Major changes for Chris Shepherd
Chris Shepherd shakes up his restaurants with big closure and 2 new concepts
Chris Shepherd is shaking up his operations. The chef-owner of Underbelly Hospitality announced a number of changes to his restaurants, including the impending closure of UB Preserv, the future of his Georgia James steakhouse, and two new concepts: Everlong Bar & Hideaway and Pastore.
Closing UB Preserv on December 23 will pave the way for two important changes. First, executive chef Nick Wong will take over Shepherd’s downtown restaurant Georgia James Tavern. Second, the current UB Preserv space will become Everlong Bar & Hideaway, a cocktail bar that will adopt some elements of Hay Merchant, the chef’s craft beer and restaurant that’s also closing at the end of the year.
As for Georgia James, its move from its current home on Westheimer to a new space in the Regent Square mixed-use development has been delayed by permits, which has shifted its opening timeline from January to March 2022. Therefore, the restaurant and its staff will occupy the current One Fifth building from January until the new location is ready.
One Fifth’s current Red Sauce iteration will become a new Italian-American restaurant called Pastore, which will become Shepherd’s previously announced second restaurant at Regent Square. Italian for “shepherd,” it will open in the late spring of 2022. That restaurant will feature heaping portions of lasagna and a space designed by Amanda Medsger that’s influenced by Venetian culture.
Meanwhile, the company’s two concepts for the Houston Farmers Market — Underbelly Burger and Wild Oats, chef Nick Fine’s restaurant devoted to updated Texas cuisine — are on track to open in December and January, respectively.
Shepherd tells CultureMap that the decision to close UB Preserv and convert it to Everlong involved a number of factors that included its low ceilings, relative dearth of parking, and the way some customers tended to use it primarily as a bar. Customer confusion about the restaurant’s name — a reference to “preserving” the ethos of being inspired by Houston’s immigrant cooking traditions rather than "preserving" specific Underbelly dishes like the Korean goat and dumplings — also contributed to the decision.
“Out of all the stupid shit that comes into my head, this one makes the most sense,” Shepherd says. “This gives people the opportunity to be who they’re going to be.”
The recent departure of Tavern chef Matt Coburn paved the way for Wong to take over the kitchen and leverage his experience at New York’s famed Gramercy Tavern to tweak the recently-opened restaurant. Shepherd adds that Wong, who recently worked a couple of shifts at the tavern, already has several ideas for how to reshape the menu to better distinguish it from its more upscale, steakhouse sibling.
“With Nick having time at Gramercy Taven and understanding what a tavern looks like, his ideas, I think they’re pretty smart,” Shepherd says. “I can give him a [new] place to shine. That beautiful restaurant. Do whatever you want to do, man. Do your food. Don’t live in the shadow of what we’ve created.”
Named for the song by the Foo Fighters, Everlong will feature a cocktail program grounded in classics like mojitos, highballs, Cosmopolitans, martinis, and the Long Island Iced Tea (seriously), along with packaged beers and a “small but mighty wine list.” Slated to open in January, Everlong's menu will include a few Hay Merchant staples like Shepherd’s signature Korean goat and dumplings and the muffuletta sandwich along with a new burger and some shareable plates.
Some of Hay Merchant’s events, including its popular trivia night, will also move to Everlong, as will managers Kyle Rahe and Lisa McCoy. Chef de cuisine Lucas McKinney, formerly of Hay Merchant and the Tavern’s current sous chef, will run the kitchen.
The next few months will be a busy time for Shepherd and his team. Taken together, the moves mean putting people in their best positions to succeed and providing Montrose with a new, casual hangout spot where, we assume, it will be perfectly acceptable to sing along to “Times Like These.”