Houston Restaurant Shocker: Evan Turner Is No Longer At Helen Greek Food & Wine—Updated

Evan Turner

In what might be the most surprising development in Houston’s restaurant scene this year, sommelier Evan Turner has resigned from Helen Greek Food and Wine, the James Beard-nominated restaurant in Rice Village, as well as from newly opened Helen In The Heights.

Turner’s statement was very brief and he would not elaborate on the reason for his departure. “I am simply notifying you,” he said by phone. “I have nothing else to say right now and nothing lined up yet for the future.”

Update, 5/9/2017, 11:38 a.m.: Helen Greek Food and Wine has issued the following statement on Turner’s resignation:

“Helen in the Heights has announced that Evan Turner has departed from his position as Head Sommelier at the restaurant effective immediately. Turner has been an integral part of both Helen in the Heights as well as the original Helen Greek Food and Wine in Rice Village, both of which have garnered accolades and support from the Houston community. Evan has decided to pursue other avenues, and the leadership team and staff behind Helen Family wishes him success in his future endeavors.”

His departure is all the more shocking because Helen Greek Food & Wine, more than anything else, was the embodiment of a dream Turner personally pursued for years. After hosting some Greece-meets-Gulf Coast pop-ups (such an innovative crawfish boil paired with Greek wines), Turner started a Kickstarter in spring 2015 to fund the restaurant.

Evan Turner and Greek wine
Sommelier Evan Turner with a selection of Greek wines at Helen. Photo by Ellie Sharp

The Kickstarter failed to meet the fundraising goal. However, what it did accomplish was drawing interest from an investor (Sharif Al-Amin, who is no longer with the company) and other potential business partners. Turner indicated that partners Tim Faiola and Towfique Habib will continue operating Helen.

This latest rocky development comes on the heels of the company shuttering ill-fated New York-style Italian restaurant Arthur Ave and reopening it as Helen In The Heights.

Helen Greek Food & Wine was a James Beard Foundation “Best New Restaurant” semifinalist in 2016. This year, chef William Wright was a semifinalist in the Rising Star Chef category. Turner has had his own accolades recently. For example, in 2016 he won against some of Houston’s other most respected sommeliers in the Iron Sommelier competition.

Under Turner’s guidance, Helen’s Greek wine inventory grew to the second largest in the nation and he can be credited for helping raise the profile of Greek wine overall in Houston. In March, he helped us with a starter guide for pairing Greek wines.

Above all, though, Turner has been the welcoming face, enthusiastic voice and big presence of Helen Greek Food & Wine’s dining room. Even with Wright still on-board, it remains to be seen if the restaurant will continue to a local and national impact on the culinary scene without Turner’s involvement.

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