Chef Chris Shepherd departing Underbelly Hospitality restaurant team

Chris Shepherd, the James Beard Award-successful chef whose selection of dining places helped put Houston on the nationwide eating scene, is stepping absent from his Underbelly Hospitality restaurant group.

The shock announcement Wednesday afternoon will have reverberations all through the city’s cafe group and will no question appear as a shock to Houston diners who know Shepherd as a single of the most seen faces of the community cafe landscape.

1st described by KTRK (, Shepherd will no for a longer time be part of the team that bears the title of his most iconic restaurant, the now closed Underbelly. The Underbelly Hospitality portfolio incorporates Georgia James steakhouse, GJ Tavern, Wild Oats and Underbelly Burger.

Shepherd stated in a assertion that it is time for him to concentrate on scaled-down projects and dedicate much more of his time to Southern Smoke, the nonprofit he founded in 2015, which has considering the fact that grow to be a foremost charity for the food items provider business. No other purpose was provided for Shepherd’s departure from the dining establishments he crafted.

“I’ve set my heart and soul into these eating places, and I’m so very pleased of what we’ve accomplished. I want to thank the whole Underbelly family members for often staying there, displaying up and giving it every little thing, constantly,” Shepherd reported. “Thank you, Houston, for the earlier, existing and foreseeable future guidance. This is my house, and I’m not going everywhere. I’m psyched to see what the potential retains for all of us.”

Underbelly Hospitality will now be run by MLB Cash Companions, the restaurant group’s main investor. The Houston-primarily based private investment organization is led by Todd Mason, Jeff Lindenberger and Fred Baca. MLB, which owns the Houston Farmers Market in which two Underbelly concepts are operated, arrived on as Underbelly buyers in 2018 and has since labored with Shepherd on developing the restaurant brands and steering new jobs such as Ga James Tavern downtown, the places to eat at the Farmers Market, and the reopening of Ga James steakhouse.

Mason explained Wednesday afternoon that Shepherd stays with Underbelly Hospitality as the principal buyers work to receive his interest in the restaurant team.

“There will be a buyout. We’re working on that at this moment,” Mason reported, including that Shepherd will be separating from Underbelly Hospitality in negotiations he named “amicable.”

Houston diners, extended familiar with Shepherd’s outsized persona and the deeply personalized spins he is set on the restaurants in the portfolio, will not see jarring alterations to these cafe functions, Mason mentioned.

“It will be the very same it has constantly been. The restaurants will remain the identical names, the govt cooks will all be the exact people,” he claimed. “The aim is to continue to keep it the very same.”

Underbelly Hospitality also is heading ahead with the opening of Pastore, the second cafe at Regent Sq. wherever the new, relocated Georgia James recently opened. That adjacent restaurant (the name is Italian for shepherd), an Italian-American notion, could open by the end of the yr, Mason stated.

He additional that Underbelly Hospitality will most possible open up further dining establishments in Houston and in other cities.

Mason praised Shepherd’s operate in setting up the cafe team. MLB experienced this to say in a assertion:  “Chris is an remarkable expertise. We are grateful for his huge contributions to equally Underbelly and the field as a whole. Our proficient group will continue to produce Underbelly’s signature fare with unmatched strategy and hospitality.  Our concentration has been and will keep on to be the supply of considerate food stuff and beverage activities.” 

Due to the fact he opened Underbelly in March 2012, Shepherd has turn out to be a single of the country’s leading chefs and a extremely noticeable ambassador for Houston’s multicultural dining scene. Underbelly, which he described as a culinary story of how Houston eats, given its prosperous variety, swiftly brought him fame. In 2014 he received the James Beard Award for Ideal Chef Southwest for his perform at the Montrose restaurant. Most not too long ago he was seen as a guest choose on “Top Chef Houston.”

Shepherd co-established the Southern Smoke pageant, a multi-day culinary celebration that brings in some of the country’s biggest culinary stars. The festival will return to Houston in the drop after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

The competition begat the Southern Smoke Basis that is now regarded as a nationwide disaster relief firm for food items industry workers. To date, Southern Smoke has lifted nearly $10 million. 

“As I normally say, Underbelly is no more time a cafe — it is a way of existence,” Shepherd reported. “Take a look at your surroundings. Master about people today, in which they are from, and how to dine at the very same table. Discover from anybody, irrespective of race, faith, ethnicity, age or gender. Comprehend that anyone has a story to convey to. We are constantly finding out. It’s time for me to understand a new chapter.”

Greg Morago writes about food for the Houston Chronicle. Stick to him on Fb or Twitter. Send him news recommendations at [email protected]