New steakhouses to replace Griffin Chophouse, Oak Grove Fish House

Chapin Commons developer eying similar development in Lexington

Posted 5/25/23

A pair of steakhouses are set to replace two popular Lexington-area restaurants.

Happy Fork, the dining group and developer that has opened the Chophouse of Chapin and Bakon Southern Eatery in …

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New steakhouses to replace Griffin Chophouse, Oak Grove Fish House

Chapin Commons developer eying similar development in Lexington


A pair of steakhouses are set to replace two popular Lexington-area restaurants.

Happy Fork, the dining group and developer that has opened the Chophouse of Chapin and Bakon Southern Eatery in the Chapin Commons development, is set to bring Southern Smoked Tavern and Steakhouse to the spot at 924 E Main St. formerly occupied by Griffin Chophouse.

Meanwhile, new steakhouse Bone-Appetite, which was initially set to replace Griffin when that restaurant closed in March, is now set to replace Oak Grove Fish House at 309 Oak Dr. The local seafood eatery had initially posted in April that it was closing for renovations.

Happy Fork is well-acquainted with both the space and Griffin Chophouse, having partnered with owner/chef Henry Griffin to open the restaurant in 2020 before they parted ways.

“I knew the building, I knew the location,” Happy Fork owner/CEO Ron Pereira told the Chronicle. “Actually, I live five minutes down the street, so very familiar and entrenched in Lexington. So as soon as we saw the sign come up for lease, we immediately jumped on it. And I knew the [Midtown Fellowship] church, the landlords, from the past and they’re just absolutely, phenomenally great people, can't say nothing but [good] things about them.”

The location is attached to the Lexington outpost of Midtown Fellowship, one of the church’s three Midlands locations. 

As to how Happy Fork decided a steakhouse was the best call for the location, the CEO said his team is always paying attention to what people are asking for.

“When you go on Facebook, and you see those big groups and the hundreds of comments of what everybody's looking for around here, everybody was demanding a steakhouse,” Pereira said. “So part of what we do at Happy Fork is we listen. We don't just sit there and throw a concept together. We focus on a lot of key people in the area, look at a lot of social media, try to figure out what the people really want. And that's what we try to deliver.”

While Griffin, too, leaned steakhouse with its menu, Pereira said Southern Smoked will stand apart from its predecessor by balancing its selection of high-quality steaks with more trendy options like street tacos and deviled eggs topped with burnt ends. He said the new restaurant will also have a more casual sports bar feel, with an ample selection of TVs to catch NFL and SEC football games and other action.

As to when the new restaurant will open, Pereira said, “I’d like to say the end of June, my team wants to revolt on me when I say that. I’d like to have been open yesterday. We’re pushing hard and fast. Our biggest hurdle will be employment. We’ll probably need a good 40-50 employees.”

Bone-Appetite, which is being spearheaded by former Travinia Italian Kitchen chef and partner Justin Owens, was also sparked by calls from locals for a Lexington steakhouse.

“Local residents [come by], some of them are disappointed that the Oak Grove Fish House is closed because they like their fried fish and whatnot,” Owens said of the engagement he’s had so far with the Oak Grove community, located about halfway between West Columbia and Lexington along U.S. Highway 1.

“But then immediately, when they find out it’s a steakhouse, they become super excited.”

Also similar to Southern Smoked, Owens said he will attempt to distinguish the restaurant with the variety of options alongside T-bones, New York strips, filets, “all that good stuff.” He mentioned distinct items like a pork chop with a chicharon on top and a chicken dish that’s served alongside a seasoned, fried corn rib, which he said becomes “like ribs, like pork potatoes.”

While he declined to discuss specifics about why he ended up moving on from the old Griffin location, he credited the Duke family, which owns Columbia seafood mainstay Blue Marlin, for helping him find his way to a location he’s excited about. He details that the seating will include 120 spots inside and 40 outside. He seems particularly excited about what he called a “great” outside area, saying the restaurant will utilize its patio for brunch with live music on Sundays.

“I really thought I needed to be ... on Main Street, you know, I needed to be on Sunset [Boulevard], but man, I’ve been received so well over here,” Owens said.

The chef and owner is hard at work on the space — he was at the location and had to turn off a sander when he took the Chronicle’s call — and said he hopes to be up and running in the next couple weeks.

Chapin Commons makes progress, developer eyes Lexington expansion

Another ongoing project for Happy Fork is Chapin Commons, the upscale shopping and dining center at 301 Columbia Ave. that is already home to Chophouse of Chapin and Bakon and which the company continues to build out.

“It’s moving along, and it’s definitely a big project,” Pereira said of the development, where construction has been paused for several months. “We're trying to get construction moving, and get the costs under control because we were way out of budget due to a lot of variables. So we’re trying to push as fast as we can and just keep moving along.”

Among the future tenants slated to make their home are three more Happy Fork dining concepts, including a less-steak-forward outpost of Southern Smoked (so as not to compete with Chophouse of Chapin), a drive-through restaurant called Modern Fresco and an as-yet-unnamed frozen yogurt spot.

Also slated for Chapin Commons in the future are a med spa, a gym to replace the MUV Fitness that closed earlier this year, and a nail salon, with Pereira noting that his team is trying to solidify additional plans for an axe throwing spot and a cigar shop.

The CEO also mentioned that Lexington is on the company’s radar to replicate what it is doing with Chapin Commons.

“We're hoping to do Southern Smoked Tavern and Steakhouse in Lexington as kind of our first spot in Lexington,” he said. “ We're planning, once we finish Chapin, to do another smaller shopping center in Lexington to incorporate the concepts I have out and Chapin and bring those to Lexington.”

Pereira said Happy Fork is hoping to secure land this year, adding that they are looking at options near the Publix Super Market at Hendrix Crossing along U.S. Highway 378, west of downtown Lexington.

“That would be more ideal for us to be more on the outskirts,” he said. “Our niche is to be not near downtown, but to be delivering good food, good products, great service on the outskirts, so you don’t have to drive 30, 40 minutes to get downtown.”

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