Young DMC Steps Up

Surprise exit: Houston father-son chefs depart family's South American steakhouse chain

Houston father-son chefs depart family's South American steakhouses

Churrascos Memorial City interior bar and sitting area
Cordua Restaurants — including the popular Churrascos — are undergoing a major change.  Photo by © Julie Soefer/Courtesy of Churrascos

UPDATE: Cordua Restaurants CEO Juan Deshon provided CultureMap with the following statement on September 13: 

“Cordua Restaurants, Inc. is in a strong position, and is moving forward maintaining its focus on culinary excellence, superior customer service and offering an incredible dining experience. We salute the over 400 employees at the heart of the brand's 30-year success, whose passion and hard work day-in and day-out are carrying us toward an exciting future. We remain committed to our customers and our community.

In 2011 we agreed to invest into a 50-50 ownership with Michael Cordua in Cordua Restaurants because the company was in dire need of an immediate cash infusion. Since then, Michael’s own actions and inability to meet his financial commitments have ultimately resulted in completely depleting his ownership share in Cordua Restaurants, Inc.”

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In a world where Apple once fired Steve Jobs, no one’s job is truly safe. That’s especially true in the world of Houston restaurants, where today’s “partner” can become tomorrow’s former employee.

Still, it comes as a major surprise to learn that the father-son chef-duo of Michael and David Cordua are no longer affiliated with Cordua Restaurants. Michael famously founded the company on August 8, 1988 (8/8/88) when he opened the first Churrascos and launched what would become a successful local mini-chain of South American steakhouses and a successful catering business. In 1994, he earned the a prestigious Food & Wine Best New Chef award. David began working for his father at the age of 15, eventually going to culinary school and training in Europe to hone his skills.

According to David, the company’s investors made the decision to remove them. Distant family from Nicaragua, Michael Cordua brought them on board in 2011 for the Sugar Land location of Churrascos, and eventually their role grew to general partners. Over time, it became clear a separation would be necessary.

“They didn’t really understand chef-driven restaurants, [and] marginalized the roles of my dad and myself over the years,” David Cordua tells CultureMap. “That’s really what prompted our separation. It was clear we were going in separate ways.”

Still, David isn’t letting the change slow him down. He and his father have started a new company, Michael and David Cordua Hospitality. They’re quietly catering for longtime customers and holding a few fundraising dinners for local non-profits.

In addition, David has launched a pop-up series he’s calling Yum DMC (his initials) that will allow him to explore flavors and techniques that didn’t fit at Churrascos or Americas. The first will be held at Boheme on September 27.

“In the last 10 years that I’ve been with the company, I came into something that was pretty established,” Cordua says. “My creative outlet was always catering. It’s where I got to showcase my travels, my personal background, my experience growing up in the most diverse city in the country . . . It won’t necessarily be plantain chips, churrascos, and tres leches.”

While that would be sufficient for most people, Cordua also shot a pilot for a new series on Houston Public Media called The Houston Cookbook. “It’s about showcasing the diversity of the city, our passion for food,” Cordua says. “I’m interviewing and touring with different chefs and restaurateurs in their homes and restaurant kitchens. Expanding on what David Chang started with Ugly Delicious, what Anthony Bourdain did on his Houston show [Parts Unknown].”

Featured guests range from prominent Houston chefs like Kiran Verma (Kiran’s) and Ana Beaven (Cuchara) to off-the-radar spots like Safari, a Nigerian restaurant in Southwest Houston. “Hopefully, it’s well-received, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” Cordua says.
   
Of course, Cordua is also quietly working on another restaurant. He isn’t ready to divulge any specifics, but the project sounds like it could be a game changer for Houston’s dining scene.

“That’s going to be something really exciting for the city,” Cordua says. “It [only] exists in other countries, to my knowledge. I think there’s something [like it] in Los Angeles as well.”

Cordua’s firmly focused on the future. He doesn’t want to get dragged down discussing the specifics of what happened within the company his father founded. Asked about his feelings about the situation, he’s succinct.

“I feel grateful. Grateful to first and foremost to the staff who were my family, basically. I’ve known them since I was six years old,” Cordua says. “Grateful for the opportunity to serve. Cordua [Restaurants] let us be a part of the community as a first-generation family. That’s what I feel more than anything is gratitude. I do wish the group all the success in the world.

“It was time for me to do my own thing.”

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