Shocking Chef News: Chris Shepherd Leaves  His Restaurant Company

Chris Shepherd (photo by John Davidson)

A SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT was made this afternoon from the Houston food world: Chris Shepherd is leaving Underbelly Hospitality, the restaurant group he built. The news comes just after the opening of the new Georgia James in Regent Square that was billed as “Chris Shepherd’s take on a steakhouse.”


Shepherd has helped shape the Houston culinary scene since he opened Underbelly on Westheimer in 2012 and won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. In a statement released today the prolific restaurateur says, “we’ve done a lot in 10 years. It’s time for me to focus on smaller projects and dedicate more time to Southern Smoke.”

Southern Smoke is Shepherd's non-profit organization that provides financial relief to food and beverage workers in crisis. Notably, Southern Smoke aided restaurant employees after Harvey, Covid and the winter storm in 2021. According to the Southern Smoke website, the organization has donated more than $9.8 million since its inception in 2015.

Underbelly Hospitality currently operates four restaurants: Underbelly Burger, Georgia James, GJ Tavern and Wild Oats. Pastore Italian Kitchen is scheduled to open in the Fall. “I’ve put my heart and soul into these restaurants,” Shepherd says, “and I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished. As I always say, Underbelly is no longer a restaurant—it’s a way of life.”

Underbelly Hospitality will now be run by the private investment company MLB Partners. Managing partner Todd Mason said in a statement, “Chris is an incredible talent. We are grateful for his immense contributions to both Underbelly and the industry as a whole.”

Shepherd ended his statement with words of advice. “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. We are always learning. It’s time for me to learn a new chapter.” Shepherd contuined, “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.”

Shepherd on the 2020 cover of CityBook's Leaders & Legends issue. (photographed for CityBook by Gittings Photography)

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