Put It In Writing: Gay Man Learns Tough Lesson After Losing His Partner – and Everything They Built.

by Alfred Engstrand

Hello, my name is Alfred Engstrand. I’m from San Antonio, Texas. 

When I was 25 years old, I was approached by an older gentleman who needed my help to run his restaurant, because I had a little bistro in the ’80s. I didn’t have enough time, and he kept bothering me and finally found out where I lived, came to me one day and threw a wad of keys into my hands and said, “The restaurant’s closed until you help me reopen it.” 

My partner back then, Carlton, and I went. He goes, “Go, go. Go help him.” 

I said, “Okay, I’ll go give you advice.” 

That one hour turned into 30 days later, trying to help him get this restaurant up and running again. I found out that the bistro that we opened, Carlton and I, he actually sold it. 

I was like, “What’s going on? I mean, this is my bistro.” 

Carlton goes, “You were never here for the past 30 days, so I got rid of it.” That ended our relationship, and I went back to Will to continue with the restaurant that I was working on. 

Over time, my working relationship became a partnership. We lived together. We worked together 24 hours. We actually bought a house, literally around the corner in the King William District. Our agreement was that he owned 51%, and I had 49% of the restaurant. 

Two years into the relationship, it’s Valentine’s Day. We had a 45-minute wait, and around 7:30, Will fell to the ground. I saw him fall and I thought, okay, maybe he tripped and got tangled up between the tables, because it was a small, small restaurant. I’m like, “Get up, get up. You’re embarrassing.” 

Finally, one of the guests said, “He had a heart attack.” I’m like, I didn’t know what a heart attack was. I’d never seen one. I called 911 and they came in. The heart attack was fatal inside the restaurant. 

I’m digging through his stuff, I found his ex-wife, who I knew he had an ex-wife. I reached out to her to get information on what to do with his body and what cemetery, what religious, and she flew in. When she arrived in the restaurant, I found out that they were never divorced. He never signed the divorce papers.

It became a nightmare, because she realized that it just meant more money for her. She saw dollar signs. She saw a phone book on our cash register counter and literally opened that phone book. Right in the middle of the phone book was a two-page ad, one of our biggest attorneys in San Antonio back in 1992, and literally took the payphone and called. That man, that attorney showed up at our restaurant. 

I was like, “Well, wait a minute. What’s going on?” I got an attorney on my side, and we had no case. That was what the courts told us, told me, that I had no case because, in 1992, gay marriage was not recognized. In fact, it was very embarrassing, because we did have the 10 o’clock news at the courtroom, court steps. I’m coming out of the courtroom, and I was only 25 years old. I still was not comfortable with who I was.


I had no case because, in 1992, gay marriage was not recognized.

In 48 hours, the business, she inherited the restaurant, our home that we just got. My father, for the first time came to my rescue, and he was worried about me, and he thought I was going to commit suicide. I’m like, What? But I did sit across the street at a laundromat of the restaurant for about 30 days every day, staring at our restaurant, while I saw dumpsters go in and just completely tear it all apart. At the same time, I had to move out, because there were people who served me papers to vacate our home, because my name was not on the mortgage. 

On June 1st, I had to figure out what I was going to do, and we always wanted to open a second location in Austin, Texas. I took one of our staff waiters and I said, “Ray, you’re going to help me move. We’re going to go to Austin, Texas.” 

I was 25 years old in a new city, didn’t know a person, and no one would give me a job. I didn’t realize this town, Austin, everyone has a degree. I never went to college. Because nobody will give me a job, I started cleaning houses and started cooking for people, for couples. What I was good at at 25 was, clean their house, have their supper ready, serve their first two courses, and then when desserts came, I had candles and the hot water in their tubs. And you know, and then I exited. I always left a bottle of champagne, and that was my calling card. It just got bigger and bigger, and 30 years later, I have a multi-million dollar catering company. 

So my current relationship for 20 years, even though we love each other, we’ve never had an argument, which is so weird, but we do have everything in writing. It’s all sewn up. His family and my family knows exactly what to do when that moment comes. Our gay rights are always under attack, especially with the state we live in. I hear rumors that if certain people are elected, we might even go backwards or reverse and take our marriage away from us. It is very, very important, in my thoughts, that we have everything in writing. 

I would take the time and learn about the law, so you’re not scrambling at the last second and trying to figure out what’s coming to you or what you’re entitled to before somebody else takes it away.


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