Whitney Mercilus can add an unusual title to his many awards and accolades as an NFL player.
Houston restaurant owner.
The fifth-year outside linebacker has teamed up with Underbelly chef Chris Shepherd to launch One Fifth, a five-year project that lives in the vaulted church that previously housed Mark's American Cuisine. One Fifth opened its doors to the public last Friday, just in time for the Super Bowl 51 festivities and all its attendees.
The premise of the restaurant is unique, a concept developed by Shepherd.
"I'm glad he came to me about the idea because I think he is the only person who can pull it off and it'd be great for the city," Mercilus said on the Texans Radio last season. "So the concept is: it's a five-year turnout to where each year is going to be a different concept. So the first concept is steak; next concept, I think it's going to be the romantic languages, so French, Spanish, and Italian; and then third concept right now is fish, and the two other concepts are still in the works. But the idea behind it was that it's always great to have something new come to the city, of course."
The two teamed up when Mercilus was looking for a chef to help him eat clean and fuel his body. Mercilus has been a fan of Shepherd's cuisine ever since, becoming the first Texan player to hire him on as his personal chef. The James Beard award-winning chef began cooking healthy meals for Mercilus in 2014 and for many of his teammates soon after that.
"I was like, 'I need a chef,' Mercilus said. "Somebody that's going to actually cook the food. Somebody who can collaborate with my nutritionist, and just cook me food so that I'm running efficiently as a player. So I texted Chris one day and me being stupid, I said, 'Hey, do you know a chef that can cook for me?' So it's good and it's worked ever since. It's helped my play a lot and it's just allowed me to progress each season."
In a city that prides itself on its diverse and expansive restaurant scene, Mercilus hopes the lure of a new menu keeps One Fifth at the top of the newest places to try each year for Houstonians.
"In Houston, a lot of people love to try out new things," Mercilus said. "These new restaurants, sometimes they fizzle out after the number of years that they're there. With this concept, it's great to have something that's fresh and new for one year, and then it gives everybody something to look forward to for the next year because it's going to change out."
Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus' career as a Texan, and his college career at Illinois are shown here in photos.