Lee Ellis, a Houston restaurateur known for his work in numerous restaurants including State Fare Kitchen & Bar, Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts, Pi Pizza, Petite Sweets, Lee’s Creamery, Star Fish, Liberty Kitchen, and the former BRC Gastropub, has died from unknown causes, the Houston Chronicle reports. He was 63. Ellis moved to the Hill Country in recent years, taking up residence in Round Top where he opened Ellis Motel and a barbecue spot called Round Top Smokehouse.
His place in the Houston restaurant scene was tenuous near the end, with Lee parting ways with Cherry Pie Hospitality, of which he was a founder, in 2018. The next year, the restaurant group was faced with multiple lawsuits and sold off its four restaurants, Pi Pizza, Star Fish, and Lee’s Fried Chicken and Donuts, for less than a million dollars. Just three years prior in 2015 Eater Houston reported that Ellis, then with F.E.E.D TX Restaurant Group, was on a mission to open as many restaurants as possible.
Ellis’s restaurant portfolio frequently embraced comfort foods, from fried chicken to ice cream. He splashed onto the scene with BRC Gastropub near Memorial Park. Liberty Kitchen followed, with Ellis telling Eater Houston in 2012, “We get no credit from any of the food writers in this town.”
That would change as Ellis ended his involvement with the group in 2016 and formed Cherry Pie Hospitality, which became one of the city’s most prolific restaurant groups and in which he was a minority shareholder and the public face, according to the Houston Chronicle.
His latest venture, Round Top Smokehouse, was a co-venture with fellow Houstonians, chef Gilbert Arismendez of Smoke ‘N Honey House and Les Ba’Get Vietnamese Cafe’s Cat Huynh. Ellis’s Motel went hand and hand, catering to out-of-town antique shoppers and day-trippers.