Bye bye Benjy's
Longtime Rice Village restaurant shutters to make way for local market
Benjy Levit continues to make changes to his local restaurants. After revealing that he recently sold The Classic, Levit has announced that he’s also brought an end to Benjy’s, his acclaimed neighborhood restaurant in Rice Village.
In its place, Levit will expand Local Foods to build on its success offering more retail and prepared items. Initially started as a convenience to customers who were nervous about shopping in grocery stores at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the offerings, now called Local Foods Market, will become a permanent part of the concept’s identity. The current Local Foods space will also get a refresh after the Benjy’s conversion is complete, which should be in December.
The moves comes as something of a surprise. Just last year, Benjy’s celebrated its 25th anniversary with a number of changes, including an updated interior and a new menu created by former The Pass & Provisions chef Seth Siegel-Gardner and Benjy’s executive chef Mike Potowski. While the concept had earned praise, Levit tells CultureMap he saw more opportunity in expanding Local Foods.
“I’m sad about Benjy’s but I’m excited to start this new chapter with Local Foods Market,” Levit says. “Keeping the same service team and the same kitchen team, I’m going to try to do some really neat stuff out of the market and see where that takes us.”
Increasing the space allocated to Local Foods Market will allow it to offer a wider selection of fresh meat and seafood, expand its cheese selection, and offer more grab-and-go items. Benjy’s upstairs seating will become a wine shop dedicated to “natural, organic, and hard-to-find” wines at competitive prices. In addition, the kitchen will offer a range of prepared dishes such as rotisserie chicken, house-cured pastrami, and slow roasted fish that may either be taken to-go or eaten on a new patio.
Since Rice Village doesn’t have a grocery store (although a few are nearby), Levit sees Local Foods Market as a way to cater to the immediate neighborhood and compete with major retailers like Whole Foods and Central Market.
“We can bring in unique or local items to the marketplace,” Levit says. ‘We’re nimble. We can provide a different level of service.”
Some of those unique items are part of a pop-up market called Hapa that’s inspired by Japanese convenience stores. The name, a reference to Potowski being half-Japanese, also denotes that Hapa offers both traditional Japanese snacks, sauces, and condiments as well as a few prepared items with an American twist.
“What’s typical of a Japanese convenience store offering would be katsu sandos. We’re doing it on homemade milk bread,” Levit says. “We’ve done an eggplant sando, a fresh albacore tuna salad sandwich, a ramen-style egg salad sandwich. They’re fun, kind of crosses between American sandwiches with Japanese ingredients.”
Currently, four locations of Local Foods are open in Rice Village, Upper Kirby, The Heights, and Tanglewood/Briargrove. Levit says he expects the restaurant’s downtown location to reopen in 2021. An Austin location that was originally slated to open this year will open by October 2021, Levit adds.