This year will be Rytonie Durden’s 19th year of cooking professionally, but the culinary journey of The Gripper Kitchen’s chef began when he was 3 years old and would stand on a crate to help his family prepare meals in their kitchen.

“Food has always been a passion of mine,” Durden said. “It’s one of those things where no matter what walk of life you come from, we can all find something in common when we sit down and eat food.”

Durden got his first professional kitchen job at age 16 when the chef at his family’s bar didn’t show up, and he volunteered to jump in to fry chicken wings and french fries. Later he graduated from the Culinary Institute of Michigan and launched his own catering business, Durden Catering, which served crowds as large as 10,000 people.

In 2019, during the social media chicken sandwich war between Chik-fil-A and Popeyes, Durden posted his own signature chicken sandwich to social media, and thus, The Gripper was born.

The Gripper Kitchen name comes from the menu’s oversized sandwiches that are hard to grasp with one hand. While most of The Gripper’s sandwiches include fried chicken, guests can also choose from catfish, fried lobster and grilled salmon.

A father of three, family is woven into the fabric of The Gripper, which Durden manages with his wife. The Granddaddy Gripper, a salmon sandwich, is named after Durden’s grandfather Louis Johnson, who loved salmon. Although his grandfather died in 2020, Durden honored him by opening on Valentine’s Day, his grandfather’s birthday.

“My grandaddy is part of my inspiration as far as who I am development-wise from a family man to a businessman to how you treat your wife and how to raise your kids,” Durden said.

Durden partially credits the strong reception by the Pearland community to the large migration of Detroit residents to Houston who can appreciate the restaurant’s Detroit-inspired items, such as grilled chicken pita.

“The community is not trippin’; they just grippin’,” Durden said of Pearland guests. “It’s been a grand welcome from the community.”