Firmly rooted

Innovative new wine bar with rising star chef sprouting up in Houston's East End

Innovative new wine bar with rising chef sprouting up in the East End

Steak dish Roots
A sample dish from chef J.D. Fouche's menu. Courtesy of Roots
Roots exterior
Roots will open this summer. Courtesy of Roots
Lori Hernandez Roots
Co-owner Lori Hernandez. Courtesy of Roots
Steak dish Roots
Roots exterior
Lori Hernandez Roots

A new establishment coming to the East End wants to change the way Houstonians experience wine bars. Meet Roots, a new business that aims to combine a polished culinary program with an innovative service model. Currently under construction, Roots is slated to open this summer at 3107 Leeland St.

Co-owner Lori Hernandez tells CultureMap that her inspiration for opening Roots stems from the time she spent living in Germany. Traveling around Europe taught her to appreciate the many varieties of wine, a passion she shared with her long time friend, local real estate investor Paul Siwek. Together, they saw an opportunity to bring a different kind of wine bar to the neighborhood Hernandez grew up — literally taking her back to her roots.

While places like Better Luck Tomorrow and The Toasted Coconut have blurred the line between bars and restaurants by combining sophisticated cocktail programs with destination-worthy dishes, that trend hasn’t really made its way to wine bars. For the most part, their food offerings are limited to typical items like panini, flatbreads, meat and cheese boards, etc.    

Roots will not be that kind of wine bar. “It’s really bridging that factor between just a wine bar or separate as a restaurant,” Hernandez says. “While we’re definitely not a restaurant, we have more offerings from a food aspect [than a typical wine bar]. It makes the most sense with the team we’ve developed overall, and the options we have to bring our vision to fruition here.”

Leading that team will be executive chef and general manager JD Fouché, whose resume includes extensive experience in New Orleans where he worked for chefs like Susan Spicer and Bob Iacovone. Locally, he quietly worked as “the guy behind the guy” at both Reef and Riel.

True to those experiences, Fouché says he’s planning to create a menu that’s grounded in Gulf Coast cuisine and made with locally-grown, seasonally available products. Since he’s also the general manager, the bar and kitchen will have an interactive relationship. If a vendor provides a great ingredient for a new dish, Roots can bring in a wine to match it; conversely, if the bar gets a few bottles of a sought after wine, Fouché can create a dish that pairs with it.

“The menu will be very diverse: 10 -12 items that should change at least quarterly or even every few weeks,” the chef says. “The way we’re trying to approach it is a seasonal, rotating menu that is diverse enough to work with the selections of wine that we have at any given time.”

Those selections will be extensive. Roots will be among the first establishments in Houston to embrace the self serve concept. Customers will have access to a wall that contains 50 bottles connected to a machine that can dispense 1, 3, and 5-ounce pours. Bottles will also be available, but the partners expect the self-serve options to be Roots’ focus.

“We’re able to offer by-the-glass options that aren’t available elsewhere, because the preservation system allows for more longevity with each bottle of wine,” Hernandez says. “You also get that direct interaction with the wine itself.”

Staff members and written tasting notes will be available to offer suggestions, but the system makes it possible to choose whichever wine strikes a person’s fancy. Having the ability to taste a 1-ounce pour allows people to try something new at a reasonable cost. “You can walk up and try whatever strikes your fancy that day, [even] because it’s a pretty bottle,” Hernandez says.

Just as much thought has gone into what the space will look like. Hernandez and Siwek are working with designer William Shoemaker and his team at Native Citizen to source contemporary furniture that’s as sophisticated as the wine and food.

Formerly a 2,800-square-foot warehouse, Roots will feature a private room for tasting and events, a spacious patio, and a lounge for drinking and dining. Noting that wine bars tend to be date night destinations, Hernandez promises Roots will have “quiet spaces” for making out conversation.

Taken together, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how Roots could fit in with its neighborhood. If everything comes together as intended, it should slot in as more casual than a wine-forward restaurant like Nancy’s Hustle and more food-forward than a traditional wine bar like How to Survive on Land and Sea

Intrigued? The concept is already selling gift cards and will donate 10-percent of the purchase price to Houston Shift Meal, an organization that's providing free meals to unemployed hospitality workers. Hernandez and Siwek will match those donations.