With a restaurant as popular and respected as Catalan, it seems impossible that owners Charles Clark and Grant Cooper would even consider closing the doors.
But with the imminent departure of executive chef Chris Shepherd to open his own restaurant, the team decided it was better to start over in a new direction than try to recreate his style.
So after five years, Catalan is closing its doors in June — but only for three weeks, after which it will be reborn as Coppa Ristorante Italiano. The changeover is less of a remodel and more of a facelift to bring in some rustic touches, including wood tables, new chairs and other furniture.
"It's like Sophia Loren meets Louis Prima," Clark says of the Italian influences.
To helm Coppa, Clark and Cooper are bringing in Brandi Key, who has worked her way up from server to research and development chef at Pappas over the past 10 years. Key is the second chef that Clark and Cooper have poached from Pappas R&D this year, with Michael Gaspard also coming in as chef/partner at the soon-to-open Brasserie 19.
"I'm excited to make food more to my style," Key told CultureMap. "Pappas is very Cajun and true to Houston, but this is a cuisine I really enjoy, just how it's a culture centered around food and people."
In preperation Key is headed to the San Francisco Baking Institute to be trained in the art of Neopolitan pizza to complement Coppa's new wood-burning oven.
But even with a new name and style, Coppa and Key have some big shoes to fill.
"Am I nervous? Yes. Everyone's nervous at an opening," Key says. "The space has a great history and Chris is known throughout the community. But five years ago no one knew who he was either. I just have to make great food and stay true to that."