Acclaimed Houston Restaurant Triniti Is Closed—But It Leaves A Legacy
Triniti, chef Ryan Hildebrand’s progressive American restaurant at 2815 South Shepherd has shuttered for good. Over the past five years, it won praise from Houston food media and national critics alike. It also attracted notable guests, such as former First Lady Michelle Obama. The last day of service was Super Bowl Sunday, February 6.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce Triniti’s closure,” said Hildebrand in a press release. “I want to thank our staff. I have had the opportunity to work with amazing, amazingly talented people that have become more than friends. They have become family, and I will miss them dearly. We have enjoyed successes and have executed dinners and menus I never dreamt possible.”
While Triniti was highly regarded for what Hildebrand called “California French” cuisine in a Houston Chronicle interview in 2012, the haute modern spot in Upper Kirby had one challenge after another. For the first two years, it was an uphill climb as the owners learned what worked, what didn’t and what was still needed. Triniti opened on Christmas Eve in 2011 and then had to close shortly after opening for 11 days to replace flooring. In an interview late last year with Houston Food Finder, Hildebrand told us it was like cutting short their own honeymoon.
Triniti was also plagued by an initial opening as a fine dining establishment, which led diners to put it in the dreaded “special occasion” category; a place to visit once or twice a year. Hildebrand and owner Chong Yi fought to shake that image, restructuring the dining room to make it less cavernous and evaluating guest feedback so as to head in the right direction.
“I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted when we opened, and then the natural process of people leaving and feedback from guests came into the picture, and I think we are just now at the place where we’re getting to be what we will always be,” Hildebrand said in an interview for Eater Houston in 2013, admitting that learning what diners wanted was a key component to the restaurant’s evolution.
In October 2014, Triniti relaunched the bar as its own entity, Sanctuari, helmed by star bartenders Leslie Ross and Laurie Harvey (together known as the Ladies of Libation). Disconcertingly, Ross left to go work as bar director for Treadsack not even a month later. (She left Treadsack in 2016 amid the company’s serious financial woes.) Harvey carried on until September 2015 before leaving to work for Cherry Pie Hospitality, where she now oversees the bar programs of State Fare, Pi Pizza and forthcoming Starfish in the former Bradley’s Fine Diner space. After their departures, Aki Hagio, who left Triniti for a time and then returned, ended up being the last beverage director to oversee Sanctuari.
Add to all those bumps in the road a literal bump in the road: a brutal two years of construction on Shepherd that kept all but the most die-hard of fans away. Two nearby restaurants, Dosi and 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, didn’t even survive the construction period.
Regardless of Triniti’s troubles, it has chefs across the country that are its legacy. Hildebrand had an excellent eye for talent. Daniella Soto-Innes spent a year there before taking off for Cosme in New York. In 2016, she won a James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Pastry chef Jose Hernandez went on to be executive chef at critically acclaimed Radio Milano. Greg Lowry and Matt Lovelace left to revamp Bradley’s Fine Diner and launch Pour Society. Samantha Mendoza, a former pastry chef, now heads up the dessert program at Killen’s Steakhouse. Many were on hand last December when Triniti celebrated its fifth anniversary.
It’s a legacy that Hildebrand himself acknowledged in the press release on Triniti’s closing. “I am excited for the next chapter, for myself, my family, and for the staff of Triniti, (Chef de Cuisine) Pat Sommers, (Sous Chef) Nick Hill, (Beverage Director) Aki Hagio, (Sommelier) Rick Stiles and (Service and Special Events Manager) Jase Westeen, who I know will continue to lead and inspire.”
While Triniti’s closing is a loss for the culinary landscape, Hildebrand fans can look forward to what’s next: the opening of FM Kitchen and Bar. The casual burger concept is slated to debut later this spring on Shepherd just north of Washington Avenue.