Stella Sola, the Texas-Gulf-Coast-meets-Tuscany restaurant in the Heights, has closed, owner Bryan Caswell said Tuesday. The restaurant served its last meals on Saturday.
Owners Caswell and partner Bill Floyd (who also own and operate Reef, Little Bigs and El Real) said that the restaurant’s landlord has been in the process of selling the building, which put a question mark over Stella Sola, Caswell said.
But then after chef Adam Dorris left in April, it became clearer to the restaurant owners that they probably couldn’t continue operating.
“If Adam wouldn’t have quit and put in his notice, we probably would have gone on. But for me to go out and try to recruit a chef would have been the wrong thing to do – to convince a young chef to get excited about something we couldn’t guarantee,” Caswell said. “So we’re shutting it down. It was a tough decision.”
Stella Sola opened in November 2009 in the home of the former Bedford. After a quick shuffle in the kitchen that saw chef Jason Gould out only days after a soft opening, Stella Sola was earning praises for the work of its young chef de cuisine Justin Bayse hailed for his way around meats, particularly charcuterie. Soon foodies were flocking to the restaurant for its cured meats, giant meatballs, marrow bones and wild boar ragout.
“I love the way Bayse’s short, smartly edited menu shifts daily to reflect the market,” Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook wrote in her March 2010 review of Stella Sola. “Favorites remain, but lights-out specials like meltingly tender roast suckling pig or roasted grouper collar sneak in, along with subtle shifts of locally sourced ingredients.”
Caswell said he has been aware for months of rumors that Stella Sola was closing. But the ongoing negotiations to sell the building by its owners and the departure of Dorris (a career shift by the chef who left the restaurant on good terms) were obstacles Stella Sola couldn’t overcome.
“It sucks,” Caswell said, “there’s no other way to call it.”
While Caswell is disappointed, he said he is proud of the partnerships the restaurant has had with chefs Bayse and Dorris. “I feel humbled to have had a part in their career,” he said.
About 80 percent of the restaurant’s staff will find work in the partners’ El Real or Reef, Caswell said.
While acknowledging that the Stella Sola name and concept could be transferred to another restaurant in Houston, Caswell said the restaurant’s closing gives him more time to devote to his signature Reef. “My focus for 2012 is Reef, 200 percent,” Caswell said.