Shortly after chef Lance Fegan opened Glass Wall in 2006, I went over to interview him and was met by a dapper young man named Shepard Ross.
Ross was the managing partner there and now he’s also co-owner of the Brooklyn Athletic Club, the Richmond Avenue restaurant and outdoor playground known as BAC.
Ross is a restaurateur, wine lover, snappy dresser . . . and a Star Trek: Voyager actor. (That was the one with Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway.) If you look closely at some of the episodes of the show, you just might recognize him in the background.
Ross grew up on Long Island and combined his love of acting and restaurants early on.
“I didn’t know anyone when I came here. But my SAG insurance was running out and we were about to have our second child so I went back into the restaurant business.”
“I survived as a struggling actor in New York by working at restaurants,” Ross says. When commercial and stage work got scarce he took his life savings and invested in a little bar and grill that needed a cash influx. Zanzibar Bar & Grill was where Ross learned about wine and running a restaurant. But pretty soon the acting bug bit again and he wound up in Hollywood where he worked for chef Michel Richard at Citrus.
“He taught me about French wines,” Ross says, “because he wouldn’t let me drink California wines at the restaurant.”
Ross quit the restaurant when he got picked up by Paramount where he acted, worked on sets and even did some screen writing. He appeared in Star Trek: First Contact, the TV show Unhappily Ever After and spent four years playing various background characters on Star Trek: Voyager.
He played a Mokra guard and Ensign Murphy among other characters. But he was never a “redshirt.”
“Four years on Star Trek and I never died!” Ross laughs. “That’s my claim to fame. I did receive a Vulcan nerve pinch, I got a lot of money for that!”
And at least two Star Trek trading cards (yes, there are such things) and two fans. Awhile back Ross received a package from London that contained a trading card enclosed in plastic and a letter from a fan who wanted him to sign it and send it back. In return the fan sent Ross another trading card of himself. Then the same thing happened with a fan from Pennsylvania. One can only imagine the two meeting in some Star Trek chat room in cyberspace.
He may have other fans, too. One time his old Voyager uniform (with his name in it) turned up on eBay . . . and Ross got out bid for it.
So how did Ross the actor wind up in Houston as a hot restaurateur?
He says it was his ex-wife’s idea. She's from H-Town.
“I didn’t know anyone when I came here,” he says. “But my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) insurance was running out and we were about to have our second child so I went back into the restaurant business.”
And he’s glad he did. He met Lance Fegan and the rest is history. They opened Glass Wall in 2006, back when Shade was about the only other fine dining choice in The Heights.
Restaurant Expansion Looms
Last year Ross and partners opened Brooklyn Athletic Club and now they are planning a remodel to add more outdoor games, patio seating, additional parking and a valet turnaround. Glass Wall will also be getting a little face-lift this year and Ross has plans for a brand new restaurant concept in Montrose.
“In 13 years I’ve seen the culinary scene here just blow up,” Ross says. “It’s just this amazing, quirky community where everyone knows everyone and everyone is just so supportive. You open a new restaurant and other restaurant owners send flowers!”
“Four years on Star Trek and I never died! That’s my claim to fame."
As if running two popular restaurants isn’t enough for Ross, in his spare time he studies wine and even makes his own. He’s got a 2009 Cab Sauv/Petite Sirah/Syrah that he’ll be selling at the restaurants this year named for his two daughters. It’s called Mad Cat, for Madeline and Catherine. There are only 25 cases so when it comes out, grab a bottle or two.
It’s hard to imagine someone busier than Ross these days but he says there is: His favorite gal Erin Hicks.
“She’s so talented and beautiful,” he gushes. “She’s an interior designer, realtor and writer.”
Yes, that would be cookbook author Hicks of the popular Houston Small Plates & Sips fame. Who, by the way, has a book signing at The Tasting Room, Uptown Park on Feb. 10.