Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: Chris Shepherd Departs Underbelly, Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina Heights

Chris Shepherd is ready to focus on Southern Smoke.
Photo by Catchlight Photography
Chris Shepherd is ready to focus on Southern Smoke.

Chris Shepherd is leaving Underbelly Hospitality. The chef and restaurateur founded the hospitality group, along with investors, and it was named for his first restaurant, the now-shuttered Underbelly. The James Beard Award-winning chef has been one of Houston's most famous and familiar faces, helping to put the city on the map culinarily while bringing national  attention to the diversity of cuisines available in H-Town.

Here at the Houston Press, we have covered Shepherd's new ventures and various culinary transitions on a regular basis. Shepherd is a man who likes to switch things up. Over the years he has created a number of different concepts such as Hay Merchant, the now closed craft beer hangout, UB Preserv, which took over the Underbelly space and One Fifth, his five-concept restaurant experiment that actually became even more with pop-ups. Both UB Preserv and One Fifth closed in the past year as part of his fluctuating plans.

He opened Georgia James next to Hay Merchant in 2018 as an upscale steak house, named for his parents. When he decided to leave the space at 1100 Westheimer, closing both Georgia James and Hay Merchant in the process, he moved Georgia James to the One Fifth space during the buildout for the steakhouse at Regent Square, where it recently opened. Underbelly Hospitality also operates Wild Oats and Underbelly Burger at Houston Farmers Market and Georgia James Tavern at Market Square Tower.
click to enlarge
Georgia James just opened at Regent Square July 1.
Photo by Anne Marie D'Arcy
As for his departure from the restaurant group, Shepherd says he is ready to focus on smaller projects and his charity Southern Smoke Foundation. "Southern Smoke is on a path that myself, Lindsey (Shepherd's wife) and the whole team are very proud of and it's time to push that even further."

The philanthropic chef founded Southern Smoke in 2015 to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society after a friend and former sommelier, Antonio Gianola, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In 2017, after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and the surrounding area, many employees and restaurant owners were greatly affected by the floods and Southern Smoke created its Emergency Relief Fund to help hospitality professionals in crisis. It was a welcome relief for many in the industry when the COVID 19 pandemic shuttered restaurants and bars, leaving many people jobless.

To date, Southern Smoke has distributed more than $9.8 million to people in need of financial aid, from helping with medical bills to paying rent for those who were unemployed during the pandemic. For the future, the team at Southern Smoke are expanding the free mental health initiatives into five states within the next few months, with a mission to be in all 50 by 2028.
click to enlarge
Has the King abdicated the throne?
Photo by Julie Soefer
Underbelly Hospitality will now be operated by MLB Capital Partners, its largest investor, according to the Houston Chronicle. Shepherd and MLB, led by Todd Mason, Jeff Lindenberger and Fred Baca, are currently working on the buyout details and acquiring the chef's interest in the group.  Georgia James, Wild Oats, Underbelly Burger and Georgia James Tavern will continue to operate as usual for now with the same executive chefs, most of them mentored by Shepherd over the years. Pastore, Shepherd's highly-anticipated Italian-American restaurant, will open adjacent to the new Georgia James at Regent Square, possibly by the end of 2022. It will operate under the Underbelly Hospitality umbrella.

For many who have watched Shepherd's rise to the top, locally and nationally, the chef's reinvention of himself is always a fun surprise but this time, it's a doozie. For him, however, Underbelly is no longer a restaurant, but a way of life. And he has advice for the rest of us. "Explore your surroundings. Learn about people, where they're from and how to dine at the same table. Learn from anyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, age or gender. Understand that everyone has a story to tell. We are always learning. It's time for me to learn a new chapter."

Fortunately, Shepherd says Houston is his home and he's not going anywhere. "I'm excited to see what the future holds for all of us."
click to enlarge
Guests can load up on tasty salsas, Gulf seafood and delicious meats at Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina.
Photo by Goode Company

Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina
, 1801 Yale, has not set an opening date but the restaurant will begin hiring staff July 25 and interested parties can apply online.

Goode Company Restaurants leased the former Down House space in 2021 for the new restaurant. The Heights spot will be the third location for the company's Tex-Mex concept which debuted in The Woodlands in September 2017, followed quickly by a second location on the Katy Freeway in December of the same year.

In a press release, Levi Goode, Chef/President of Goode Company Restaurants, said, "Goode Co. is always looking for great spaces and new neighborhoods to become  part of and we are excited to be opening Kitchen & Cantina in the Heights."
click to enlarge
Combo fajitas come with an empanada lagniappe.
Photo by Goode Company
The menu is, what it calls, "unapologetically Tex-Mex" with items that are standard favorites in Texas such as fajitas and enchiladas. However, there are seafood items as well and its Campechana Extra is raved about throughout the city. There are several combo plates like the Comida Deluxe with beef or chicken fajitas, smoked chicken flauta and a handmade tamale or the Old No. 7 with a crispy beef taco, cheese enchiladas and a pork carnitas tostada. One section of the menu, South Texas and Ranch Inspired, offers entrees such as Redfish on the Half Shell, Tampiquena and Lauguna Madre Shrimp. Like the rest of the Goode Company concepts, the famous Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie is available along with Spanish desserts such as Tres Leches and Churros.

There are a variety of margaritas, palomas, micheladas and frozen drinks on the cocktail menu.

Goode Company Restaurants was founded more than four decades ago by Levi's father, Jim Goode, and has grown to include numerous restaurants including Goode Company Barbecue, Goode Company Seafood, Goode Company Taqueria, Goode Company Armadillo Palace and most recently, its Goode Co. Fish Camp in The Woodlands.
click to enlarge
There's more room for fine foods at DR Delicacy.
Photo by Lindsey Cooper
DR Delicacy, 1291 N. Post Oak, opened July 18 in a new facility that is three times the size of its former location in the Lazybrook/Timbergrove area. The fine food company was founded in 2014 by Diane Roederer and supplies Houston customers and retailers with luxury goodies such as caviar, truffles, foie gras, cheeses and tapas.

Roederer said of the new space, "Our new location is such a thrilling upgrade, nestled just outside the West Loop and conveniently close to highways, all while offering so much more space for international delicacies." She says she is very excited to have customers discover all the exceptional products available. The larger space will also allow the debut of its new service as a cheese monger with a huge array of curated cheeses.
click to enlarge
Passionate foodies will find a bounty of gourmet goodies.
Photo by Lindsey Cooper
The new brick and mortar will begin selling wine in the coming months and there are plans to host tastings and other gourmand events in the future.

DR Delicacy is also known for hosting the annual Truffle Masters event in Houston, an indulgent celebration of truffles that brings together some of the city's best chefs to compete and create. DR Delicacy began the event in 2015 as the Truffle Charity Challenge. Truffle Masters 2022 benefitted the Texas Food and Wine alliance.
click to enlarge
The Shakerato at Minuti is a cool beverage for summer.
Photo by Minuti Coffee
Minuti Coffee, 11551 Aerospace Avenue, will open July 23 in the Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington Airport. The coffee shop is a blend of traditional Italian coffee house with an American touch. It will be the first food and drink concept ever for the museum and Ellington Airport itself. It is located just inside the museum's entrance and also has an exterior access as well.

The Lone Star Flight Museum draws in visitors of all ages and Minuti Coffee will give guests a menu of items such as Italian-style iced coffees called Shakeratos and the Cioco Deluxe, its signature drinkable chocolate. The shop also serves Biospresso, a healthy yogurt-based espresso alternative to energy drinks. In addition to Italian blend coffees and smoothies, there are munchies such as pastries, sandwiches, wraps and salads for both breakfast and lunch.
click to enlarge
The Lone Star Flight Museum is a must for lovers of aviation.
Photo by Lone Star Flight Museum
The new location is a partnership with Minuti owner Ardavan Motamedi and the museum. Motamedi, who operates more than a dozen Minuti Coffee shops in the Greater Houston area says, " Part of my business includes a commitment to creating positive effect in Houston. I wanted to do something big to support the museum so this Minuti Coffee location has been donated to the Lone Star Flight Museum for their visitors and the community to enjoy."

LSFM President and CEO Lt. General (ret.) Doug Owens said that the museum's relocation to Ellington Airport included plans for a food and drink experience and many options were considered over the years but he knew he found the right fit with Motamedi and Minuti Coffee. " Ardavan's generosity fulfills a huge goal for us. Now, visitors and early morning coffee drinkers can enjoy Minuti Coffee right here at LSFM!"
Let it drip.
Photo by Blackbird Photography
Urban Bird Hot Chicken, 5404 Kirby, opened July 18. Located in West U, this is the third location for the Nashville hot chicken restaurant which first opened in Katy in September 2020. It recently opened its second store at Eldridge Crossing this past March.

The veteran-owned brand serves a simple menu of all natural chicken tenders made to order. Diners can have the tenders in a basket with bread, fries, pickles and Bird Sauce or opt for the Tenders Sando, two jumbo tenders on a toasted brioche bun topped with kale slaw, Bird Sauce and pickles. There's also the Chicken & Waffle or tenders by the piece. For vegetarians, there's even a meatless Beyond version.

Sides include crinkle cut fries, sweet potato waffle fries, mac & cheese, kale slaw and seasoned street corn. There's a kids menu, too.

The restaurant offers six different spice levels like Country (no heat), Nashville Hot and Fire in the Hole, which the menu says will burn you twice. We think we get the drift.

Noodles & Dumplings
, 16630 El Camino Real, opened the first week of July in the Clear Lake area. Founded in El Paso in 2017, this is the first location for the Greater Houston area. True to its name, there is a variety of noodle dishes (hand-pulled) and homemade dumplings.

Guests can dine-in or order online for pick up. The menu starts with shareables like Takoyaki with tonkatsu sauce, fried jalapenos, shrimp tempura and Fried Green Onion Pancake. There are soups such as Black Garlic Oil Ramen and Lanzhou Spicy Beef Noodle. For entrees, there's a wide variety of Asian dishes such as Sesame Chicken, Szechuan Fried Tofu, Green Pepper Steak and Mongolian Beef.

The hand crafted bao options include Xiao Long Bao (pork and broth), pan fried pork and barbecued pork. There are also sweet bao like chocolate, red bean or custard. For dumpling lovers, there is a selection such as pork and scallion, Samsun (shrimp and egg) and vegetable.

Verdine, 449 W. 19th, will offer a Tour of East Asia menu July 21 through July 23 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The vegan restaurant is reimagining Asian dishes with 100 percent plant-based ingredients. The special and very limited-time menu is offered along with the regular menu. Guests can begin with Gochujang Bao Buns, Orange Cauliflower or Dragon Royale Maki Roll then continue the tour with the Seoul Bibimbap Bowl, Mongolian "Beef" and Broccoli or Happy Buddha Bowl. Other treats include Fried Rice with Just Egg and Cup O' Ramen with organic wheat noodles and shiitake mushrooms in a creamy miso broth. Desserts include a Vanilla Lemongrass Creme Brulee and Matcha Coconut Cake.
The Double Double may be heading your way.
Photo by Lorretta Ruggiero
In-N-Out Burger, 1717 Lake Woodlands, will open in the former Sweet Tomatoes space outside The Woodlands Mall. There has been no confirmation of an opening date. The Press received a tip from a reader that a lease had been signed this past June for another location of the popular burger chain in Webster. It is planned for the Baybrook East development at Interstate 45 and El Dorado Boulevard.

We reached out to the marketing department for more information, but have yet to verify. We will continue to follow the lead and update when there is more information.

Arabella, 6377 Westheimer, has introduced a new Build Your Own Bowl concept with a halal twist. The new bowls are only available at the Westheimer location with plans to expand the concept to the other two locations in the future.

The menu includes Mediterranean fare such as Fried Cauliflower, Chickpea Salad and Cilantro Potatoes along with the restaurant's signature shawarma meats. Vegetarians can opt for falafel as the protein.
click to enlarge
Summertime-inspired cocktails debut at LORO.
Photo by Hai Hospitality
LORO Asian Smokehouse & Bar, 1001 W. 11th, has introduced two new summer cocktails. The Jasmine Honeybee is made with gin, lemon juice, jasmine honey syrup, Ancho Reyes Verde and mint, garnished with an orange slice. The Blackberry Julep is a refreshing libation of bourbon, lemon juice, elderflower liqueur, blackberry puree, mint and lemon wheel.

The new cocktails are available for dine-in at a reasonable $9 by the glass. Customers may also purchase the beverages to-go. The take-out pouches are $12.75 while the pitcher, and you know you want a pitcher, is $39.75.