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Chef Dylan Murray of Benjy's and Local Foods

Benjy’s is adding to their food empire with a retail expansion – Local Foods – a sandwich shop that has some tentative market aspirations with an opening date set for later this week. Eater sat down with Dylan Murray, the chef and partner of the Benjy’s Restaurant Group, to discuss the transition from chef to retail management, as well as the role "local" will play in its namesake store.

How will Local Foods be different from Revival Market and Relish?
Well to start, we are going to be a custom sandwich shop, making sandwiches from scratch. What this means is that if there is an ingredient within the sandwich, mustard, pastrami, a curry, we will make it in-house and it will be available for purchase. There will also be sides, not unlike the ones that you might encounter at Whole Foods – healthful, but really tasty.

Just like at Revival Market we will be focusing on local purveyors, however we won’t have a large selection or produce or a meat market. Our storefront will be focusing mostly on dry goods made in Texas, as well as some local seafood and shrimp.

In terms of beverages we will be selling wine and beer, including a Texas beer on tap that will rotate. We will also have a custom root beer on tap made by the Eatsie Boys.

What is your definition of local? The state of Texas or a certain radius?
To me, doing your best to make sure you are sourcing products that are close to you is a lot better than anything else. We will be purchasing from the state of Texas, but will do our best to make sure products come from Houston and the surrounding neighborhoods and region – including butterscotch, walnut and chocolate chip cookies made from Benjy’s mothers recipe.

So you see people sourcing inspirational ingredients from your store, as opposed to everything they might need for a weeks worth of meals?
Yes and no. Like I said, everything that you can eat in one of our sandwiches or side dishes will be available for purchase independently. So if you are in the store and you like something that you are eating, we will be able to give it to you. We just won’t have a grocery full of perishable items.

What do you expect the average check to be?
I think customers will be able to purchase a sandwich with a couple of sides for $12. Those sides might include house made chips, Israeli couscous or a kale, walnut and yellow raisin salad. As well as desserts, such as a soft serve that we will do in house, in a variety of rotating flavors.

Will Local Foods be an extension of Benjy’s?
At Benjy’s we have been getting deliveries from local food vendors for years, but actually going to the markets and meeting the vendors, solidifying those relationships makes a big difference. At Benjy’s the chefs and line cooks always get excited when I show up in my truck with a fresh batch of produce, this store will be an extension of those weekly market trips I get to make.

How is running a retail operation is similar to running a kitchen?
My main focus is the food and I would say the retail side of Local Foods is initially going to be a curiosity. I think it is going to be fun. But, of course, right now I couldn’t tell you what is going to be in high demand and what isn’t. I really just want Local Foods to be a cool service for the neighborhood, the place you go when you need a pound of butter or a healthy sandwich. The Benjy’s family started Groger Supply, so they have a nice heritage in supply and retail.

· Plywood Report: Local Foods [EHOU]

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