Southern Smoke 2017 Recap

$501,000 Distributed to Harvey Victims through Southern Smoke.

Nearly 140 people working in Houston’s food and beverage industry and affected by Hurricane Harvey have received relief funding from the Southern Smoke Foundation. The nonprofit, which partnered with Legacy Community Health to administer the distribution of funds, donated $501,000 for Harvey relief.

Funds were raised via its signature event (Houston’s largest food and wine festival) on October 22 and ancillary events held by industry friends here in Houston and across the country. Workers, business owners and suppliers in the Houston food and beverage community who suffered losses during the storm—from lost wages to ruined homes—were encouraged to apply for relief grants. Of the 161 applications submitted, 139 were deemed eligible and received checks ranging from $1,000 to $9,000.

“I couldn’t be happier that we were able to raise this kind of money to support our friends and neighbors,” says Southern Smoke founder, Chef Chris Shepherd. “The fact that so many people came together to make this a reality speaks to the strength and resilience of Houston and our larger hospitality community. It was no small task to pull off an event of this size, with this many moving parts, but it was so worth it to be able to give these checks to folks who really need it right now. This is why we created Southern Smoke—to take care of our own.”

When the Energy Corridor area flooded in the days following Harvey, Vahid Navissi’s Café Benedicte on Memorial Drive took on roughly four feet of water. It was two weeks before he and his team could re-enter the restaurant and what they found was complete devastation. Lost inventory and heavily damaged kitchen equipment and furnishings left little hope the restaurant that had employed 28 people would reopen.

“Without help, there was just no way we were going to come back,” Vahid says. But encouragement from neighbors and customers, who see the café as a potential catalyst for the rest of the area, led Vahid to push forward. He was able to secure a few loans, some help from his landlord and a grant from Southern Smoke. “It’s been incredible to see this kind of support,” he says. “God bless everyone who has encouraged us and believed in us. It means so much.” If all goes well, he hopes to reopen Café Benedicte in February.

“Being surrounded by so many wonderful restaurants here in Montrose, we’re happy to partner with Southern Smoke to help bring relief to those in our community,” says Chree Boydstun, Legacy Community Health’s chief development officer. “Houston businesses were greatly affected by the storm and as a leading non-profit, serving the underserved, we understand the impact it made on the larger community. So, we were honored to help.”

Two committees worked to ensure the funds raised were distributed appropriately. The first committee led by Legacy Community Health screened applications for eligibility based on the requirements established by Southern Smoke. The second committee, comprised of individuals from various industries, reviewed all applications independently to assess need and reached a consensus on individual distributions. During this phase of review, all identifying information was removed from the applications to ensure fairness and anonymity.

“We pretty much lost everything on our 500 acres with the hurricane. We estimate our total loss at about $400,000. It really devastated us. But the money that we received from Southern Smoke allows us to buy more seeds, replant and restart. We’re very grateful.”

-Garrett Gundermann, Owner Gundermann Acres Farm, Wharton TX

More than 1,300 people attended Southern Smoke 2017 in a festival setup around Underbelly/Hay Merchant and Legacy Community Health, Montrose that was double the size of last year’s event. Chefs who came to cook in support of this year’s event included Mike Lata and Jason Stanhope of FIG in Charleston, Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog Barbecue in Charleston, Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner and other restaurants in Raleigh, Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin and David Chang and Matthew Rudofker of Momofuku. A cadre of local chefs participated as well under the HOUBBQ collaborative.

Houston’s wine community in particular contributed greatly to the effort through the event Wine Above Water. Dozens of wine-related auction items were secured from around the world which alone generated more than $125,000 toward the final tally.

These grants would not have been possible without the support of our friends from around the country who hosted fundraisers on our behalf, in addition to our dedicated sponsors here in Houston, including WeWork, Knob Creek and Lexus. This truly was a group effort.

2017 marked the third Southern Smoke event, which raised nearly $500,000 in total for the Multiple Sclerosis Society over the previous two years. This year’s event changed course following the devastation that Harvey wrought on Houston. Chris says Southern Smoke will go back to raising money for MS in 2018.

Underbelly, Hay Merchant and One Fifth staff after volunteering at Southern Smoke.


Knob Creek VIP Lounge


Chef Ryan Pera making paella.


Rodney Scott smoking a whole hog


Aaron Franklin slicing brisket.


Bun B closes out the show


Chris Shepherd with a check for $500,000 for Harvey relief