Touting an eye-catching smile and rugged charm, chef Tim Love waltzes into the sprawling lobby of One Grove Street, the newly erected office building on the renovated Kirby Grove campus. The Fort Worth-based celebrity chef (maybe you caught his stint on Bravo TV’s hit show Top Chef) was in town for the Super Bowl, jetting in with a fully-loaded catering schedule of star-studded football fêtes.
We gathered on the grounds to discuss Love’s newest culinary endeavor — a three-concept restaurant partnership with Levy Park, which is nestled in Kirby Grove, that Love talked about for the first time with PaperCity.
If the name Levy Park doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone. The nearly six-acre green space has occupied its prime Richmond Avenue location for more than 50 years — in fact, the land was deeded to the city by financier Leon Levy back in 1952 — yet was often lost under a veil of anonymity.
“I’ll tell you a really funny story. I actually called one of my buddies who lives out here before I decided to partner with the park. I really value his opinion, so I just wanted to give him a call and see what his experience was with the space. He’d never heard of it,” Love says. “So I think it’s great what the city is doing.
It’s really an entirely new park. People are going to be blown away.”
In just a few weeks, the obscure treasure will soon be hidden no more. The fruits of its four-year, $15 million renovation will be revealed to the city with a grand re-opening celebration on Saturday, February 25, further aligning the grounds with Houston’s booming period of green revitalization.
Aside from the 22,000 square-foot activity lawn (which will be furnished with everything from an imagination playground and putting green to a water slide and mini amphitheatre), the 24,000 square-foot play area, the dog park, the community gardens, and soon-to-be farmers market, the transformed green space will also feature a series of culinary attractions. That’s where Love comes in.
Prior to our Super Bowl week meeting, Levy Park kept the chef’s identity and all restaurant details under wraps, so much so, even the venue’s team was in the dark.
“You’ll probably receive more detailed information than our staff knows at this point,” Levy Park’s programs and events manager Nicole Romano jokes to PaperCity.
Proprietor of five restaurant concepts across DFW, Denton, Austin, and Knoxville, the forthcoming park restaurants — which will begin their debut this summer — are Love’s first foray into the Houston market.
Love expounds on his bold culinary vision for Levy Park, imparts lessons from the kitchen, reveals his favorite Houston eats and more in this exclusive PaperCity interview:
“Well I’ve never done anything with a park. I’ve always been a big proponent of outdoor space, and I think the world’s gotten away from it now. I’m trying to make a push to come back to that, so an opportunity to be involved in something like this is really interesting.
“I think what we’re going to bring to the park is gonna be really integrated with the outdoor space and is really different than what most of these projects do, so I’m super excited to be the one to bring in this new concept.
“When you compare it to Discovery Green or something like that, it’s so much more streamline and more focused on people everyday as opposed to giant events, which I think Discovery Green does very well. We want our food and beverages to really interact with the guests, like what Shake Shack did in [New York’s] Madison Square Park.”
Three Restaurants, One Park.
“So we’re doing a kiosk over here, it’s called Love Bird. It’s kind of like rotisserie chickens all-day, but it will be all smoked chickens. That’s all you can order there. We’ll also have beer and wine being served at the kiosk’s 360-degree, open-air bar. Then we’ll have a variety of sides made from produce grown in the park’s community garden.
“Woodshed will be the bigger restaurant. All of the dishes are built on the six different types of wood that we use, and each item on the menu is influenced by a particular type of wood. Some of it is steamed with wood, some of it is roasted with wood, some smoked, some is marinated with wood. There’s a lot of open fire, and the whole restaurant is gonna feel like it’s in the park, but it will be covered. That’s the best way to describe it.
“The biergarten bus doesn’t have a name yet. I’m actually going look at the bus today. We’re going to do lots of beer of course, but also we’ll have some snacks that’ll come out the Woodshed, and they’ll be complimentary. We’ll have power bars and stuff like that for people who are working out, but it’s really gonna be beverages and complimentary snacks.
“In addition to the three bigger projects, we’re going to have multiple food carts around the park; a cool guy riding around in a ice cream cart; and even a coffee cart. All of these fun things will continue to develop as we see the popularity of the park grow.”
“The cocktail program at Woodshed will be very strong. We’re going to have 20 beers on tap as well as five wines on tap alongside a large cocktail program, which will feature tons of tequilas.
We’ll also have growlers and wine bottles that you can fill up before you come in at the park, so you can come in and just chill. We have a license for the whole park so you can walk anywhere and drink.”
“The concept of Woodshed originated in Fort Worth, but only 50 percent of the menu is the same. So every city really gets its own menu. I want to cook based one what’s going on in the city and what people like, the diversity of the crowd. That’s the fun part for me. I don’t ever want to take that away because that’s what keeps me going, the opportunity to do cool and new and better things and learn stuff in the communities.
“There’s a great cooking community in Houston, and I’ve got so much to learn from those people… that’s another excitement. Especially when I go to a new city I get to hang out with all these guys and girls and learn all this stuff and see what they’re doing.”
Music on the Green.
“Through the deal that I’ve made, I’ve got the park for six to eight days to myself. I can throw any kind of concert, so we’ll probably do some real music here, have some kick-ass bands and have those types of opportunities. I do all the food for the Austin City Festival, and I do a lot for Lalapalooza, so I’ve got a few bands in mind.”
“I’m from Denton Texas, and my dad moved to Tennessee when I was 8, and so I would spend every summer in Tennessee, and that’s where we had the farm and all the animals and all that stuff. And then you know once you start going you never know where your path is gonna take you. I enjoy restaurants a lot and I enjoy people more, I enjoy cooking, and it’s just been a fun ride.
“I’ve got an awesome team, and I’m really excited about this particular project. It’s something that we’ve never done and I like new stuff, just having this type of environment where we have all these type of people, that’s what I get most excited about. We also have all these great foods. You know, a lot of different ethnicities that come into play with what I want to do, so my style that allows me to do and breakout. Especially Houston, its got huge diversity and I’m really excited about that.”
“If you want to be in the restaurant business you have to have the guts to take everything that you own, and bet it all. If you don’t have the guts to do that then it’s just probably not the business for you, which is fine. So I kind of operate like that. I don’t hedge a lot of risk although my experience is my hedge. I’ve had some failures that were 110 percent my fault, and I’ve had some failures that were out of my hands.
“I’ve learn from both sides of that. But now I pick projects that first and foremost are right for the community. That’s one of my biggest things, I wanna build something for the community that creates some sort of legacy for itself. I don’t like to open restaurants that lasts five years. I want to open a restaurant that last 16-18 years, which is unheard of these days. We’re doing a ton of research and turning this into something never seen before.”
“I’ll probably tell you the ones you already know because I’ve just visited my friends to eat. I love Oxheart, Underbelly, and State of Grace. I haven’t really had the chance to dig in, but once we start building, I’ll be here 80 percent of the time.
“I want to introduce myself to the neighbors and all the business reps, then I’ll eat at every restaurant that’s within a two mile radius before we open. Good, bad or different, from McDonalds, all the way. That’s kind of my thing.”