Often in the restaurant business, starting a new concept comes with obstacles. For Sean Marshall, co-owner of downtown cafe, bar, and French-inspired bistro Coterie, one of those obstacles was actually running a restaurant for the first time.
“Admittedly this is my first restaurant, so this is a learning curve,” says Marshall (owner of roaster Fusion Beans). “And I’m fortunate to have a lot of really good friends in the restaurant industry and I’ve got some good advice and consultation. But all the consultation in the world can’t prepare you for instabilities or circumstance.”
Marshall admits Coterie, which opened last November, struggled to make an impression during its first year. Some of it was efficiency, some of it was a failure to meet expectations in the kitchen despite talented people on staff, but it was all rooted in inexperience with operating a restaurant, especially one that wanted to be a combination coffee shop, breakfast hangout, business lunch spot, and a cool happy hour bar.
So Coterie moved on from its opening chef and began a transition. Marshall brought in help to manage daily operations, and then he hung out one night with Adam Dorris, smoking cigars up on the roof of the apartment building that’s home to the restaurant.
“We went up there and we talked til four in the morning on concepts,” says Marshall. “He saw what this place could be very early on.”
Dorris, as you may remember, opened Presidio in 2017, but his restaurant and bar was destroyed in a fire last fall, never to open again. His next move was to team up with Michael Riojas to help launch Montrose bar Lotti Dotti. During this time he met with Marshall, and their rooftop experience together went so well that he was offered a chance to consult on the menu changes at Coterie.
That’s gone so well that Dorris will now be chef de cuisine at Coterie. A year of challenges has led him to a fresh start.
“Especially just going through the fire and the wreckage of [Presidio], it’s tough,” says Dorris. “It wasn’t really something that I expected, but I’m really, really glad that happened this way.”
Dorris streamlined the Coterie menu, opting to focus on simple breakfast dishes (eggs, potatoes, and ham; challah French toast; oats; avocado toast; croissant), and a small selection of lunch items (a decadent and pitch perfect croque monsieur, a light and refreshing bibb lettuce salad with orange, radish, dill, pecorino, and sherry-thyme vinaigrette). He’s also added two pasta dishes to the menu (cacio e pepe with lumache pasta and casarecce with chicken and broccoli pesto).
Happy hour will be a different story at Coterie, with fun bites and cold antipasto and salads available for the wine-and-noshing crew. While that’s a few months from launching, the team is planning multiple events aimed at testing dishes. The first is a pizza party, set for 7 p.m. Sept. 19 at the restaurant and run in collaboration with 8th Wonder Brewery and Distillery, and featuring a variety of pies—Neapolitan, New York-style, and a hybrid Roman and Detroit-style, for example.
Marshall also plans to bring in a full-time bar director; once that’s set, he and Dorris think Coterie can fill a void for diners hanging out at night in the theater district or other downtown spots.
“Culturally there’s a ton going on. So it’s very important for us to launch this bar program within the next couple of months to really be a part of that fabric and nightlife of downtown Houston,” says Dorris. “So, we can fit into somebody who’s going to an event or coming from an event, and they can come in and have a good time and they can have a little snack and some great wine.”
So, while Coterie will remain a coffee shop, breakfast hangout, business lunch spot, and cool happy hour bar, it hopes to be more sure-footed in its approach.