Since its inception in 2017, the premise for One Fifth has remained the same: five years, five concepts, one building. The time is flying by. Chef-owner Chris Shepherd only has 18 months remaining on the concept, which is now in its fourth iteration, One Fifth Gulf Coast.
The only problem is that Shepherd and his team, specifically Underbelly Hospitality culinary director Nick Fine and chef de cuisine Matt Staph, have more than one concept they want to test in the historical building at 1658 Westheimer. Never one to reject an idea simply because it sounds absurd, Shepherd and his team came up with a new format for One Fifth.
They call it (somewhat jokingly) One Fifth Lightning Round. Essentially, they plan to use the space to test several additional concepts between now and July 31, 2021.
“Very few times do you have in your life, 'we’re going to close a restaurant in 18 months.' That’s our reality. That’s what we have,” Shepherd tells CultureMap. “Why not just go for it all?”
Gulf Coast will close on March 23. It will reopen as a Vietnamese restaurant shortly thereafter. That will last for as long as Shepherd and his staff find it interesting. Then, they’ll move on to something else. Diners will get a three week warning before the next One Fifth opens.
“It could be 2 months, it could be 6 months. Who knows,” Shepherd says. “If and when we do change, the staff will know a month out. We’ll start training a month out.”
Shepherd rattles off a number of potential concepts: Thai, Indonesian, a Houston’s-style classic American bistro. One possibility that seems particularly likely to happen is Italian-American — a concept Fine quickly labels “One Fifth Sopranos.” It would feature pizza made in the restaurant’s wood-burning oven along with dishes like chicken parmesan and lasagna.
“We tried very hard [to pick one concept]. We’re just not good at committing,” Fine says. “We have too many ideas. I think we could do any of them for a year, but we have other people who have a lot of ideas.”
Whatever the concept, Shepherd says they’ll do their homework before it opens. That could mean reading cookbooks and other source materials or inviting a guest chef to teach specific techniques.
“When we talked to Matt Staph, he said, ‘Fuck yeah. That’s what we need to do,’” Shepherd says. “That’s what every cook wants to do is learn.”
“The amount of knowledge people are going to get out of the next 18 months is awesome. What makes me not question that is how deeply everybody dove into Mediterranean. And how respectful it was made me realize we can do this.”
And yes, Shepherd knows at least one concept he won’t do — Peruvian. Sorry-not-sorry, ceviche fans.
“I guarantee we’re not going to do that,” he says. “You can keep your sweet potatoes and raw fish to yourself. Not my thing.”