MasterMinds 2012 Revisited: The Pilot Light Restaurant Group on the Perils of Publicity

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After being named one of our MasterMinds Awards winners in January, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, the duo behind the Pilot Light Restaurant group, got a little bit of unwanted attention.

"We got shut down by the health department," Siegel-Gardner said.

The two friends, who met in kitchens in New York City, got their Houston start with the Just August Project, a monthlong series of pop-up dinners in 2010. By the following fall, they were cooking meals in the stock room of the Westheimer clothing boutique Mortar while looking for a space to start a restaurant of their own.

The health department didn't like that very much.

"We were basically at the end of our commitment with the story anyway," Siegel-Gardner said.

"We always saw it as a finite project," adds Gallivan. "It was a microcosm of a restaurant. We had the advantage of having regulars before we opened, since it started with an underground network."

Earlier this fall, the two got their wish. The first section of their multi-concept restaurant, The Pass & Provisions, opened in September. The Provisions is a casual dining room featuring creative pizzas, pasta and a bar. The Pass, a smaller, more upscale dining room with views of the kitchen, will open November 27.

"It's definitely been a wild ride. We've gone from serving eight people a night for tastings to a three-prong restaurant," Gallivan said. "It's surreal. It's something we've been planning for a long time."

In January, the two told our Steve Jansen that they were looking for restaurant space in central Houston, and that the Montrose would be ideal. Both said that at times they felt exasperated with their search. They ended up moving into a building on Taft Street just south of Allen Parkway that formerly housed Gravitas, which closed unexpectedly in January. The building was also once an Antone's.

"Luckily we held out long enough," Gallivan said. "This building has a lot of history. It's always been used for food service."

"Growing up in this ZIP code, we think about this area as the center of Houston. Especially with Provisions, we always wanted it to feel like a neighborhood bar," Siegel-Gardner said.

After their kitchen at Mortar was shut down, the $2,000 no-strings-attached prize money came in handy.

"We bought a lot of beer," Gallivan joked. "But really, it supplemented the project, and helped sustain us in finding a permanent space."

That comment illustrates the way the two work together, and play together -- especially in conversation. When asked if they had any advice for future MasterMind winners, one of them said, "Just keep on keeping' on."

"That was Terrence," Siegel-Gardner said. "I would never say something like that. But there are probably people out there who are working on things and haven't figured it all out yet. It's cool to get recognition for something you wouldn't normally get recognized for."

"Coordinate your tux rentals," Gallivan said. "I would also say to take advantage of it."

"And if you're running some sort of illegal business," Siegel-Gardner adds, "refuse the award."

Nominations are now open for the fifth annual MasterMind Award competition honoring the best in Houston arts. We're looking for artistic types who are changing our creative and cultural landscape in the Houston area.

A committee of Press representatives will evaluate the potential honorees in each field, and then pick winners. Three winners will each receive a check for $2,000 along with a plaque at a special ceremony that is part of the Press's annual Artopia Party, celebrated at the Winter Street Studios on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

Deadline for nominations: By 5 p.m. Friday, December 7, 2012. To nominate someone, e-mail masterminds@houstonpress.com or send your nominations to MasterMinds Nominations, Houston Press, 1621 Milam St., Houston, TX 77002.

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