Meet Emmaline

Popular Houston restaurant personality strikes out on his own with stylish brasserie

Popular Houston restaurant figure ventures out with stylish brasserie

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society gala, 4/16, Tina gobernale, Sam Governale
Sam Governale, shown here with wife Tina, will open Emmaline later this year. Photo by Jenny Antill

One of Houston’s most popular front-of-house personalities is leaving his longtime post to go out on his own. Sam Governale announced Monday that he will leave his role as the operating partner of Fleming’s in River Oaks at the end of February to open a new restaurant called Emmaline that's slated to open later this spring.

“It was sort of a perfect storm of the end of my contract at Fleming’s. I’d been there for eight years,” Governale tells CultureMap about the timing of his decision to leave Fleming’s to pursue the new opportunity. “It’s now or never for me. I’m 46 years old. It’s been a dream of mine since I started in this business 26 years ago.”

Beyond the location’s desirability as a stand-alone space at the intersection of River Oaks and Montrose, transforming the former Teala’s into Emmaline has a more personal component for Governale. He explains that the restaurant served as a frequent spot during the courtship phase of his relationship with his wife Tina, and those experiences have given him insight into the right changes to make to the building, including expanding its patio and adding a second-story terrace.

“That whole space was about the outside,” Governale says. “What we’re doing for the design is to embellish the outside and tie it to the inside . . . We’re going to find a way to get people inside, and that’s by adding a lively bar and floor to ceiling glass windows. Even when you’re inside, you’ll feel like you’re outside.”

Assisting Governale in the space’s transformation will be creative director Ashley Putman, who brings experience as both a graphic and interior designer to her role, but the rest of the restaurant’s staff is still to be determined. Governale says he’s still interviewing for a chef who will execute his vision for Emmaline as a European-style, all-day brasserie that’s as lively and welcoming at 3 pm as it is at 11 pm.

“From a food perspective, it’s about giving people what they want: classic American fare with European refinement whether through ingredients or preparation. Taking a classic European dish that we see across cafes and brasseries and bringing it back to a local sense as far as ingredients are concerned,” Governale says. “I’ve been in a lot of places that have succeeded and failed in my restaurant career. I’ve taken the common denominators and embellished that with a heritage component.”

Of course, Governale will be able to display the same passion for wine that’s propelled him to a People’s Choice award at the 2015 edition of the annual Iron Sommelier competition. He says he’s “already got a nice list rolling.”

Leaving Fleming’s to open Emmaline puts Governale on a path similar to the one Benjamin Berg took when he left Smith & Wollensky to open B&B Butchers and the one Shawn Virene has taken by leaving Brasserie 19 to open his own concept. It certainly worked for Berg — just look at B&B’s packed dining room — and Governale seems poised for a similar level of success. After all, creating a comfortable space and serving people food they like to eat usually ends well.