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  • Claudia Alarcon | Forbes

James Beard Nominee Chef Chris Williams To Open Historic New Concept

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Claudia Alarcon | Forbes

Chef Chris Williams, a James Beard Award Nominee for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2022 and 2023 and founder of Lucille’s Hospitality Group is behind three new culinary and cultural concepts to open in the Historic Eldorado Ballroom, one of America’s oldest Black music venues. The revitalization project marks the group’s first Houston concepts outside of Williams' nationally acclaimed restaurant Lucille’s.

The landmark building, which has been under the ownership of Project Row Houses since 1999, underwent a complete restoration and rehabilitation thanks to a nearly $10 million capital campaign led by PRH and partners. The new space, designed as a cultural community center, comprises three concepts — Eldorado Ballroom, Rado Cafe & Market and the Hogan Brown Gallery — operated by Lucille’s 1913, the philanthropic arm of Lucille’s Hospitality Group.

Williams opened Lucille’s in August 2012, in the Museum District of Houston, as a tribute to his great grandmother and culinary pioneer Lucille B. Smith — who is considered Texas’ first African American businesswoman, credited with everything from establishing one of the first college level commercial foods and technology departments in the U.S., at Prairie View A&M University to creating the first-ever All-Purpose Hot Roll Mix in the country.

Classically trained in French, Mediterranean, West Indian and East African cuisine, Williams attended Le Cordon Blue culinary school in Austin, Texas, and soon began traveling to work in kitchens across the world. His insatiable hunger to learn everything about world cuisine unexpectedly led him back to his own family tree, where he discovered a history steeped in trailblazing culinary advances and his grandmother’s Southern recipes. The Eldorado project is the logical progression of his quest to revitalize Houston’s historic African American district.

The Eldorado hosted Houston-based musicians such as Sam “Lightning” Hopkins and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, as well as jazz and blues musicians including B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Etta James, and Count Basie.

After the death of her husband, Anna Johnson Dupree sold The Eldorado as the neighborhood fell into decline in the 1970s. Hubert “Hub” Finkelstein, the founder of Medallion Oil Company, purchased The Eldorado to save it from destruction, donating the building in 1999 to Project Row Houses so that it could be preserved for the use of the community.

The re-imagined Eldorado Ballroom honors the historic venue’s legacy as a visual and spiritual symbol of the Third Ward community, serving as a living extension of the nonprofit's mission to empower communities to discover a self-sustainable livelihood through cultural and culinary arts. It will serve as a home for both established and emerging musicians as well as a community-centered space for the neighborhood to host, gather, and celebrate. The Hogan Brown Gallery seeks to provide community-centered education and commerce for burgeoning local artists.

Named for its historic location under the Eldorado Ballroom, Rado Cafe & Market will serve as a hybrid all-day cafe and neighborhood market for the Third Ward community, bringing culturally conscious prepared foods, fresh groceries, locally sourced mercantile products and a bistro-inspired menu to the Emancipation corridor. The aim is to create a culinary hub that prioritizes healthy, affordable food access.

“This project is especially exciting because it’s allowing us to defy the expectations of what a restaurant group can be,” says Williams. “I grew up in Houston, so I’ve seen firsthand the talent and culture that the Third Ward community has produced. Our goal with the revitalization of The Eldorado is to not only restore its place as the neighborhood’s cultural celebration center but also give this community that has produced so much talent a place to access and showcase the fruits of its labor. We’re ultimately striving to provide a platform that nurtures interest while cultivating empowerment.”

Rado Cafe & Market and the art gallery are set to open next week, while The Eldorado Ballroom’s official programming launch date is the first week of July.

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