Over the past two years, plenty of out of town chefs and restaurateurs have injected new life into the Houston restaurant scene. From Batanga to MF Sushi, from Etoile to Trenza, restaurants have cropped up in Houston to seek economic opportunity that couldn't be found elsewhere.
All of these new arrivals feature chefs and/or owners who are new to Houston. When they arrive, they barely know Westheimer from Westpark, but Atlanta empire builder Ford Fry is different from other people who've moved to Houston seeking fame and fortune. He's a Houston native. A Lamar High School graduate.
Ford Fry knows Houston, and that's why, after a year and a half of talking about opening here, he's committed to a space in the Lamar-River Oaks Shopping Center directly across the street from his alma mater.
"He's definitely part of Atlanta's royalty in the dining world. He will make a splash in the Houston dining scene."
Those plans are why the Subway and Crescent City Beignets on Westheimer have recently disappeared. Fry will convert those two spaces and the adjacent former cleaners into a restaurant that he predicts will open in the first quarter of 2015.
For those unfamiliar with this resume, Fry's five Atlanta restaurants are some of the best in that city. His seafood restaurant The Optimist was Esquire critic John Mariani's pick for Best New Restaurant of 2012. It also beat out Underbelly to finish seventh in the country, just behind The Pass & Provisions, on Bon Appetit editor Andrew Knowlton's list of 2013's best new restaurants.
Even as he has plans to open additional restaurants in Atlanta, Fry has decided the time is right to commit to Houston, too.
"I just thought it was a perfect location for us, as I grew up blocks away from there," Fry tells CultureMap of his Houston plans. "I loved riding my Mongoose (BMX bike) all around the neighborhood and have tons of memories from my childhood of the area."
Fry has yet to name the restaurant, but he does have a general idea of the concept and what it will serve.
"This particular location feels like a cool, neighborhood spot," he says. "As at all of our restaurants, local sourcing is a given. The food will be what we love: American that's inspired by the many influences Texas has, from the Gulf to the Hill Country and possibly even South Texas."
Other details include an "oyster bar, wood-burning cooking elements, and a chef's pass dining element," Fry writes in an email.
Batanga owner Brian Fasthoff knows Fry from his time in Atlanta and is excited to learn that the rumors he's opening here are true. "He's definitely part of Atlanta's royalty in the dining world," Fasthoff tsays CultureMap. "He will make a splash in the Houston dining scene."
Sadly for St. John's and Lamar students, the new venture means they'll have to find a new spot for an afternoon snack, but the rest of us should be giddy with anticipation. Ford Fry is coming home.