After Haven closed, chef Randy Evans announced that he would begin consulting with restaurants and other food-related businesses through his company, Southern Son Restaurant Consulting. And his first gig is with James Coney Island. In fact, James Coney Island called Evans two days after Haven closed.
"They called me on August 2 and we had a good conversation," Evans says. "I was still going through my other issues with Haven that I needed to get past. Officially we started September 1 with them and [could] actually get rolling and not have any other issues that Haven had associated with it. So September 1 was our first time to get started with it and get an idea of what everyone wanted. We were all on the same page which was more than exciting to me. This was a first time for me to consult and it's exciting to do something different, different than the white tablecloth concept that I have been associated with the whole time."
Evans has always been a huge fan of James Coney Island. He grew up in Houston and remembers frequenting the Crosstimbers location. So, when JCI gave him a call to begin working with them, he knew this was something he wanted to do, especially after participating in the Chefs & Show Dogs promotion during the local chain's 90th anniversary last year.
"You're never sure with a company that has 20 stores if there's enough talent to be able to recreate dishes that you make at a normal restaurant, like Haven, and they are," Evans says. "There is plenty of talent in their business model to be able to recreate things and make wild boar chili from scratch and have it go across all 20 stores and have it exactly like I wanted it in my kitchen. I knew that that was a company that had a good culture about it and knew that food was an important aspect of the dining scene. It's not just service, but the quality of food has to be there and they kept that after 91 years of experience."
Darrin Straughan, president of JCI Grill, says Evans will serve as a consultant with the 91-year-old Houston establishment and will help revamp the menu as the restaurant chain re-brands itself into JCI Grill, which kicked off last year. Evans will consult with JCI for six months.
"What we have is our legacy menu which is all of the coneys, chili and frito pies that we are famous for. That legacy menu won't be touched at all and never will be," Straughan says. "But everything else on our menu which is what we call the JCI Grill menu, from our hamburgers, our chicken sandwiches, our salads, Randy is going to evaluate all of those products and make suggestions that could upgrade them and will also come up with our new line of items we are slated to do, such as some Funky Dogs as we call them, that will be different than our gourmet line; we are looking at adding another salad that will have some beef in it instead of chicken, and some other sandwiches and also some sides. One of the sides we are looking at is elotes, which is the Mexican corn on the cob famous in Mexico."
Evans says he wants to add more options to the menu at JCI so everyone can find something that they enjoy. He says he already has a laundry list of items he wants to try out on the customers, such as a flauta dog and other "dishes on a stick."
"[I'm] also working on some salads; I really think that's something that everyone needs to go there and eat. You can't go eat something smothered in cheese and chili and breading all the time," Evans says. "So there's a fajita salad that we are tinkering with right now trying to get some tastings together and I just now started looking at meat. That's the big thing. I want to make sure that we are getting a quality product on the table and so we are looking at the meat right now, there might be an inside skirt, something like that, or a flank steak. Someone can come in and have a nice salad."
Straughan says JCI Grill hopes to target a demographic of 25 to 44 year old individuals, and he hopes bringing Evans on board as a consultant will help the local chain achieve that goal.
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"Last year we did the Show Dogs promotion; when we did that, Randy was our first chef in that promotion. He did a very good hot dog for us. When we asked around for chefs, he was the first one that came out on the line. He has been a big fan of ours," Straughan says. "I also highly respected his work from my standpoint. I think Randy is a great chef and he's very good with his knowledge in food. His style of cooking and his way of looking at things could bring some value to our menu and therefore to our customers."
According to Straughan, the new menu items will be unveiled in a majority of the James Coney Island locations in about six to eight weeks. Evans says he will begin with limited time offers of certain items, such as pork sliders glazed with a guajillo chili marinade. This will give JCI and Evans an opportunity to see if the new menu items are accepted by the customers.
Aside from JCI Grill, Evans is also consulting with an upcoming restaurant, Ocean Beach Bar & Grill in Galveston, serving as a spokesperson and recipe consultant for 44 Farms and developing a contract with a Texas-based grocery store seeking to open restaurants inside Houston locations.
"For me it's exciting to start off with a storied company," Evans says. "There's a lot of history and I'm a big history buff, and their ideals and my ideals coincide with one another, and so for me it was an easy decision to begin working with them. It's more than just a big giant company where it's empty faces. These are real people that care about what's going on and care about their staff, and their staff is strong enough to do real food and that's exciting."