Sometimes you just have to make that jump. These creative and culinarily gifted talents did just that, whether responding to a hand dealt to them during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic or deciding to follow their true passion.
Founder: Angelo Emiliani | angiespizzapies.com
In November 2020, Angelo Emiliani put everything into a trailer and drove it from Los Angeles to Houston. On his second day back in his hometown he did a pop-up at How to Survive on Land and Sea.
“Which was a terrible idea,” laughs Emiliani. “I was a mess. We sold out in an hour and I really didn’t tell anyone.”
That’s how Angie’s Pizza came to be. Out of a custom, 47-inch Forno Stanzia oven, Emiliani blistered a whole bunch of Neapolitan and square pies for Houstonians lucky enough to score them from his website.
Why pizza? Though it wasn’t his plan, it made sense. People want something affordable to take with them, and that made even more sense during the pandemic.
“My first love is making pasta,” he says. “My initial plan coming back was never to open a pizzeria, or at least not at first. But that was thrown off by the pandemic.”
Sometimes he cooked in a Montrose kitchen, and sometimes he was at 8th Wonder or Night Market. Like a phantom, his seriously delicious pies were hard to catch. Because they were that good, and because his mentor is Chris Bianco, the very man who reimagined American Neapolitan pizza by using wood, his creations were an overnight sensation.
But all good things end. Emiliani closed up Angie’s Pizza in summer 2021. It will probably return at some point, but not before the chef finally gets around to some other things. His all-day Cafe Louie is next on the list.
Founder: Emmanuel Chavez | tatemohtx.com
One taste of Emmanuel Chavez’s corn tortillas will have you reorganizing your entire tortilla-buying process.
Since returning to his native Houston from Seattle a few years ago, Chavez and partner Megan Maul, have been producing the city’s best tortillas. They’re nixtamalized, meaning the maize is soaked in an alkaline solution like lime water, then washed and hulled, making them more flavorful and healthier. They’re also sturdy, the perfect sweetness, and great with just about anything.
That’s why Chavez started making tacos starring his corn products, selling them at Night Market, the semi-regular Montrose party he co-created in November 2020 to get pop-up chefs and small food businesses together to sell their items. Night Market was an instant hit and led to four more editions into 2021.
“We’re seeing that now with so many markets popping up, it’s a trend because of the pandemic that has been working and will work,” says Chavez. “We invite small businesses and up-and-coming chefs. We’re starting to see the next generation of chefs coming up, and this is an opportunity for them.”
In spring 2021, Chavez started hosting six-person tasting dinners on Saturday nights, something many up-and-coming chefs have been doing to bring in some money and be as creative as they want to be.
That creativity continues to blossom with partnerships (Tenfold Coffee, Koffeteria, Better Luck Tomorrow), spots on Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted, and who knows … is a Tatemo restaurant in the works?
It had better be.
Founder: Sasha Gruman | @sashas_focaccia
Just as the buzzy Downtown hotel restaurant Rosalie was getting settled in, COVID-19 closed it temporarily. Chef de cuisine Sasha Grumman was out of a job, so she spent time with Southern Smoke, saw family, and showed off her magnetic personality and magnificent cooking skills as a contestant on Top Chef: Portland.
While competing, she started baking a lot. She figured she could use it for a future episode, but it became much bigger than her.
“For me, baking was therapeutic,” says Grumman. “I knew I needed to get my hands dirty again.”
Returning to Houston, she started baking in her Montrose apartment, then selling the airy, oil-laden loaves to people over Instagram under the banner Sasha’s Focaccia. Farmers’ markets and pop-ups followed. Soon she was making pizzas and crostatas, too. Whatever she wanted—it was her business.
“I have a lot of freedom,” she says. “It’s something where people are so respectful to what I’m doing and seeing what’s next. It’s giving me the energy to be creative.”
The business has given Grumman renewed focus. She says she has a 10-year plan that includes opening restaurants, expanding the home business, and considering only the right projects. She’s already on the move, but best believe that focaccia—and whatever the heck she wants to make next—will be back at some point. It has to. It’s too dang good.
Breadman Baking Co.
Founder: Tasos Katsaounis | breadmanco.com
Tasos Katsaounis has rewritten his plans a few times now. In 2017 he resigned as a consultant at Accenture with his sights set on starting a scalable baking business, capitalizing on the response people were giving him on his breads.
Using his grandmother’s recipes as source material, he started baking sourdough and rye loaves, selling them at the Urban Harvest farmers’ market and striking up relationships with local restaurants. It was clear his breads were among the best in town, so success came quick.
How quick? In July 2018 he opened a 4,800-square foot bakery in Stella Link. He figured that was a five-year space, but then Whole Foods got in touch in December of that year. “Honestly,” he says, “I thought someone was playing a prank on me.”
That partnership started in 2019. By 2020 it was clear a move had to happen, so in February 2021 Katsaounis announced he’d open an upgraded bakery in 40,800 square feet in the East End. For a cherry on top, he plucked industry star Jess DeSham Timmons and renowned chef Drew Gimma to help run the show.
“The goal was always to get here,” says Katsounis. “We didn’t expect it to happen this quickly.”
Now Bread Man will not only serve restaurants in Houston and possibly beyond, but it has already expanded into Whole Foods locations across the Southwest with more distribution likely on the way. In four years, the Bayou City’s Bread Man went from a hobbyist to leader of a fast-rising empire.
“It makes me feel like I made the right choice to pivot and make this career choice to go down the path of something that I have a passion for,” he says. “I love serving people, so what I like now is I get instant gratification from chefs who are not only talented but revered in the city … that love your product.”
Founder: Josh DeLeon | underground creamery.com
With a food blog at @eatsgonewild and a job as a ramp agent at Southwest Airlines, Josh DeLeon already had a full plate. But an itch to make ice cream took over his life, and now he’s considered H-Town’s best-kept scoop secret.
DeLeon started batching his own ice cream in 2018; during the pandemic friends would DM him asking for their own pints, so he started sending them. The word spread, but in that weird underground way where it became almost impossible to score the stuff. He makes an average of about 300 pints per week out of a commercial kitchen and puts available flavors on the website, and “Whoever gets it gets it,” he says. “I don’t have to go through DMs anymore.”
The flavors slap. There’s, among others, 24-hour cold-stepped Thai tea; honey lavender with blueberry compote swirl, and Fruity Pebble clusters; and—mother of God—peanut butter with Cheez-Its and fudge swirl.
“Cheez Its in ice cream ... it’s like ‘What the fuck is he doing?’” DeLeon says. “But when something like that works, it’s cool. All the flavors that I create, it’s unapologetically what I want to make.”
DeLeon wants new spaces and equipment. He wants to expand but not at the expense of the product. That’ll all come. For now, you might be able to find him at the semi-regular Montrose Night Market, or for dessert at ultra-cool tasting menu spot Neo, or if you’re lucky, you’ll score a pint and treasure it like it’s the win of your life.