Style DNA: Lee Ellis

Serial Restaurateur & a Much Cooler Version of "Duck Dynasty"

Jenny Antill
Posted:
October 18, 2013

Lee Ellis is a force of nature. He concepts and creates restaurants, each with an exactitude and dead-on persona: Cowboy Surfers (bohemia by way of Texas); Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar (laid-back transplanted L.A. dude); Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette (East Coast laid-back dude); Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts (oil and gas tycoon-type weekend carbo-ing); BRC (English cowboy). Each is a little slice of Ellis. Jenny Antill chats up the man, slice by slice.

Current retail and restaurant establishments: Sam and Lilli in West Ave, Petite Sweets, BRC Gastropub, Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar, Belvedere, Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette on San Felipe (opened in September), Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts (in the works), Cowboy Surfers (in the works at Ella and 34th Street)

What’s next? We’re working on a place called Libertine inside the Loop, catering to a younger crowd. And a Liberty Kitchen in Austin on 5th and Pressler.

Hmmmm. Is “libertine” your favorite word? Well, libertine has a great meaning. [Ellis pulls up
the definition of “libertine” on his iPhone: libertine |ˈlibərˌtēn| noun. 1 a person who rejects accepted opinions in matters of religion; a freethinker.]

Describe the new Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette. Basically the concept is two really cool restaurants in one, so it has this badass seafood bar where you can sit and see all the way around, serving booze and seafood. And then the perimeter seating is really cool booths.

What word best describes you today? Kind of sleepy, but I can’t be. I have a very full day.

Reside? A home in the Heights here in Houston and a loft in Austin on South Congress.

What’s up with the beard? It’s all about the beard. The beard is forever.

How has your life changed since you grew it? Chicks dig it …

If Americana is the trend right now, what’s the next trend for restaurants? Upscale casual.

Product you use with your beard? Conditioner? Aveda conditioner. Aveda shampoo. Aveda Be Curly. It’s for your head hair, but you put it in your beard.

Most recent purchase? A 1972 Husky 250 motocross bike. I collect them. I have five. And a new lens for my Canon.

I thought you collected shoes? I collect Air Jordans. I have at least 25 pairs.

Your most prized possession. Melissa, my wife of 22 years.

Where did you and Melissa meet? In Houston in Rice Village, at the first Hoop It Up.

Talent you wish you had. Dance.

Who would play Lee Ellis in a movie? Jack Nicholson.

Cannot live without … Crushed ice.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I have an insurance business, Ellis Brown + Co., with my good friend Jesse Brown.

Favorite home store. Round Top. I recently purchased a ’50s Chevy hood, which will be over a door as an awning at Cowboy Surfers.

First job. Lifeguard.

Next … I managed the first skateboard park in the city, and it was the second skateboard park built in the country (Carlsbad, California, was the first). It was called Skateboard City on Bingle Road. I was 18.

Your first entrepreneurial endeavor? I had a roller-skate rental business called High Rollin’ on Montrose. You could rent the skates and go anywhere you wanted.

Landmarks you have owned. Tonic was one of the first night clubs downtown (1999 – 2001). I owned it for three years. After Tonic, The Social was the first bar on Washington (2001 – 2004) and Belvedere
(2004 –current).

The most difficult thing about owning and running restaurants. There’s really not anything that is super difficult, apart from the hours and seven days a week.

You’re a clean freak. What are your biggest pet peeves for restaurant cleanliness? Fingerprints — on the cash drawers, countertops, glass doors, etc. … Currently I’m obsessed with the Dyson handheld vacuum DC44.

Global restaurant that you adore. La Régalade, Paris — the menu changes everyday. It’s very unpretentious. The food is awesome. They have incredible rice pudding.

Favorite In Austin. Clark’s Oyster Bar and Barlata.

What makes a great restaurant? Great service, well-executed fresh food, creative and comfortable atmosphere, and clean bathrooms. I like restaurants like R+D in Santa Monica … One day we sat at the bar so long, we had lunch and dinner.

Favorite cheeseburger. Avalon Diner. For breakfast.

I see you there a lot. Is Avalon like your second office? I go for breakfast there a lot … I ask them for any table in Brenda’s section.

Other favorites. Also, I love the fries at Barbecue Inn; they’re hand-cut.

Cocktail of choice. A DKR, Darrell K. Royal. It’s Welch’s Grape Juice, two shots of vodka and a splash of Sprite. On the rocks.

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