Much-lauded Savannah chef Mashama Bailey is opening two restaurants in Austin this year, based on her acclaimed Georgia restaurant the Grey. The restaurants in question — the Grey Diner Bar and the Grey Market — will be located within forthcoming downtown hotel the Thompson on 506 San Jacinto Boulevard, with everything aiming to open this summer.
The two restaurants are based on co-owners Bailey and business partner John O. Morisano’s award-winning restaurant the Grey. Bailey first shared the Austin restaurant details on Cherry Bombe’s podcast in late January; Bailey and Morisano confirmed their plans with Eater.
In the podcast, Bailey describes the Grey Diner Bar coming to Austin as a “larger version” of the original diner bar in Georgia (which was previously an all-hours diner space). “We created a little bit of a cocktail bar-slash-snack thing,” she explains on the podcast, aiming to serve items such as sandwiches and charcuterie, as well as dishes found from the Grey’s earlier menus.
Then there’s the Grey Market, which Bailey describes as “our concept of bodega-meets-lunch counter.” The Georgia location functions as a counter-service space with casual dishes and grab-and-go items such as sandwiches (bacon-egg-cheese on kaiser rolls, chicken sandwiches), sides, boxed lunches, beer, and wine.
Both restaurants will be found on the ground floor of the Thompson Austin Hotel. Opening restaurants in Austin made sense to the duo. “We’ve been approached a lot over the last few years about doing something,” Morisano tells Eater, and there was something about the hotel group that clicked with them.
Austin “makes sense for what we do,” says Morisano, realized during trips where he and Bailey ate and drank around the city. “This city’s just booming. It’s about art, music, and all the things we love. The way it’s growing with such diversity was just compelling.”
“There’s this youthfulness about [Austin], which is really nice,” explains Bailey, comparing the atmosphere to how students and graduates of the Savannah College of Art and Design stick around the Georgia city. “Austin has that same Savannah vibe on a trillion.”
Through the Grey, Bailey serves what she describes as “port city Southern food,” referring to Savannah’s importance as a seaport along the coast, collecting African-American and Southern culinary influences together in a locally sourced, highly focused menu. This leads to dishes such as the Country Captain, where roasted chicken is paired with a curried tomato sauce; smoked lamb with a Senegalese-spiced chile-and-tomato sauce; and foie served with grits.
Bailey was born in the Bronx, spent her early childhood in the Savannah and southern Georgia areas, and was then raised in back in Queens. She worked under Gabrielle Hamilton at New York bistro Prune. She moved back to Savannah when now-Morisano asked if she wanted to open a new restaurant in the city, taking over a former Greyhound Bus Station. The Grey debuted in 2014.
The Grey was named Eater’s best restaurant of the year in 2017. After being nominated for a James Beard Award in 2018, Bailey won the Best Chef: Southeast category the following year. This past month, Bailey and Morisano published a memoir — Black, White, and the Grey: The Story of an Unexpected Friendship and a Beloved Restaurant — chronicling their upbringings and how they came to open the restaurant.
There appears to be at least one other restaurants and bar joining the Grey Diner Bar and Grey Market at the Thompson Hotel in Austin. The hotel will be found right across the street from the Westin Austin Downtown.