Restaurant News

Bon Appetit Names Chris Williams "The Hospitality Hero"

Chris Williams is providing food to those in need.
Chris Williams is providing food to those in need. Photo by Jenn Duncan
click to enlarge Chris Williams is providing food to those in need. - PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN
Chris Williams is providing food to those in need.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Despite Houston's diverse and brilliant restaurant scene, our city sometimes doesn't get the love it deserves nationally. Over the past couple of years, that has begun to change. More and more of our superb chefs and restaurants have received national and international recognition, including James Beard Award-winning chefs like Chris Shepherd and Hugo Ortega, not to mention the numerous nominations many of the Bayou City's chefs have received as semi-finalists and finalists for the prestigious award.

And many of these chefs not only serve creative and tasty food but they also help out our local communities with their non-profit foundations, fund-raising events and food and financial distributions during our seemingly endless string of natural disasters.
click to enlarge Chris Williams sans mask. - PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN
Chris Williams sans mask.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Now Houston's Chris Williams, owner and executive chef at Lucille's, has been recognized by Bon Appetit magazine as one of its "Heads of the Table," a new take on its annual Best New Restaurants list. According to the food and wine publication, the list honors the "trailblazing, community-building, future-making leaders changing the restaurant industry." Williams is one of only 12 persons to make the inaugural list. The October 2021 print version is available on newsstands now or readers can check out the list here at bonappetit.com. The magazine's editor, Dawn Davis, appeared on CBS Mornings September 14 to announce the honorees and Lucille's was singled out by Gayle King in particular.
click to enlarge Lucille B. Smith reigns over the private dining room at Lucille's. - PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN
Lucille B. Smith reigns over the private dining room at Lucille's.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Williams' delicious Southern fare is no secret to Houstonians who have enjoyed his Famous Chili Biscuits and fried Yardbird since Lucille's first opened in 2012. The restaurant was named for his great-grandmother, Lucille B. Smith, who inspired not only his cooking, but his community activism as well. Smith first opened a catering business in 1913 in Fort Worth and the profits from the business helped her to fund community service projects and advocacy initiatives. That ethos of helping others and giving back to the community is what inspired Williams to begin his own mission of aiding the less fortunate.
click to enlarge Volunteers help to get Lucille's community garden growing. - PHOTO BY AYAAN AHSAN/AHSAN'S MEDIA HOUSE
Volunteers help to get Lucille's community garden growing.
Photo by Ayaan Ahsan/Ahsan's Media House
At the start of the pandemic, Williams was helping to feed frontline workers in Houston. His efforts got the attention of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that helps to feed people during crises. Working with WCK, Williams launched Lucille's 1913, a community kitchen that helps to feed seniors in need in local communities such as Sunnyside, Acres Home and the neighborhoods of the Third and Fifth Wards. According to the website, the kitchen is able to provide 686 meals a day to seniors plus an additional 89 meals a day at the Imani School, adjacent to Lucille's 1913 kitchen at Power Center in Southwest Houston.
click to enlarge Chris Williams and Nancy Kinder dish up meals at Lucille's 1913 kitchen. - PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN
Chris Williams and Nancy Kinder dish up meals at Lucille's 1913 kitchen.
Photo by Jenn Duncan
Besides Williams' culinary prowess at his restaurant and his work in feeding underserved and food-insecure communities, the chef also helped local restaurant and bar communities in Houston who were suffering due to the pandemic restrictions. He launched a bar pop-up program on Lucille's patio allowing out-of-work bartenders to take over the space and create their own bar menus. The bartenders kept 100 percent of the profits which amounted to more than $50,000 spread out among the participants.

In February 2021, Williams founded Lucille's Hospitality Group which includes the restaurant, Lucille's 1913 and the upcoming Late August, a restaurant collaboration between Williams and superstar chef Dawn Burrell, who most recently was a finalist for season 18 of Top Chef. It will open at The Ion later this year.
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Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.