It was a celebration last night at Haven, chef Randy Evans's farm-to-table restaurant famous for its fried chicken and upscale comfort food. December 19 would have marked Haven's fifth anniversary, but the restaurant closed unexpectedly after service last night to make way for a new business in the cozy space.
"We had a great night last night," Evans says. "There was a huge crowd, and everyone was toasting. We kinda had the last hurrah, if you will."
Evans says he'd known the restaurant was up for sale by the owner, Rhea Wheeler, since January, but he wasn't expecting the text he received Thursday telling him not to place an order for Houston Restaurant Weeks, in which Haven was expected to participate.
"It gives me a chance to go on and do something different," Evans says. "It makes it easier to leave when big things happen. I left Brennan's because of the fire after Hurricane Ike, and now I'm moving on again."
It seems that Wheeler is liquidating much of his properties due to health problems, leaving an opening for the owner of Union Kitchen, Paul Miller, to purchase the space. According to a report by the Houston Chronicle, Miller plans to turn the building into "an upscale, chef-driven restaurant overseen by Paul Lewis, formerly of Osteria Mazzantini and Cullen's."
Evans is taking the closure in stride and already making plans to open a new venture sometime in the future, possibly in the Garden Oaks/Heights area.
"Simple counter service, true southern food, straightforward, soul food," Evans says, naming some of the descriptors he has in mind for the new restaurant. "None of that white tablecloth stuff. I've been there and done that most of my career. It's time to peel the layers back and focus more on family food."
He estimates that opening is at least a year out, even though he has some properties in mind, because it takes a long time to get permitting from the city and he wants to do the whole thing on his own, without an investor calling the shots. He also wants to take some time to be with his family, which includes seven- and four-year-old children. Evans says his kids are thrilled that they'll be able to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day with their dad this year.
In the meantime, he's also planning on doing some catering and consulting, and he's already gotten requests from Houstonians who love his food.
"I'm sort of open to whatever comes my way," Evans says. "I like to cook, so I'll probably get down to just cooking again. You end up managing more than you cook sometimes, so I'm getting back down to just cooking."
He hasn't given much thought to the specifics of the menu at his eventual new restaurant yet, but he emphasizes that it will be simple. Fried okra, smothered pork chops and fried shrimp and oysters might find their way to the menu. He anticipates continuing his emphasis on local ingredients, but perhaps not to the extent he did at Haven, which had its own garden.
Based on the response to our initial article about Haven closing, we imagine Evans will have no trouble making a name for himself with a new, simple, homestyle family restaurant. He's thankful for all the support he's gotten already, but says he isn't quite ready to go online and read comments.
"I'm not reading Facebook now cause it'll make me tear up," he says. "It's been great, but I'm going to go back to what I do, what I love to eat."