Change is constant in Houston restaurants. Chefs and front of house personnel come and go. Even those with senior titles may depart at a moment’s notice, as Danny Trace did from Brennan’s at the end of March.
Still, some people are so closely tied to specific concepts that it’s hard to imagine the restaurant existing without that person’s presence. Such is the case with sommelier Evan Turner and Helen Greek Food & Wine. The Rice Village restaurant grew out of a concept Turner developed and helped lead to national acclaim, including a James Beard semifinalist nomination for America’s best new restaurant in 2016, being lauded as the state's best new restaurant of 2015 by Texas Monthly, a CultureMap Tastemaker Award for best sommelier in 2016, and a recently opened sister restaurant in the Heights.
And yet, Houstonians will soon find out what Helen is like without Turner, because he announced Monday that he’s departed from his role as the sommelier for both the Rice Village and Heights restaurants. He declined to provide either a specific reason for leaving the company or whether he maintains any sort of ownership interest in the venture.
“Honestly, you can simply say it’s a choice I’ve made for my career and my well-being,” Turner said. Later, he added, “I’m positively heartbroken but sometimes you have to do what’s right for your career and what I wanted to do for Greek food and wine.”
In the wake of Houston Food Finder’s report about Turner’s decision, Helen issued its own statement that reads in part: "Turner has been an integral part of both Helen in the Heights as well as the original Helen Greek Food and Wine in Rice Village . . . Evan has decided to pursue other avenues, and the leadership team and staff behind Helen Family wishes him success in his future endeavors."
While it’s a sad day for Turner, he did note that Helen is on a strong footing. “I think it’s an amazing concept that will probably carry on without me,” he said. “We had wine class today. The (staff has) trained a ton, and there are a lot of really good talented people there. They should be able to do just fine.”
That’s certainly a possibility. After all, executive chef William Wright and director of operations Tim Faiola remain in place. However, neither restaurant will feel quite the same without Turner’s ebullient presence.