Houston restaurant empire 'in good hands,' Chris Shepherd says in exit

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ByMiya Shay via KTRK logo
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
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James Beard award-winning chef Chris Shepherd is stepping away from Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that runs well-known eateries.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In a seismic shift in the Houston restaurant scene, James Beard award-winning chef Chris Shepherd is stepping away from Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that runs some of the most well-known eateries in the city.

As first reported by ABC13, sources confirmed the pending separation earlier this week.

The pending separation has been the focus of Houston's vibrant restaurant scene discussions for the past few weeks, as Underbelly has been a leader in Houston's efforts to showcase itself as a foodie destination in the United States.

SEE RELATED STORY: Chef Chris Shepherd impressed by meeting with teen heart patient

Up until now, Shepherd has been the face of the company and its restaurants.

Currently, the group operates Georgia James, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Wild Oats. At least one other restaurant is set to still open.

This afternoon, the two sides issued a statement that focused on the positive aspects of the separation.

"We've done a lot in 10 years," Shepherd said in his statement.

"It's time for me to focus on smaller projects and dedicate more time to Southern Smoke. Underbelly Hospitality is in great hands with MLB Capital Partners and the team we have assembled over the last five years. They have provided tremendous support and have been instrumental in Underbelly Hospitality's success.I've put my heart and soul into these restaurants, and I'm so proud of what we've accomplished. I want to thank the entire Underbelly family for always being there, showing up, and giving it everything, always.Southern Smoke is on a path that myself, Lindsey, and the whole team are very proud of, and it's time to push that even further. We are about to hit $10 million in grants and we're expanding the free mental health initiatives into five states within the next few months we plan to be in all 50 by 2028.Thank you, Houston, for the past, present and future support. This is my home, and I'm not going anywhere. I'm excited to see what the future holds for all of us.As I always say, Underbelly is no longer a restaurant it's a way of life. Explore your surroundings. Learn about people, where they're from, and how to dine at the same table. Learn from anyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, age, or gender. Understand that everyone has a story to tell. We are always learning. It's time for me to learn a new chapter."

In the joint statement, Underbelly also called Shepherd an incredible talent and grateful for his contributions.

"Chris is an incredible talent. We are grateful for his immense contributions to both Underbelly and the industry as a whole, said Todd Mason, Managing Partner, MLB Capital Partners. Our talented team will continue to deliver Underbellys signature fare with unmatched technique and hospitality. Our focus has been and will continue to be the delivery of thoughtful food and beverage experiences."

The Southern Smoke Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money to support food and beverage workers, will continue. The foundation's signature event, Southern Smoke Festival, is currently scheduled for October.

SEE RELATED STORY: Southern Smoke awards $4.5M to hospitality works since start of pandemic

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