Two successful restaurateurs have whipped up a major business change that will have them remaking their business from scratch and serving up two new local concepts that are sure to catch Austin foodies’ attention.
Executive chefs Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee — whose Scratch Restaurants Group has cultivated such hospitality concepts as Austin’s Sushi|Bar (a spinoff of the married couple’s Michelin-starred Sushi|Bar eatery in Los Angeles) — will soon bring their Pasta|Bar eatery to town, along with a new sushi counter concept called Shokunin that’s planned for the Hill Country.
The Lees’ Pasta|Bar, also a Michelin-starred concept with an LA location, is set to open in downtown Austin in March, while Shokunin will roll out in a yet-to-be-announced Hill Country spot late next summer.
The award-winning and critically acclaimed chefs, who are also the minds behind California eateries Scratch|Bar & Kitchen and Sushi|Bar Montecito, are no strangers to crafting world-class cuisine and meticulously bespoke dining experiences for specific locales, nor to dazzling the food world with their innovative culinary ideas.
Lee competed on Bravo’s Top Chef season 13 and holds the Food Network record for the most consecutive wins on Chopped, Guy’s Grocery Games, and Cutthroat Kitchen. Pastry whiz Kallas-Lee, a 30 Under 30 chef and impressive culinary force herself, designs and runs the dessert programs at all of the Scratch restaurants.
The couple’s move to open an Austin Pasta|Bar location and launch the elevated sushi concept Shokunin comes at a time when the chefs are embracing a reinvigorated passion about their business — which they say literally began as a “true garage startup” — in part because they have secured financial and operational independence via a corporate buyout that has enabled them to retake 100 percent of the company shares.
The business change means the Lees can autonomously make decisions to move into new markets, expand their existing restaurant concepts, and embrace the experimental aspects that often drive their culinary creativity.
“We have been lucky to have fantastic partners over the years that have helped Scratch Restaurants Group become more than what Margarita and I had ever dreamed it would have become when we founded the company nearly 10 years ago,” Lee says. “We’re at the point now where we are ready to be on our own, and we are poised to execute our visions exactly the way that we imagine them without the need for satisfying shareholders. We are excited to have an opportunity to maneuver our industry in ways that only those working day in and day out recognize. For us, this is one of the most meaningful points in our career.”
Though the couple’s business savvy is most commonly faultless, they are restaurant owners, and that means some element of failure is nearly inevitable, particularly in these pandemic times. Indeed, several of their California eateries, The Monarch, Silver Bough, The Gadarene Swine, and Frankland’s Crab & Co., all shuttered in recent years.
And as part of the buyout that has given them full control of their business, the duo sold their shares in the local Sushi|Bar, perhaps a bittersweet move, but one the Lees say will enable them to double down on their investment in Austin, where they now reside.
“For the past 10 years, some of our most exciting plans have been understandably retooled to be less experimental or risky. Being able to be in the driver’s seat of our company now means all that can change,” Kallas-Lee says. “We are filled with gratitude for the path we’ve been on but are even more thrilled to look to the future for where we, our teams, and our restaurants can really begin to grow. If you’ve enjoyed our concepts so far, just wait till you see what’s next.”
The Lees’ bold Pasta|Bar concept is likely to be one that captures the attention of discriminating Austin diners, with a thoughtful, progressive tasting menu that is inspired by the Italian coast. The restaurant will serve just 10 guests per seating inside the kitchen at the chef’s counter. Diners can expect gorgeously plated specialties that don’t shy away from modern cooking techniques while also touting traditional and alluring flavors.
Their Shokunin restaurant in the Hill Country will likewise embrace a spirit of eccentricity and aim to provide diners with an unparalleled sushi experience. The restaurant’s name, which is “a word reserved for only the finest of artisans who specialize in producing singular, one-of-a-kind crafts from within their chosen trade,” kind of says it all.
With the restaurant, the Lees will focus on finessing quality ingredients while also offering a unique take on the traditional omakase, essentially a Japanese version of a chef’s tasting menu.
“Since starting out, we’ve never had a chance to completely feel like what we were doing was for us,” Lee reveals. “Having the freedom to now take the reins on our future means we get to do what feels right to us from here on out, and for that alone, we could not be more grateful.”