Patrons at Underbelly Hospitality's off-site projects, whether they be catering jobs or serving food at NRG Stadium, will see a familiar face overseeing the operation. Chef-owner Chris Shepherd announced that he has hired chef Lyle Bento to serve as the company's chef de cuisine with of catering and special projects such as food preservation.
While it's a new opportunity for Bento, the news also means that Southern Goods, his Heights restaurant that suffered a devastating fire last year, won't be reopening. Instead, he's reuniting with Shepherd, having previously served as a sous chef at Underbelly from its opening day until setting out on his own. The chef tells CultureMap that he'll miss the restaurant that was among the best new openings of 2015, but it was time to move on.
"This battle with the insurance company has been overwhelming," Bento says. "It got to the point where I was running out of time. I just decided to pull the plug on it."
Bento also rejects any suggestion that going from owning his own restaurant to working for Shepherd is a step back in his career. "I've never been somebody that's a title chaser. As long as I'm somewhere where I'm around people I love and can trust, then I don't see it as a step back. I think it's a great opportunity for me to be able to do some fun stuff . . . There's a lot of opportunity to grow in this company."
To facilitate its growing catering business, Underbelly Hospitality has built a kitchen in a bungalow near Cherryhurst Park in Montrose that will also serve as an intimate space for private events; the dedicated facility gives the company the capacity to prepare food for up to 2,000 people without interrupting operations at any of the restaurants. Bento has also spent time at each of the company's concepts, so that he and his team can turn out any of the dishes from Shepherd's restaurants, whether its UB Preserv's crispy rice salad, Hay Merchant's cease and desist burgers, or Georgia James' uni panna cotta.
"As Underbelly Hospitality grows, we want to bring our family back," Shepherd said in a statement. “We’ve had a catering program for a few years as an extension of Underbelly’s offerings, but now that the company is growing, our catering capabilities have grown as well. Lyle understands the Underbelly philosophy and our commitment to quality. Plus, he’s a damn good cook and a great leader. Everyone at UBH is thrilled to have him back."