was being worked on when Micallef publicly complained. (Micallef said he had been grousing for years but no one would listen.)

“Unfortunately, we had people with the lowest level of investment at a higher level of placement,” Jameson said. But the glitch was fixed about three weeks ago, he said.

Caddis Partners announces Eagle Mountain Lake project

Caddis Partners, the Dallas-based developer of assisted living and memory care communities, said Wednesday it will build a 96-bed community at Dalhart Drive and Boat Club Road, near Eagle Mountain Lake.

Called Heartis Eagle Mountain, the 61,125-square-foot center will have 54 assisted-living units and a dedicated 35-bed memory care unit. The facility is scheduled to open in summer of 2014.

Caddis Partners said recently that it would invest $100 million in senior living projects during the next two years.

Heartis communities are developed and owned by affiliates of Caddis Partners. The centers are managed by Eugene, Ore.-based Good Neighbor Care.

“We are moving full speed ahead to develop Heartis communities in a number of areas that lack high-quality senior housing,” said Matt Mattox, Caddis executive vice president and partner., in a statement.

In June, Caddis announced a 96-bed assisted-living and memory care facility in Cleburne.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

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