When Benjy Levit talks about changing his landmark Houston restaurant Benjy's, he thinks of a recent car commercial.
"[It's] a Buick commercial, where they say something like 'It's not your father's Buick anymore,'" says Levit. "You know, they point at the car and say 'What car is that?' And they say 'It's a Buick.'"
Benjy's was that boxy car that still ran but needed a full-scale upgrade. In comes Seth Siegel-Gardner, previously of the now-shuttered Pass & Provisions, to help update the restaurant, along with Levit and chef Mike Potowski. Levit hopes that when folks return to Benjy's for dinner on Thursday, Oct. 3, they'll look around and be impressed at a more minimalistic, relaxed space with shareable, accessible cuisine.
"I've been a huge fan of Seth, certainly from the beginning of the Pass & Provisions," says Levit. "We would just have really interesting discussions and it came to where the Pass had closed and he was telling me a little about his plans, and the timing just seemed right, and he pushed me to decide to really do this big overhaul."
Siegel-Gardner is working as a consultant as the restaurant changes, and Potowski—who was co-leading the kitchen at The Classic with Maria Gonzalez—will move to Benjy's as executive chef.
The menu will be completely different. Think shareable plates like smoked trout roe with cauliflower cream and potato and beef chips, a burger with Funyun aioli (!), and smoked bone broth with dumplings—a favorite at The Classic—filled with brisket from Blood Bros. BBQ. An updated crispy chicken will be available, but one thing that's staying as is is the famous Mom's Chocolate Cake. An all-new cocktail menu will be helmed by bar manager Shannon Beehner (formerly OKRA Charity Saloon).
Inside, Aaron Rambo, who worked on The Classic, is transforming the space with a more casual, Californian feel. Green wallpaper and birchwood will set a cool tone, and all-new chairs, tables, booths, signage, and floors follow.
It's all happening very quickly, though some of the changes have been ongoing for a while. (Benjy's will close from Monday, Sept. 30 to Wednesday, Oct. 2 before its reopening on Thursday, Oct. 3. Brunch will start Sunday, Oct. 6). The big question, as it must be asked when a beloved restaurant changes things: How does Levit think customers will react?
"We feel like that while our customers may be accustomed to what we've been doing, I also feel like they have changed a little bit over the 25 years," says Levit. "There's a certain feel and value that will still resonate with them, but the components will be different."