HTX Good Eats 2012
Success stories

A man, a plan, a restaurant: How Kevin Naderi opened Roost with a little luck from Craigslist

A man, a plan, a restaurant: How Kevin Naderi opened Roost with a little luck from Craigslist

Kevin Naderi, Roost Restaurant Houston
Naderi in the kitchen at Roost, where the chef/owner/landlord changes the menu every three weeks. Photo by © Billy Knox
Roost Restaurant Houston, interior, crowd, diners
Roost is small, with only 58 seats, but Naderi says he likes the intimacy. Photo by © Billy Knox
Roost Restaurant Houston, exterior
Roost opened in the old Latina cafe space on Fairview in December 2011. Photo by © Billy Knox
Kevin Naderi, Roost Restaurant Houston
Naderi acts as his own prep cook during the day and manages the dining room during dinner service. Photo by © Billy Knox
Roost Restaurant Houston, chicken, pan, gas stove
Naderi's "Rustic American fare" in the kitchen at Roost. Photo by © Billy Knox
Kevin Naderi, Roost Restaurant Houston
Roost Restaurant Houston, interior, crowd, diners
Roost Restaurant Houston, exterior
Kevin Naderi, Roost Restaurant Houston
Roost Restaurant Houston, chicken, pan, gas stove

Kevin Naderi was looking for an apartment and planning to open a taco truck when he found the building that would become both his home and his business — on Craigslist.

At 25, Naderi was itching to get out of his parents' house — "You know, when you're Persian, you're there 'til you're like 40," — and found a vague listing for a space available on Fairview. Walking into the former Latina Cafe, he discovered that it wasn't an apartment that was available, it was the entire building, including four residential units and a street level restaurant space.

Naderi got a loan from his parents and within weeks he was both a restaurant owner and a landlord (and the proud owner of his own apartment, conveniently located right above Roost).

Naderi likes to say that he was lucky to find it. But as the Romans said, fortune favors the bold.

Roost opened to immediate excitement in December 2011, impressive considering Naderi had a relatively low profile as a sous chef at Haven and didn't have a splashy designer space or PR team — just a collage of recycled shutters he nailed to the walls himself and an active Facebook page on which he would post pictures and menus.

"The fact that we don't rip people off is big," says Naderi.

"We opened around the time when Triniti came up, Underbelly was in the works, Oxheart was in the works, Uchi had just opened, all these places probably average at least $60 to $150 a person per check. I wanted to do something where you could come two to three times a week instead of two to three times a year," says Naderi. "The fact that we don't rip people off is big."

From the wait list to the wine list, Roost often feels like a one man show. During the day Naderi is sweating it out in the kitchen (Roost doesn't have a prep cook) but during service he leaves the cooking to his crew and manages the dining room, controlling the crowd and keeping an eye on his guests.

"I wish I had two sous chefs and a floor manager and a sommelier and a pastry chef. I'd be kicking ass," Naderi says. "But I opened this place by myself. If you want to talk to a manager, it's me; you want to talk to the chef, you talk to me. I do all the purchasing, all the ordering, pay the bills. It's tough keeping up with all this stuff. I have a ton of grey hairs now," says the 26-year-old.

With raves for his rustic, locally focused food and the intimate, unfussy dining room, Roost has modernized the neighborhood restaurant with an ever-changing menu.

"We have a lot of regulars and the fact that we change the menu every three weeks is a huge plus. They aren't eating the same thing twice," says Naderi. "I think as a neighborhood restaurant you can do more of what you want. Being such a small place, it's easy to explain to tables, 'We're trying this out, we're trying that out.' If you're a big commercial restaurant you have to stick to what people know."

"I think as a neighborhood restaurant you can do more of what you want. Being such a small place, it's easy to explain to tables, 'We're trying this out, we're trying that out.'"

"A lot of people do braised beef ribs; we'll do braised beef cheeks. It's kind of the same idea but a little different and people can try something new. And when I tell them it's just like barbacoa tacos, they're like, 'Oh, I love barbacoa."

Just under a year in, Naderi admits there have been some bumps along the way. The service window between the dining room and the kitchen was originally where Naderi planned to expedite dishes, but by week one he realized "no one wants to sit next to you when you're messing with plates."

An early BYOB option (started while he was waiting for the restaurant's liquor license to come through) was also scrapped because Naderi couldn't afford to have his limited tables full of customers that weren't ordering more than an appetizer.

Still, Naderi says that he can't imagine his restaurant any other way.

"I love the size. Sometimes people are like, 'Are you going to expand this, make it bigger?' But I'm grandfathered, so if I knock down a wall I'm screwed," he says. "I think the size is cool. People like the quaintness of it. Sometimes people get too big for their britches and want to do three or four restaurants right away. I'm like, let's chill for a minute, hit the one year mark and see what's going on."