The Eating...Our Words 100: Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats at gratifi, a.k.a. Ziggy's

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As discussed a few weeks ago, Ziggy's Healthy Grill has undergone a lot of recent changes under the stewardship of owner Kevin Strickland. Ziggy's Healthy Grill has changed to gratifi -- what Strickland calls simply an "American bistro" -- and was the first restaurant in Houston to score a Paws on Patios permit. Strickland himself was vital in the creation of Paws on Patios, along with friend Pat Walsh, and is now busily finding ways to continue supporting his Houston community.

Last month, Strickland threw a dog costume contest for Halloween that -- along with a silent auction -- went to benefit Barrio Dogs. And for the recent Houston Beer Week festivities, gratifi hosted chef Randy Rucker for a beer dinner that featured two special kegs from Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. Items like Texas-brewed craft beer and Texas-distilled liquors for clever cocktails are increasingly prominent on gratifi's new menu -- and that's not all Strickland has planned for Montrose.

Who he is:

Strickland is the owner of gratifi, known as Ziggy's Healthy Grill until last week. He bought majority ownership in the nearly 20-year-old restaurant five years ago after working in accounting for 17 years. Although he's reluctant to call himself the chef, Strickland plans the menu and makes many of the items himself -- including the buttermilk biscuits and jam for breakfast.

In his words, however, Strickland simply says: "I'm a restaurateur, which is a fancy French word which means 'he who runs around herding cats which are on fire.' I put out fires and I herd cats."

Why does he love his job?

"French fries," Strickland says. The unlimited supply of french fries. (To be fair, the sweet potato fries at gratifi are really great.)

What inspires him in his job?

Making and learning from mistakes -- an answer anyone should strive to give.

"You are only as good as the last meal you serve," Strickland notes. "A restaurant gives you an opportunity to make it better, more interesting every time. And the opportunities to learn are endless. Especially from the mistakes. Oh lord, the mistakes we make!"

What inspires him about Houston?

As expected of someone who's worked so hard to build a community at gratifi/Ziggy's, Strickland is similarly inspired by Houston's famously close-knit food community.

"I haven't worked in other cities," admits Strickland, "but I can honestly say the food culture here is phenomenal. I've met a lot of restaurant owners, chefs, bar owners and baristas over the years. What a supportive, giving, competitive, creative community we have here!"

If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

"I'd be a restaurant critic. I love food and I love words!"

Calm down, Strickland. The grass ain't always greener.

If you weren't in Houston, where would you be?

"It sure as hell wouldn't be Dallas."

What's next for him?

"We've just changed our format and name so I've got a full plate to launch our new restaurant for the next few months! I never have to use the word 'healthy' again!"

The Eating...Our Words 100:

Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer and Educator at Spec's Sam Ray of Republic National Server Thai Van of Kata Robata Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile Benjy Mason of Down House

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