Dish Society Spins Off New Memorial Restaurant With Chef Brandi Key
NEW: Listen to Phaedra Cook’s interview with chef Brandi Key and Dish Society co-owner Aaron Lyons in its entirety on Houston Food Finder’s “Houston Restaurant News Today” podcast.
Five 12 Restaurant Concepts , the restaurant group behind the six Dish Society locations and helmed by Aaron Lyons, is opening a new concept in CityCentre this year. Located at 800 Sorella Court in the former International Smoke space, Daily Gather is benefiting from not just Lyons’ success growing Dish Society to six locations, but also chef Brandi Key’s years of experience at restaurants such as SaltAir, Coppa and Alice Blue. Key joined the company as director of culinary operations in January and has been quietly making tweaks to Dish Society’s dishes all year.
Like Dish Society, Daily Gather’s menu will focus on local ingredients and sustainability, but with more refined touches. Also like Dish Society: Lyons envisions that, in time, there will be more than one Daily Gather restaurant in Houston.
Key is currently focused on crafting dishes for Daily Gather that are her spins on “nostalgic American classics”. One of Key’s reimagined will be a sharing-sized platter of raw, chilled and broiled Gulf seafood, dips, spreads and deviled eggs. Lunch and dinner dishes will include salads, burgers, steaks featuring Texas beef, fresh fish, rotisserie chicken, flatbreads and pasta.
As far as Lyons is concerned, having a highly experienced chef help launch Daily Gather was a must. “It is a more ambitious, elevated concept and venue,” he said. “It is absolutely critical that it has a chef’s touch. Brandi is also helping us keep Dish Society on the cutting edge of trends, what guests want to see and what’s happening locally, regionally and nationally. She was my first choice. I didn’t want to settle, so I’m glad it worked out.”
For Key’s part, she’s looking forward to opening a brand-new restaurant for the first time in six years. “It’s one of my favorite processes. It’s sitting at a table, creating the space and painting a picture of something out of nothing.” Also new for Key is the suburban, family oriented Memorial neighborhood. To serve the residents, Lyons and Key are envisioning Daily Gather as a neighborhood favorite that’s ideal for a wide range of needs, such as date nights, brunch, lunch or even just small plates and cocktails at the bar.
“A lot of it is thinking about, ‘What is classic American food?’ — this food that can take you back to a time or place and has a lot of nostalgia around it — and taking something like oysters on the half shell, and present these in a way that changes the language.” One idea she’s working on is a guacamole that is different than the Tex-Mex standards and incorporates charred peppers and onions.
Expect limited-time dishes, too, that reflect the seasons and enable Key to make the most of produce and other ingredients from small farms and local food artisans. The drink list has a similar approach, and will include coffee from local roaster Greenway Coffee and local beers. Rounding out the beverage selection are wines and house cocktails. Key says drink ingredients such as tinctures, syrups and juices will be driven by seasonality, just like the menu. A “social hour” is definitely in the works.
“You can not only have a Manhattan our way, but you can also have a fun winter cocktail that opens up your senses and has spice to it,” said Key.
Course Construction is designing the 6000-square-foot restaurant. Gin Design Group, which also helped create the most recently opened Dish Society locations, is overseeing Daily Gather’s interior design. Lyons said that while the look and feel of Daily Gather will have some commonality with Dish Society, it will have its own distinct personality. “This is going to be an approachable, non-pretentious, open and airy vibe,” said Lyons. “There’s a larger dining room, patio and bar. Dish Society is not really a date-night place — unless it’s homecoming and you’re in high school — but [Daily Gather] will be.”
Right now, Lyons is hoping for a November opening. However, as is the case with many businesses, worldwide supply chain issues may push back the date. “We have all of our furniture in a container in the Port [of Houston]. There are light fixtures that, when we ordered them, we had a four- to five-week lead time, and now it’s a 12-week lead time. These are chandeliers — key focal points of the restaurant.” Supply chain issues are also affecting receipt of bathroom fixtures, tile and kitchen equipment.
Lyons’ other major concern is finding staff in time for the opening. With many workers dropping out of the industry after the COVID-19 pandemic, having adequate staff is a challenge restaurant owners across the country have faced for months. Some of Five 12 Restaurant Concepts’ employee benefits include “Wellness Wednesdays” at rotating local fitness and wellness facilities, paid time off for all employees, health insurance, a 401(k) plan and potential promotion opportunities. (Lyons is beginning to explore opening more restaurants not only inside Houston, but outside of the city.) There are also signing and referral bonuses.
Daily Gather will offer full-service lunch and dinner daily and weekend brunch. Self-parking is available at CityCentre on streets and in garages; valet is also available at CityCentre valet stations.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.