Chef Chris Shepherd, who helped breathe new life into the Houston food scene with a James Beard Award win in 2014, is preparing for a banner year in 2018. Shepherd announced today that he will open a new steakhouse called Georgia James, so named for his parents, towards the end of the new year. His beloved Underbelly will close, relocate, and rebrand as UB Preserv to make room for the new concept.
A steakhouse wasn’t on Shepherd’s culinary radar until he launched One Fifth in 2016. The popular Montrose spot, in which Shepherd debuts a new concept in the same restaurant once a year for five years, dedicated its first iteration to steak. It was a hit among locals and visitors alike, so when One Fifth Steak closed to make way for this year’s concept—One Fifth Romance Languages—Shepherd began to think about ways he could continue to meet the local demand for high-quality beef. Georgia James, which will include favorite menu items from One Fifth Steak as well as cold seafood and seasonal sides, will allow him to do exactly that.
[UB Preserv] is my interpretation of how Houston is evolving. It’s becoming more global, with flavors and spices and products from around the world.
The addition of Georgia James is exciting, though it’s also a little bittersweet—the loss of Underbelly will sting. But Shepherd’s vision for UB Preserv—80 seats of intimate dining that pays homage to the Underbelly ethos while simultaneously embracing Houston’s blossoming diversity—substantially softens the blow. Underbelly will close at 1100 Westheimer in March to make way for Georgia James; UB Preserv is set to debut in April at 1609 Westheimer.
For his part, Shepherd is looking forward to the freedom that comes with a new location. “[UB Preserv] is my interpretation of how Houston is evolving,” he said. “It’s becoming more global, with flavors and spices and products from around the world.”
UB Preserv’s smaller dining room also appeals to the gregarious chef. “The dining room will be more intimate, but it’s also going to be high-energy and really fun,” Shepherd said.
Hay Merchant, Shepherd’s casual bar concept at 1100 Westheimer, will remain open during Underbelly’s transformation into Georgia James. It will also start serving lunch in April, with a few Underbelly staples like the Korean Braised Goat and Dumplings and Crispy Vegetables in Caramelized Fish Sauce living on in the new menu.
As if that’s not enough on Shepherd’s plate, One Fifth Romance Languages is slated to close at the end of July to make way for the September 1 debut of One Fifth Mediterranean, the third concept to grace the One Fifth space. “I grew up going to Lebanese steakhouses in Tulsa,” Shepherd explained. “As a kid, it was normal to eat tabouli alongside a ribeye, and it wasn’t until later that I realized it was a result of the Lebanese population in Tulsa. Looking back, it was my first time to experience the merging of cultures.”
Chris Shepherd and Houston dining are inextricably linked. Shepherd’s James Beard win paved the way for a wave of Houston victories since (Justin Yu, 2016; Hugo Ortega, 2017). When he opened Underbelly six years ago, his dedication to supporting local farmers and Houston food was nothing short of visionary. There’s no questioning Shepherd’s reputation as a culinary innovator. We’re always excited to see what’s next.
Featured image of Underbelly / Hay Merchant entrance by Julie Soefer Photography