Chris Lower and Kurt Fleischfresser's Restaurant Resource Group swooped in on the spot and installed Portobello in 1991. Despite a great menu, Portobello was the third of three brand-new Italian restaurants that opened in Oklahoma City that year. The first two, Pepperoni Grill and Bellini's, still exist, although under different ownership.
But three was a crowd, so in 1997, RRG converted the spot into the original Deep Fork Chop House & Seafood Market concept. It flourished under Fleischfresser and his stable of apprentice chefs including Leonard Novak, who brought along a young chef named Cally Johnson.
But when RRG opted to pare down and eventually dissolve, Deep Fork was the one that got away. Fleischfresser ended up with The Coach House, Lower got The Metro Bistro & Wine Bar, and Deep Fork was sold in the summer of 2003 to a group that had opened The Mantel. The original partners included Attalla, Rod Meyer, chef Ryan Parrott and Wade Starr.
Parrott left the group in 2008 to join the Iguana Mexican Grill reboot and open Table One. Starr was the unofficial spokesman for the group and operating partner at Deep Fork Grill until recently. Starr's exit has been arduous, beginning when he became embroiled in a political tussle between attorneys. Starr ended up the only one indicted in the grand jury investigation over a victory party in 2006 for then-newly elected Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Starr eventually saw perjury charges against him dismissed as part of a plea agreement in February of this year.
Starr remained through the hard times and tried to adjust his responsibilities but ultimately opted to cash out of the ownership group, leaving Meyer and Attalla at the helm.
The Deep Fork Grill already had an opening for a new chef, but with Starr's departure, it also needed a GM.
Attalla said he admired what Stephenson had done at Bin 73, and has been interested in bringing him on for at least the past five years but never made any formal offers until the summer.
Luckily for Attalla, Stephenson was looking for an additional opportunity and actually had a history with the restaurant.
“I was here when I was really young,” he said, his slow, Oklahoma drawl growing wry. “I was here for a couple of months, and then I no-showed chef Kurt — I wanted to play golf more than I wanted to have a job, which shows how young and stupid I was.”
Stephenson said he's thankful Fleischfresser understood his folly and has never held the faux pas against him.
The Deep Fork group still owns The Mantel, two Wedge Pizzerias and The Drum Room. In the recent past were Home Run Sliders and Cafe Nova, which has closed and is being revamped for a new concept that hasn't yet been announced.
While the Deep Fork has had some turmoil over the past couple of years, the crowds haven't slowed down. A weekend reservation is still a tough ticket, and the standards for excellence in service remain high. Chef Stephenson's new menu is now available, and he's looking for feedback. So, if you haven't been to Deep Fork Grill in a while, get out and find out for yourself what Beau knows.
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If you go
The Deep Fork Grill is open daily, including holidays. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.