By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
On August 6, 2007, according to court documents, von Houtman, Rodberg, Wade, and Andrews signed their names to contracts sealing their partnership in an "upscale restaurant concept to be named D Wade's."
For his licensing rights, Wade would receive 10 percent ownership or a minimum compensation of $1 million. He would be required to make four appearances total at the restaurants per year, plus attend each grand opening. "Mr. Rodberg and Mr. von Houtman led [me] to believe that they had much experience and expertise in the restaurant business," Wade later claimed in court, "and that this deal could make everybody a lot of money."
Instead, the enterprise was reminiscent of one of the Baron's marriages: stunted, hostile, and a source of copious litigation.
The first, smaller location opened with little fanfare on North Dixie Highway in Boca Raton in February 2008. The Fort Lauderdale D Wade's, a massive 34,000-square-foot restaurant located at 1451 N. Federal Hwy., launched the next month. Wade showed up for the grand opening of the dark-wood-and-leather temple-to-the-flat-screen where waitresses wore skin-tight referee-striped outfits. He even brought along his mom.
Professional reviewers never made it to the restaurants, but many amateurs were unkind. "They basically turned the whole restaurant into a huge cheesy bar [with] display cases filled with D. Wade stuff," commented one Chowhound.com user. "Food is typical cheap bar food — fried this and that, potato skins, burgers, etc. ... What a disappointment."
Behind the scenes, according to claims Wade made in court, his partners were hatching schemes to cut him out of profits. Four months after the Fort Lauderdale location opened, von Houtman sold his stake in the restaurants. The new owners entered negotiations to expand the chain with former Kentucky governor and KFC founder John Y. Brown — "unbeknownst to Mr. Wade."
Soon after, Wade claims in court papers, he was asked to invest $1 million in an under-construction Aventura location. He declined.
The 4-month-old Boca Raton D Wade's aborted in May 2008. The Fort Lauderdale restaurant followed suit two months later — right around the time the basketball star helped Team USA win a gold medal. Wade then suspended the restaurants' use of his name, according to court documents, effectively terminating the chain roughly a week before the Aventura location was scheduled to open.
The controversy also spelled the end for a side venture in which the baron claims to still be involved. The partners had invested in a planned chain of five Fort Lauderdale-based charter high schools, to be called D. Wade's Schools; a nonprofit called Mavericks in Education founded them. Wade was given an undisclosed percentage of shares in the schools, which would specialize in reforming dropouts. The CEO of Mavericks, Mark Thimmig, claims that after the restaurant deal began to go sour, Wade "dropped off the face of the Earth."
"The contract called for him to take an active part in promoting the schools," Thimmig says. "I haven't been able to reach him. It's a tragedy of missed opportunity."
The next year would have Wade named in three lawsuits and damaged by divorce-court revelations. His sparkling image was tarnished for the first time.
But von Houtman was not content to let the drama unfold in court. Beginning in late 2008, he began firing off emails to Riley lobbying the Heat president to "influence" a settlement to the restaurant lawsuits. And in February 2009, he launched a smear campaign against the Heat superstar, meeting with reporters from the Palm Beach Post and New Times to make allegations about Wade's personal life.
The baron cast Wade as a carousing pothead and provided New Times with a loose timeline of what he calls "disturbing behavior." One anecdote included Wade and actor Jamie Foxx smoking a joint at Mansion Nightclub in Miami Beach with von Houtman tagging along. Another had the superstar trolling for waitresses at their restaurants and using a rented Brickell office as a "place for Dwyane... to bring girls to." The baron offers no evidence to back up his claims besides his own word. Photos he touts as showing Wade and rapper Trick Daddy smoking weed on a Chicago stage don't clearly show either puffing anything.
The only one of von Houtman's claims that is verifiable is the least shocking. In September 2007, Wade was driving a $400,000 Maybach in Aventura (while texting, the baron says) when he plowed into the rear bumper of an old-model Mercedes waiting at a stoplight. To keep the accident from being reported, von Houtman claims he sent the young female driver a check for the damage. The woman's mother, Reva Roiter, confirms that story.
Von Houtman says he's still owed the $6,800 he paid for the accident — a figure that represents a paltry 4 percent of Wade's per-game salary.