GJ Tavern shuttered
Prominent Houston restaurant group suddenly shutters intimate downtown tavern
A prominent Houston restaurant group has bid farewell to its downtown location. Underbelly Hospitality announced it has closed GJ Tavern effective immediately.
“Closing GJ Tavern was an incredibly difficult decision to make but we ultimately realized that operating a 40-seat restaurant in downtown Houston was financially unsustainable,” Underbelly Hospitality president Nina Quincy said in a statement. “We loved building the GJ Tavern brand and are hopeful that it will someday have a place within Underbelly Hospitality.”
An Instagram post announcing the closure offers a longer tribute to the restaurant’s staff and customers.
First opened in the summer of 2021 as Georgia James Tavern, the restaurant aimed to serve as an intimate establishment for Theater District patrons and an amenity for residents of the Market Square Tower high-rise. The company changed the restaurant’s name to GJ Tavern in the spring of 2022 to prevent consumer confusion with Georgia James, its luxurious steakhouse. To further differentiate the new GJ Tavern from the original Georgia James Tavern, then-Underbelly Hospitality founder Chris Shepherd recruited chef Tim Reading to lead the kitchen.
Bringing experiences from Boston chef Michael Schlow’s restaurants and Caracol, James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega’s Galleria-area seafood restaurant, Reading refined GJ Tavern’s menu with classic dishes such as duck fat potatoes, hand-rolled cavatelli pasta, and a mushroom-Swiss burger. He earned a Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination in the 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards for his work at GJ Tavern. Sadly, his time with the company has also come to an end.
UBH laid off chef Tim Reading. Photo by Julie Soefer
“Tim is an excellent chef with an extraordinary talent. As it stands, we have no executive chef positions available within Underbelly Hospitality. For that reason, he has been laid off,” Quincy said in response to CultureMap’s request for comment. “We are very appreciative of Tim and wish him all the best.”
Despite today’s news, Underbelly Hospitality has been growing since Shepherd’s departure last year. It recruited star chef Scott Muns to serve as culinary director and recently opened Pastore, an Italian seafood restaurant that’s located next to Georgia James in the Autry Park mixed-use development. It will open Spring Branch locations of Underbelly Burger and Texas comfort food restaurant Wild Oats later this year.