Dine-out only

Rising star chef delivers new  'virtual restaurant' concept to Houston

This restaurant concept will have no dining-in option for guests and will act as an incubator for restaurant ideas. Photo by www.jillianekristine.com

Gabe Medina is back. The chef, who earned raves for his work at restaurants such as Kata Robata, Soma, and Aqui, will launch a new project this week in partnership with beverage expert Steven Salazar (The Kirby Group).

Under the banner of Click Robot Run, Medina will open five restaurants in a commercial kitchen in Rice Military (4901 Rose St.). Rather than traditional sit down establishments, they're "virtual restaurants" that will only serve diners via pick-up, to-go, or delivery apps such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. They are:

  • A&J Provisions (opens Wednesday, June 26): a comfort food restaurant that offers both an array of grilled meats as well as vegan and vegetarian dishes.
  • Bowling Club (opens August 2019): a Japanese rice bowl restaurant inspired by Medina's time working at Narisawa in Tokyo, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world.
  • Sandwich Legend (opens November 2019): meatball subs, cold cuts, sandwiches inspired by Houston's immigrant cuisines, and more will be on the menu at this restaurant.
  • 7000 Islands (opens January 2020): Medina will explore Filipino cuisine its various forms at this restaurant, which is inspired by both his heritage and trips to the island nation.
  • Fifth concept: TBD. Salazar says that he and Medina will develop the fifth restaurant in collaboration with the chefs the hire to run the other four.

While one media account stated the concepts will open in sequence in a style similar to Chris Shepherd's One Fifth, that's not correct, according to Salazar. Instead, the five concepts will operate simultaneously — making it more like a food hall where each restaurant could someday be spun off into its own brick and mortar space.

"It's important to remember there's two aspects of this," Salazar says. "We like the idea of being able to utilize multiple concepts out of the same facility, that's one rent, one labor force.

"The second thing to remember is this is an incubator for us. It's about testing multiple menus for multiple concepts. It's about getting data from multiple sources: Favor, DoorDash, even our neighbors stopping by."

Operating as a "virtual restaurant" without a dining room means that one set of cooks can do the work, which reduces costs. It also means only paying rent for one location while they use the sales data to determine which concepts to promote.

While Medina is the chef who will develop the menus, train the cooks, etc, Salazar says his role is to serve as a sounding board and provide logistical support; he will also maintain his current role as the operating partner of The Kirby Group (Wooster's Garden, Heights Bier Garten, Holman Draft Hal, etc). The two friends have a history that goes back to the two years they spent working together at Kata Robata.

"Gabe is like one of my brothers, and I want to be part of his success," Salazar says. "I said, 'please, can I help you? Let me be involved if you'll let me.' I just have so much respect for him as a chef."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Gabe Medina is the culinary mind behind Click Robot Run. Photo by Eric Sandler

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Building Houston

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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