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Major Restaurant Closing

Landmark Houston restaurant shutters to make way for a risky new upscale concept in Upper Kirby

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Haven, restaurant, exterior, March 2013
Haven has been sold and will become a new restaurant called Paul's Kitchen. Haven/Facebook
News_Cullen's_Paul Lewis_chef
Chef Paul Lewis, formerly of Cullen's and Osteria Mazzantini, has partnered with The Union Kitchen owner Paul Miller.  LPB
Haven, restaurant, exterior, March 2013
News_Cullen's_Paul Lewis_chef

Southern-influenced farm to table restaurant Haven ended its acclaimed five-year run on Thursday night (the Chronicle first broke the news). While it came as a surprise to many, the rumors of Haven's impending demise had circulated within restaurant industry circles for some time.

The first CultureMap "Secrets of the TABC report" article noted that Haven's alcohol revenues had declined by almost 50 percent between 2013 and 2014, which may help explain owner Rhea Wheeler's decision to sell the business. 

Despite all the gnashing of teeth that took place on Facebook in the wake of the closing, like Feast or The Burger Guys before it, Haven appears to have become a restaurant where people liked the idea of its existence more than they actually liked dining there.

 "It had been on the market quietly for a year. They brought it to me six months ago, and we came to an agreement on a price."   

In its place will be Paul's Kitchen, a new concept from The Union Kitchen owner Paul Miller and chef Paul Lewis, who recently departed Osteria Mazzantini to join Miller in the new venture. Calling Lewis a "heavy hitter," Miller says that he sees Paul's Kitchen as an opportunity to open "an upscale concept" that's different from the more family-friendly, three-location Union Kitchen. Miller purchased the entire Haven property from Wheeler, including the coveted parking lot. 

"It had been on the market quietly for a year," Miller tells CultureMap. "They brought it to me six months ago, and we came to an agreement on a price."

The space will close for five or six weeks while it's remodeled with new signage and furniture. Miller says he doesn't plan on making any structural changes to the main dining room. But the bar, which housed the Cove raw bar concept, will be completely reworked. Changes will include removing the windows and doors that separated Cove from the main dining room, new seating and a wooden bar top.

"We're going to make the bar awesome," Miller says.  

As for the menu, Paul's Kitchen will be "globally inspired and locally sourced" with significant changes three to four times per year to include "fresh, seasonal items."

Miller adds that Lewis, whose resume includes stints at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London and Cullen's in Clear Lake, "has never really had an opportunity to (put) his own menu together," which he will at the new spot.

Chefs at The Union Kitchen's three locations will rotate through Paul's Kitchen to work with Lewis. "He'll raise the culinary standards we have across the board," Miller says. Both men will discuss more details about Paul's Kitchen at 10 a.m. Saturday on the Cleverley Show on 650 AM.

The new restaurant is a big step up for Miller, as The Union Kitchen is a family-friendly concept that's found success in Bellaire, Memorial and Kingwood with a diverse menu of salads, steaks, burgers, pizzas and more, while Paul's Kitchen will be both more upscale and located in an area of Houston that's seen a wave of closures. Despite the challenges, Miller is confident they're ready. Both the Memorial and Kingwood Union Kitchen locations already feature white tablecloths with a correspondingly high level of service.

Miller thinks those experiences, combined with time he's spent over the last month observing Haven's operations, have prepared him for the challenge of operating on Kirby and catering to the area's demanding diners.  

"I love that area and I always have," he says. "I'm very excited about getting in there . . . We hope the rest of the community is, too."

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