In a surprising turn of events, chef Mark Cox and his wife and business partner, Lisa, announced via a press release yesterday that Mark’s American Cuisine, at 1658 Westheimer, will “suspend service” after May 29. When and if it reopens, it is very unlikely it will return as the same establishment that has been a tried and true home of fine dining in Houston for 19 years. Cox is quoted in the press release as saying, “Mark’s has received many honors and it has many fans, but the restaurant business is always changing, going in new directions and Lisa and I decided now would be a good time to step back and choose a new direction.”
The decision is surprising because Cox had as of late been working on reinvigorating the menu and features there, adding a happy hour, monthly specials and more. The effort was inspired in part by a hospital stay that made the chef feel fortunate he was able to get back to work.
Perhaps, though, the changes weren't getting the results he wanted. We visited the restaurant in March to check out one of the new monthly features, and the chef said, “When I came back full-time, I was so happy to be back to work that I felt it was a blessing to still be doing this. I figure I’ll make the most of it — use my mind a little more and coach ‘the kids’ more. I can’t run and do all the things I used to do when I was 25.”
The Coxes are taking the summer off to decide their next move and the ultimate fate of their restaurant. It will function through the summer as an event space, continue providing catering services and fulfill all hosting commitments.
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This development closely follows the closing of The Marque, a private club in CityCentre that retained Cox as culinary director.
Mark’s American Cuisine has existed longer than the church the building was originally built for in 1927. The last service was held on July 10, 1938. Mark’s opened in 1997 — coincidentally, also on July 10. Cox opened it after 11 years of working for the Vallone Restaurant Group.
No matter what is ultimately decided, an undeniable legacy is the numerous chefs mentored by Cox who have gone on to run their own restaurants. They include Randy Rucker (Bramble), Ryan Hildebrand (Triniti), Travis Lenig (Little Liberty), Jordan Asher (Ritual), Polo Beccera (Post Oak Grill) and Eric Aldis (Corner Table, Agave Estates).
Another legacy is the thousands of friends, family and couples who have enjoyed special dinners at Mark’s. Until May 29, there’s still an opportunity to go back for one last nostalgic meal. After that, it will just be a matter of waiting and watching to see what will happen for that old church building next.