Big Changes

Restaurateur to Close Benjy's, Expand Rice Village Local Foods

The popular neighborhood restaurant had just marked 25 years.

By Timothy Malcolm October 26, 2020

A rendering of the expanded Local Foods in Rice Village.

Benjy's, which has served Rice Village for more than 25 years, has ended its run. In its place will be an expanded Local Foods Market, according to an announcement made Monday by owner-operator Benjy Levit.

During the fall, says the announcement, the Benjy's space will be fully converted to hold more grocery items, and by the new year both the former Benjy's and Local Foods Rice Village will be completely revamped into one Local Foods brand.

The announcement is a surprising one, as just a year ago Benjy's was renovated to mark its 25th year of business. Former Pass & The Provisions chef Seth Siegel-Gardner was brought in to help chef Mike Potowski refresh the Benjy's menu.

But, when Covid-19 forced the shutdown of Houston restaurants and bars in March, Levit pivoted his business, offering grocery items through his Local Foods locations. Benjy's closed so that Levit could focus his time on the Local Foods model.

"In the beginning of the pandemic, there was just about four months left on the lease at Benjy's, and so at the beginning the take was, 'Let's see how things play out,'" says Levit. "But as the pandemic wore on, I realized that full service was going to be a challenging environment, and certainly in 2020. And so as I got closer to my lease expiring, it's when I came to realize the market was the more viable direction."

So, Levit doubled down on Local Foods, bringing in Michael Hsu Office of Architecture to refresh the Rice Village space, which will be one-half Local Foods and one-half Local Foods Market, all with an expanded patio. Levit will maintain much of the same Local Foods menu, but he's adding hot items like free-range rotisserie chicken, hot-smoked salmon, and Frixo's slow-roasted fish and mushroom scallion tofu. Grab-and-go items will also be available, and don't worry, Mom's Chocolate Cake will be on offer.

Benjy's isn't the only Levit concept that has recently closed for good. Just last week it was reported that his Washington Avenue restaurant The Classic was finished. All of it is an indicator that the restaurateur is fully focused on the Local Foods brand: He's retaining as much of the Classic and Benjy's staff who want to stay on at Local Foods, and the first Austin Local Foods is scheduled to open in 2021. More locations statewide are expected.

"I see it as another chapter and not something that's finished," says Levit. "I think we've been successful with Local Foods, and this is part of the evolution of Local Foods."

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