There’s another shakeup in the kitchen at Main Street rooftop bar and restaurant Hendrix — this time with an accompanying, major move just up the street.
After assuming the top role at the upscale restaurant in May, former executive chef Mike Perez left Hendrix last week for a new position in Texas. Hendrix owners tapped former Bourbon and Black Rooster executive chef Frank Bradley to fill the role, and he plans to bring a menu focus similar to his predecessor.
“You know with anybody in this field you want to continue to challenge yourself and progress,” Bradley said. “I was having fun working over at Black Rooster. I just kind of felt like it was time for a change.”
Bradley helmed the cajun-influenced Bourbon, located a few blocks up Main and the self-described “Frenchish” Black Rooster, situated across the river in West Columbia, second only to Kristian Niemi, the restaurants’ chef-owner — and one of Columbia’s best known restaurateurs regionally. Bradley’s menu at Hendrix food will build on French-focused techniques, which Bradley applies to various cuisines.
He described the forthcoming selections as “rudimentary,” saying they focus on unique proteins like bison, squab, sweetbreads and chicken hearts or lamb ribs.
“There’s going to be some things that people aren’t used to seeing or that familiar with,” Bradley said. “What I like is trying to push the guests' experience a little bit.”
Bradley previously worked for Hendrix owner Jon Sears at Five Points dive bar Pavlov’s before turning to greater restaurant aspirations. After, he attended culinary school in Atlanta and worked in kitchens there and in Charleston.
In 2014, he moved back to Columbia to work at the newly opened Bourbon. Less than a year later, the whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant’s head chef left and Bradley filled the spot. In 2019, he assisted Niemi in opening West Columbia’s Black Rooster, and was installed as its executive chef.
Sears said his and co-owner Chris Davis’ friendship with Bradley, and the chef’s cooking acumen, sold him on hiring him.
“We always respected him and knew he was a good chef,” Sears relayed. “We loved eating at Bourbon and Black Rooster.”
Niemi wrote in an email that "Frank took over the kitchen at Bourbon and put his own creative stamp on it; creating a kitchen culture that continues to thrive under Chef Josh Wilson."
"At Black Rooster, he was an integral part of putting together a team that continues to create some of the best food in the southeast," he further wrote. Niemi said that chef Josh Wilson now heads Bourbon's kitchen and that a collaborative approach between chefs Pierce Bowers and Alex Strickland is manning Black Rooster.
"The hardest part about seeing him move on is simply because it’s going to be tough not seeing your friend every day," Niemi said via email. "I hope Hendrix gives him enough time off so we can continue our tradition of participating in butchering events across the Southeast."
Bradley is the third chef to helm Hendrix, which opened in 2019. He fills Perez’s role, who replaced Javier Uriarte, who recently opened the Northeast Columbia tapas restaurant Ratio.
Perez’s hire at Hendrix was a high profile one for the city’s culinary scene. He arrived after stints, some rather short, at restaurants in Charleston and in Atlanta, including heading up a restaurant group as its executive chef.
Before filling the role at Hendrix, he had plans in Texas, where he was supposed to help spearhead a second location of an Asian smokehouse restaurant co-owned by celebrity pitmaster Aaron Franklin and highly regarded sushi chef Tyson Cole. The pandemic temporarily nixed that opportunity, but now it’s back on and Perez is off to the Lonestar State.
Both he and Sears said they knew the position could be a stopgap if the Texas position came back. But Perez emphasized that he took a liking to Hendrix's Ownership style, where he was given free reign, and his green staff — one was a delivery driver prior to being a part of his kitchen staff — whom he taught techniques like frying sweetbreads or confitting pork cheek.
It was such a draw, that he initially turned the revived job offer down, before reassessing.
“I just did some soul searching on my personal goals. I need to follow my own personal goals,” Perez said.
Sears said that Perez’s resume and culinary acumen outweighed the potential that his tenure could be short, and he characterized the chef’s stint as successful despite its short lifespan.
“We knew that it would be a potential situation, but certainly it happened sooner than we thought it would happen,” Sears said. “He just had a really good demeanor about him and cultivated a good situation in the kitchen. … It was definitely a good decision.”
All of Perez’s time at Hendrix came during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good,” he said of how business went, noting that they put in several changes to make it work — such as instituting a two-team kitchen staff system, backing up each position in case someone got sick.
“It was just, ‘How are we going to make this work every single day,’” he said. “Every day was preparing for the worst case scenario.”
Unlike Hendrix, which flirted with different reopening scenarios in its dining room and opened its rooftop bar prior, Niemi’s duo of restaurants didn’t reopen for roughly half a year. It left Bradley with ample time that he used “reevaluating his life.”
He found himself drawn to the opportunity to have totally free rein in the kitchen, which he acknowledged he largely had in his previous stop, and noted multiple times that the departure from his previous position indicates no bad blood.
“To kind of break away and do essentially my thing, I just felt like it was my time,” Bradley concluded.