Junction Craft Kitchen in Deep Ellum has a reputation for being one of the city's most daring restaurants. Much of that daring comes from necessity — without a freezer or a walk-in, chef Joshua Harmon was forced to use methods like fermentation to make the best use of his tiny kitchen. In many cases, those risks paid off.
In the past year, Harmon has been making big waves at the restaurant, which started as a reboot of Kitchen LTO (the "permanent pop-up" that used to swap out chefs every few months at its now-closed Trinity Groves location) but quickly shifted focus to become a full-time exploration of Harmon's Southern-meets-East Asian cuisine. He launched a late-night bao cart a few months ago and has been touted as one of the city's hottest chefs — Junction won both best burger and best Southern food in the Observer's Best of Dallas awards last year — but now, he's walking away from the restaurant that helped put him on the map.
"I am stepping down from my position at Junction," Harmon posted on Facebook on Monday morning. "They are going to focus on more of a neighborhood bar-driven menu."
Not long after Harmon posted the announcement of his departure — noting that he would, at least for now, continue to consult on Junction's menu — one of the restaurant's new owners commented in the now-deleted Facebook thread, claiming that Harmon wasn't leaving after all.
"Josh is not leaving, he's simply consulting for a new company during the day and still chef with us at night," Cody Neathery, a former Observer contributing writer who bought into the restaurant a few months ago, wrote on Facebook. "Sorry for the confusion!"
But there is no confusion, Harmon said in an interview with the Observer. He has officially resigned his post as Junction's chef.
"It's been kind of a couple weeks coming," Harmon says. "They kind of want to go in more of a bar direction. ... It would be like me stepping back. I'd rather kind of go forward."
After Neathery bought out former owner Casie Caldwell, who created the original Kitchen LTO, Junction added a blues-themed speakeasy, a harbinger of much larger changes soon to come, Harmon says. But Harmon didn't see the restaurant's new direction as a good fit for him, so he resigned.
"I don't wanna be the bar food guy in Deep Ellum," Harmon says. "I think there's some really talented guys doing bar food in Deep Ellum, and they can keep doing their thing. I want to keep doing my thing, fermenting and stuff."
Harmon says he always knew opening such an out-there restaurant in Deep Ellum would be a risk, and recently, he's seen the real-world consequences of that.
"On a Friday night, it's so hard for the people who want to get to our restaurant just to park and get there — these last two months, we've started to feel that," Harmon says. "I started to see that decline in people wanting to fight the crowds. We would see it taper off because it's getting busier and busier in Deep Ellum."
The kind of clientele interested in Harmon's cuisine aren't always willing to hunt down parking and battle massive, inebriated crowds for shrimp and kimchi jjigae with chicken congee. So when Junction's new owners talked about turning Junction into a neighborhood bar, Harmon decided to step away in hopes of finding a new opportunity.
"I'm proud of what we did in the time that we did," he says. "But I told my wife I knew it was fleeting, ... I don't want Deep Ellum changed. I like it, but I always knew that after Junction gets a year old, we should move it."
In an email to the Observer, Neathery disputed Harmon's announcement, claiming that Harmon has taken a part-time consulting job (which Harmon confirms) but will continue to be Junction's chef. But Harmon says that while he'll be in the kitchen for the next week or two and will consult on the menu as long as necessary, he's letting go of the restaurant that's become so intrinsically tied to his culinary identity.
"All the pieces didn't fit, and it's time for me to move on," he says.
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