60 Degrees Mastercrafted may have closed last week, but the restaurant's legacy of serving Akaushi beef to Houstonians will live on through its successor. Set to open in April, the new, upcoming Harwood Grill will be the product of longtime restaurateur Raymond Gibson and chef Craig Bianco.
Gibson's tenure in the restaurant community began when he started working at the original Chili's in high school. After college, he worked with Chili's owner Brinker International, restaurateur Phil Romano and the Ben E. Keith distribution company. For the last four years, he operated Hellfighters Food Service, which he describes as "the premier catering group throughout the Eagle Ford Shale" that feeds between 1,500 and 2,000 oil field workers per day.
Bianco has a similar resume that includes graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and a five year stint with the RK Group, the catering company that's recently entered the restaurant business with Number 13 steakhouse in Galveston and Radio Milano in CityCentre.
Gibson says his goal for The Harwood Grille is to be "a couple of notches above casual dining and a couple of notches below fine dining." The menu will be built around Akaushi steaks and burgers with a "diverse grill" for the rest of the menu.
"Our food is really all about great food that people can enjoy. We’re not stacking stuff. We’re bringing out the best," Gibson says. "It’s all in what you buy. That’s what a lot of restaurateurs don’t do. They buy stuff that’s inexpensive.
"To get great food, you have to start with the best products, and that’s what we’re going to do."
His goal for The Harwood Grille is to be "a couple of notches above casual dining and a couple of notches below fine dining."
As for the difference between 60 Degrees approach to serving Akaushi versus how Bianco will prepare it, Gibson says it's in the approach. Whereas chef Fritz Gitschner brought his European perspective to 60 Degrees' menu, Gibson says at The Harwood Grille the steaks will be seared at a high temperature. They'll also be in fixed portions instead of sold per ounce.
"We’ll be doing big porterhouses, big rib eyes, big strip loins," Gibson says. "You’ll find it to be a completely different product. The proof is in the pudding for us."
Design changes will include the addition of an outdoor kitchen and bar to take advantage of the space's spacious patio, and the addition of butcher cases inside to show off the steaks, which also be available for retail purchase.
Gibson thinks he has the formula for a winning concept. He's already scouting for a second location in The Woodlands. Now he just has to convince people to navigate the construction on Westheimer and give the Harwood Grill a shot.
"Our success in this business has always been providing the customer with what they want," Gibson says. "Not what we think they want, but what they want."