No restaurant-related news item will top Friday's revelation that Oxheart will close in March (at least in the immediate future), but a personnel change at one of the social set's favorite hangouts certainly has tongues wagging. Some regular patrons noticed that Shawn Virene was absent from his post overseeing the dining room at Brasserie 19 and inquired with a hostess, who said the longtime general manager was no longer employed by the establishment.
In an email to CultureMap, Virene confirmed his departure. "Yes I have left Clark Cooper Concepts to pursue my own concept. We are not prepared to divulge much information at this point," he writes. "I can say it was a very difficult decision to leave such a great group who I have worked with for almost 15 years. It is just time for me to spread my wings and make my mark in the already dynamic Houston dining scene. I wish I could give you more at this time. Please stay tuned for the exciting news to come!"
In response to CultureMap's request for comment, Brasserie 19 owner Clark Cooper Concepts (the company behind restaurants including SaltAir Seafood Kitchen, Coppa Osteria, and Ibiza) released its own statement about Virene:
"We value each and everyone of our employees at Clark Cooper Concepts and respect their decisions to move in a different career direction. Each team member is hand selected and contributes to the success of our restaurants. With Shawn's recent departure, we are confident and excited for Bradford McKnight to take over as General Manger of Brasserie 19 and know that Bradford and chef Jaime Salazar will continue to make Brasserie 19's excellence in food and service an essential part of the Houston community."
While Brasserie 19 will remain successful without Virene, his departure certainly constitutes a loss for the restaurant. Since it opened in 2011, Brasserie 19 has served as the unofficial clubhouse for the leading lights of the city's social set. While the crowd can be fickle — they can currently be found packing the dining rooms at Steak 48 and Le Colonial in River Oaks District — they always come home to B19. Virene's ability to manage the egos, to know which VIPs deserve the coveted tables by the windows at the front of the dining room, and who had to wait at the bar, made him an invaluable asset to the restaurant.
Virene may not be ready to divulge the details of his next move, but the smart money is on him staying somewhere either in or very close to River Oaks. If his successful tenure at Brasserie 19 is any indication, the see-and-be-seen crowd will follow wherever he turns up.