Major Restaurant Drama

Restaurant shocker: Prominent Houston restaurateur parts ways with company he helped found

Prominent Houston restaurateur leaves company he helped found

Cherry Pie Hospitality Lee Ellis
Lee Ellis has parted ways with Cherry Pie Hospitality. Lee's Fried Chicken & Donuts/Instagram

A major change has happened behind-the-scenes of some of Houston’s most prominent restaurants. Cherry Pie Hospitality — the company behind State Fare, Star Fish, Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts, Petite Sweets, and Pi Pizza — has parted ways with partner Lee Ellis, CultureMap has learned.

The move counts as one of the biggest surprises in recent Houston restaurant history. Ellis helped found Cherry Pie, which combined elements of the work he did at F.E.E.D. TX with parts of celebrity chef Bradley Ogden’s failed attempt to open three restaurants in Houston. Ellis maintains his shares in the company but is no longer involved in its day-to-day operations, Cherry Pie CEO Chris Vestal tells CultureMap. Chef Jim Mills, who came to Cherry Pie from F.E.E.D. TX with Ellis, remains the company's COO, Vestal adds.

"There’s no acrimony. There’s no hard feelings. There’s no anything else," Vestal says. "Lee moved to Round Top, and we’re here running it . . . with the same standards as always."

During his time at Cherry Pie, Ellis specialized in front of the house service and restaurant design. He helped transform Pour Society into State Fare, the Texas comfort food restaurant that won last year’s CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant. In addition, he forged the partnership with food truck chef Anthony Calleo to open Pi Pizza and developed a successful seafood concept in Star Fish, which is currently competing in the Tastemaker Awards Best New Restaurant tournament.

"We’re excited about all of the opportunity and our staff and everybody we have here," Vestal says. "We love Houston, obviously. We appreciate everything Lee has done for the whole company. No one’s going to forget that any time soon."

CultureMap has contacted Ellis for comment on the situation and will update this article when he responds.