Lyle Bento Closes Southern Goods And Returns to Underbelly Hospitality
In the restaurant world, change is inevitable but with any luck it is also positive. Known most recently as co-owner and executive chef of Southern Goods, the casual Heights eatery he helped open with partner Charles Bishop in 2015, Lyle Bento has gone back to working for Underbelly Hospitality. His new role is as chef de cuisine with the included responsibility of running the company’s catering business.
Bento was part of Underbelly’s opening team in 2012 before opening Southern Goods, a charming and laid-back concept that was enormously popular for eclectic and locally sourced southern fare, barbecue and solid bar program. A kitchen fire in November 2017 and related setbacks has forced Bento to close Southern Goods permanently. Those reasons included delays and disputes with the insurance company, the inevitable departure of staff, and a lease that demanded financial attention regardless of the restaurant’s physical condition.
“It was an easy choice for me to go back and work back with Chris,” says Bento. “There are so many people in the company who I consider family. There was a lot of Underbelly influence at Southern [Goods] as well so I think that I will be able to incorporate some of the things that I did at Southern with the catering and be able to do the customizable dishes. We’re going to turn some heads in the catering world here in Houston.”
Sample menus may include uni panna cotta and seafood towers from Georgia James, crispy rice salad and dumplings from UB Preserv, PB&J wings and Cha Ca-style catfish from Hay Merchant plus influences from upcoming One Fifth Mediterranean.
The company’s new catering kitchen is located near Cherryhurst Park in Montrose and although it’s not yet ready for full production, the bungalow space will allow Bento and his team to supply events hosting from 20 to 2,000 attendees, thereby freeing up valuable space and resources at the company’s restaurants. In the meantime he’ll take advantage of existing locations to fuel catering events.
Furthermore, Bento will ensure special projects run smoothly, including the kiosks at NRG Stadium during Texans games (rebranded as Georgia James for the 2018-2019 season) and creating shrubs, misos and other forms of preserving seasonal ingredients.
Underbelly Hospitality chef and owner Chris Shepherd couldn’t be more pleased. “As Underbelly Hospitality grows, we want to bring our family back,” he said. “We’ve had a catering program for a few years as an extension of Underbelly’s offerings, but now that the company is growing, our catering capabilities have grown as well. Lyle understands the Underbelly philosophy and our commitment to quality. Plus, he’s a damn good cook and a great leader. Everyone at UBH is thrilled to have him back.”
In addition to the catering, Bento will split his time between the restaurants Hay Merchant, One Fifth, UB Preserv and forthcoming Georgia James. As chef de cuisine for the company as a whole he can sub in at each kitchen allowing for seamless assistance should another team member be absent or special needs arise.
That said, he is particularly eager to embrace his new role. “I’ve never really focused on 100-percent catering, so I get to see that side of this business and am able to network and meet people,” says Bento. “ I just think it’s going to be fun to do — to give every guest or catering guest a different experience than they would get from somebody else. I think this is a really good opportunity and I’m really, really looking forward to it.”