Luby’s to explore 'strategic alternatives,' including possible sale

Luby's is considering several "strategic alternatives" to maximize shareholder value, which could include a possible sale of the iconic Texas cafeteria chain.

The Houston company late Tuesday said its board has formed a special committee of six independent members tasked with identifying and examining "a range of strategic alternatives available to the Company with the objective of maximizing shareholder value."

The company did not specify the strategic alternatives under consideration, but said the board has not made any decision to sell the company at this time and that there is no guarantee the special committee will recommend a sale.

"The steps we are taking represent our commitment to maximizing value to our shareholders over the long term," Luby's Chairman Gerald Bodzy, an independent member of the special committee, said in a statement.

The special committee comes less than a month after Luby's announced a new chairman and two independent members to its board, a concession it made earlier this year as it won a contentious proxy fight brought on by one of its investors who pushed for leadership changes amid lagging sales.

"This reconstituted board is under the gun to do something to prove to the public and to stockholders that they're trying to make some changes," said David Littwitz, a Houston restaurant consultant and broker. "One would have to assume a sale is one of the alternatives under consideration."

Other alternatives that Luby's special committee could consider include finding more profitable tenants for its real estate and continuing its current strategy of selling its real estate to fund operations, Littwitz said.

Luby's, known for its cafeteria-style comfort meals such as the LuAnn Platter, has struggled to draw diners in recent years amid growing competition from fast-casual restaurants and changing consumer tastes.

The company reported a $5.3 million loss on $65.6 million in revenue during the third quarter ended June 5. Sales fell 15.7 percent from the prior year while same-store sales fell by 4 percent. Guest traffic during that quarter fell 1.2 percent year over year at Luby's Cafeterias and 8.7 percent at its Fuddruckers restaurants.

Chris Pappas, Luby's longtime chief executive and the company's largest shareholder, said he supports the special committee's work and said there is no timeline for a decision. Any decision regarding a potential sale of the company will be put to a shareholder vote. Pappas and his brother Harris Pappas together own 33 percent of the company, a sizable voting bloc.

"One of the things this special committee wanted to do was let the market know that we're looking at shareholder value and if there's anything here that makes sense internally or externally," Pappas said. "At this point, there's been nothing decided."

Pappas declined to say whether Luby's had been approached in the past by prospective buyers, nor would he speculate on what kinds of buyers might be interested in the company.

"The company always had a possibility that some suitor might come here with an offer," Pappas said. "We have very good assets and good brands."

After Chicago investment firm BDT Capital announced it was acquiring a majority stake in Whataburger -- a Texas fast-food icon -- the sale triggered an outpouring of reactions on social media, including Texas-themed memes decrying the sale of the Lone Star brand to an outsider.

Pappas said he wouldn't compare Luby's and Whataburger, but said whatever is decided, Luby's will continue to retain its Texas connection.

"I think Luby's will always be an iconic Texas brand and keep its Texas roots," Pappas said. "I think brands that start here tend to have their Texas connection forever."

Luby's plans to continue its turnaround efforts as it considers strategic alternatives.

The company eliminated most of its discounts in favor of straight-forward pricing, with meals starting from $7 to $9. The chain also increased its marketing spending by $600,000, running online ads that emphasized the company's Texas roots and guests' memories of dining at the cafeteria chain over the decades.

Luby's over the past two years also closed 39 underperforming restaurants and sold its real estate to fund operations. The company earlier this year cut its general and administrative expenses by more than 10 percent and is currently selling its company-owned Fuddruckers restaurants to franchisees.

Luby's operates 125 restaurants nationally, including 79 Luby's Cafeterias, 45 Fuddruckers and one Cheeseburger in Paradise. The company also is the franchiser for 102 Fuddruckers locations across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Columbia and Panama. The company also operates a culinary services division, which provides food to hospitals, corporate cafeterias, sports stadiums and grocery stores.

Salad-making robots are coming to Houston

Houstonians can order salads from restaurants, grocery stores and, soon, salad-making vending machines.

The Salad Station, a Louisiana-based fast-casual chain, is planning to open dozens of restaurants and place salad-making vending machines across the Houston area over the next several years. With the tap of a few buttons, its salad-making machines drop portions of pre-chopped and refrigerated ingredients into a bowl and serve it fresh to customers.

“We’re seeing a nationwide change in eating habits,” said John Mike Heroman, Salad Station’s head of franchise development. “We see growth as people are looking for healthy meal options.”

Robotics and automation are poised to transform the restaurant industry just as it has other sectors, from automotive to retail. Restaurants and tech startups nationally are experimenting with robots and vending machines that make a variety of meal and dessert options.

California-based chain CaliBurger partnered with Miso Robotics to develop Flippy, a burger-flipping robot hailed as the world’s first autonomous kitchen assistant. Spyce, a Boston restaurant, features a robotic kitchen that collects orders from self-service kiosks, stir-fries ingredients in a hot wok and drops the hot meals into a bowl. Pizza Touch is piloting pizza vending machines in Florida. At Tipsy Robot in Las Vegas, two factory-arm robots mix 120 drinks every hour.

In Houston, Reis & Irvy’s Frozen Yogurt vending machines have popped up in the Texas Medical Center and the Art Institute of Houston.

To be sure, restaurants have been tinkering with technology since the heyday of the automat and the advent of fast food chains. However, the development of foodservice robots has accelerated in recent years amid rising labor and food costs.

The rise of robots in the kitchen has raised concern over the future of restaurant workers. Food preparation and service jobs are among the most vulnerable to replacement by machines due to restaurant work’s predictable and physical nature, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study.

“These robots are all about the dollars,” said David Littwitz, a Houston restaurant broker and consultant. “If you have a robot that can make X amount of burgers and pizzas, you’re not having to pay a person wages or benefits, like health insurance.”

Heroman with Salad Station said he isn’t worried about robots taking jobs away from the chain’s more than 300 employees, who run 20 restaurants across Louisiana. The company’s 2,000-square-foot restaurants, which each employ about 15 workers, offer more than 100 salad items and toppings, a spread that would be difficult to replicate in a vending machine.

“We don’t see these robots as a threat to our existing Salad Stations and employees,” Heroman said. “There’s always going to be a need for the restaurant experience.”

Moreover, the vending machines — which are targeted for hospitals, office towers, apartment complexes and sports arenas — will complement the Salad Station restaurants. The machines would offer nurses working the overnight shift at a hospital an option for healthy food when restaurants are closed, said Joe Benson, chief executive of RoboFresh, a Houston company contracted by Salad Station to service the vending machines.

“Houston is a 24/7 city, so we wanted to bring a healthy option that’s available 24/7,” Benson said.

Staying fresh

Salad Station’s vending machines are the size of a large ATM, featuring a clear window so customers can view the ingredients inside. Customers can choose either a romaine lettuce or spinach base topped with chicken or ham, three types of dressing and 17 salad toppings ranging from cherry tomatoes to edamame beans. The ordering and salad-making process typically takes less than three minutes, Benson said.

The ingredients are held in 22 clear canisters, which will be chilled to 38 degrees and switched out for fresh ingredients twice a day. Although prices are yet to be determined, each 32-ounce salad bowl from the vending machine will cost less than $9, Benson said.

The vending machines are made by Chowbotics, a California company, and each costs north of $40,000. Salad Station plans to purchase and place 10 of the so-called Sally machines in Houston by early 2020, Benson said.

RoboFresh, the Salad Station contractor, plans to open a commercial kitchen near the Texas Medical Center to serve the vending machines. The company has five employees, and plans to hire more as the number of salad vending machines grow.

Salad Station has signed an agreement to open its first Houston-area restaurant, a franchise location in Friendwood, next year. The chain plans to open 40 stores in the Houston area, entering a competitive turf held by Houston-based Salata, a made-to-order salad chain that is undergoing a major rebrand to court customers.

Salad Station’s salad-making vending machines won’t make an appearance inside its restaurants, however. The company operates five machines in Louisiana, which have been popular, Heroman said.

Will robots and vending machines take over kitchens across Houston? Littwitz, the Houston restaurant consultant, isn’t convinced that will happen.

“It’s entirely possible, but I’m not so bullish,” Littwitz said. “People like going to restaurants because they like the idea that a human being is cooking and customizing their meal.”

First look: Medical office building opens in Memorial Villages area, restaurant to come

Dallas-based Stream Realty Partners delivered its first medical office building in Houston Aug. 12, bringing a new 102,000-square-foot facility aimed at providing more convenient health care — along with a restaurant — to Hedwig Village.

Hedwig Place, as the building is known, is located at 8731 Katy Freeway, just west of where Voss Road crosses under Interstate 10. The building offers five floors of space specifically designed for medical care.

Floor plates in the building are typically 20,400 square feet, large enough for multiple examination rooms and patient waiting areas. Hedwig Place’s elevators are also large enough to accommodate a hospital gurney, which was an important design feature because two surgery centers are located at Hedwig Place. The building also has a pharmacy and areas for medical imaging and scans.

Just this week, Hedwig Place scored another amenity coup with the announcement that Federal Grill would be opening its second location in the building. The restaurant, which cooks up high-end American fare, will occupy 7,000 square feet on the building’s first floor. The original Federal Grill, which also goes by Federal American Grill, is located at 510 Shepherd Drive in the Heights. Federal Grill was represented by David Littwitz of Littwitz Investments Inc. on the deal.

Stream acquired the 2-acre property where Hedwig Place is located in June 2017 and construction began in February last year. The building was designed by E4H Architecture, which has offices primarily on the East Coast and in Dallas-Fort Worth. Canada-based WSP Global and Houston-based Jones Carter served as engineers. Houston-based Burton Construction was the general contractor for the project.

Richard Barbles, who leads the health care team at Stream in Houston, said the development of Hedwig Place was driven by the growing trend within the health care industry to provide patients with easier access to care.

“You’re seeing more and more convenient care centers moving away from free-standing emergency rooms or the major health systems and toward more convenient locations near retail centers,” Barbles said. “We wanted to take convenient care to another level by providing a free-standing, Class A facility.”

One key priority for the project, Barbles said, was to make getting in and out of the building as easy as possible. To achieve that, Hedwig Place has a six-level parking garage attached to the building, which allows patients to enter directly from the second floor.

From a medical provider perspective, Barbles said convenience equals efficiency, meaning they can see far more patients on a regular basis than at a traditional hospital, where just getting into a doctor’s office can be its own challenge.

It’s a sales pitch that appears to be resonating with Hedwig Place’s tenants. The building is already 70 percent leased, and Barbles said Stream is in negotiations with potential tenants that would bring the occupancy rate above 80 percent. Rents at Hedwig Place start at $36 per square foot per year, according to

Hedwig Place’s two anchor tenants are Memorial Plastic Surgery and a new Texas Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists location.

Memorial Plastic Surgery has leased 24,000 square feet in the building, which includes space for a clinic and a surgery center.

The 21,000 square feet leased by Texas ENT includes a number of patient rooms and five procedure rooms. Because Texas ENT is located on the second floor, its patients have a direct entrance to the parking garage.

“The Memorial Villages office is a brilliant step forward for our current and new patients as they will be able to receive the same individualized and exceptional care they have received for decades, but now in an elevated, beautiful and easily accessible location,” Dr. John W. Craddock Jr., a partner of Texas Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists, said in a statement.

Because of the early leasing success of Hedwig Place, Stream has already acquired land for a second medical office building, to be called Spring Valley Place, near the intersection of I-10 and Campbell Road. That project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.

Snap Kitchen shifts business online as food deliveries, prepared meal takes off

The days of calling the local pizza parlor to order dinner for home delivery may soon be over.

Consumers accustomed to shopping online are increasingly expecting the same click-and-ship convenience from grocery stores, restaurants and food retailers. New technologies, improved logistics, the advent of the gig economy and changing consumer tastes have given rise to a slew of food delivery companies such as GrubHub, Instacart and Nuro that aim to deliver groceries and restaurant meals to consumers whenever and wherever they want them.

“In the old days, the only thing delivered was pizza and Chinese food,” said David Littwitz, a Houston-based restaurant broker and consultant. “Now you can get almost anything delivered if you want to pay for it.”

The growing popularity of food deliveries is now forcing legacy retailers to change longstanding business models.

Snap Kitchen, an Austin-based retailer selling prepared meals, is the latest company to pivot to e-commerce, recently expanding its direct-to-consumer shipments to 15 markets nationally. The company can now reach 80 million people in cities such as San Antonio, Oklahoma City, New York and Washington, D.C., and plans to grow its online footprint.

What Snap Kitchen won’t be doing, at least for now, is to open new stores, Chief Executive Jon Carter said. The company has 34 locations across Texas and Philadelphia, including 10 in the Houston area, its largest market.

“Our model moving forward is to be asset light in our retail presence,” Carter said. “This is a key inflection point for our business.”

Explosive growth

Snap Kitchen began in 2010 as a brick-and-mortar retailer selling fresh and healthy grab-and-go meals catering to a variety of diets such as vegetarian, low carbohydrate, high protein and, more recently, Paleo, Keto and Whole30.

The company expanded into e-commerce, allowing customers to order online or via a smartphone app and have meals delivered on demand or through a subscription service. Customers can customize a six- to 12-meal box, ranging in price from $3.99 to $12.99 per meal, and have it delivered in one-to-two days.

“Both have seen explosive growth over the last couple of years,” Carter said. “Consumers are increasingly more comfortable with buying food digitally, and sometimes prefer it, so we’ve moved to where the consumer is.”

Indeed, the market for online food ordering and delivery is poised for robust growth.

Swiss investment bank UBS estimates the global market for food deliveries could expand more than tenfold over the next decade to $365 billion by 2030, up from $35 billion today. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. estimates the food delivery market will grow at an annualized rate of nearly 15 percent between 2018 and 2020.

Millennial consumers and affluent families are driving the surge in food deliveries as young adults spend less time in the kitchen than did previous generations and busy families outsource household chores. In 2015, restaurant sales surpassed grocery sales for the first time, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“People don’t have the time and the cooking skills,” Phil Lampert, food industry analyst and editor of, said. “They’d rather just order or heat something up rather than make it from scratch.”

Crowded market

Meal kit companies such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh introduced thousands of Americans to online food deliveries in recent years. However, prepared meals such as the ones sold by Snap Kitchen are expected to eclipse meal kits, which take more time to cook and clean up than ready-to-eat meals.

As a result, a multitude of e-commerce companies, such as Freshly, Sakara and Kettlebell Kitchen, have cropped up, shipping prepared meals direct to consumers, and grocery chains are starting to devote more shelf space to ready-to-eat meals.

H-E-B developed a product it calls Meal Simple; Albertsons, which owns Randalls, bought Plated; and Kroger acquired Home Chef, all to provide ready-to-eat meals that can be reheated in a microwave or conventional oven. Whole Foods partnered with Snap Kitchen in 2016 to offer its prepared meals in its grocery stores.

Even restaurant chains are starting to offer frozen meals in grocery stores. Houston-based Luby’s has been selling its fried fish, mac and cheese and chicken tetrazzini meals in H-E-B stores.

To be sure, ready-made meals have been a staple inside American fridges since Swanson popularized TV dinners 65 years ago. However, prepared meals have evolved from frozen trays of Stouffers and Lean Cuisine meals.

Snap Kitchen’s meals are chilled, never frozen, and do not contain any gluten, antibiotics, added hormones or artificial preservatives, flavors or colors. The meals are designed by a team of dietitians, and are made from scratch by chefs in two commercial kitchens, one in Fort Worth and the other in Philadelphia. Together, they produce as many as 60,000 meals daily, which are shipped directly from the kitchens through FedEx and arrive to customers in compostable packages and recycled cardboard boxes that are cooled with ice packs.

“The consumer wants frictionless living in the form of ready-to-eat meals that are healthy and have clean ingredients, and they want the comfort of ordering food through their phones,” Carter said. “We’re all excited to help more people live healthier lives.”

Snap Kitchen has more than 500 employees nationally, including 75 locally. Carter declined to share revenue or earnings figures, but said the company’s stores have some of the highest sales per square foot in the industry. Snap Kitchen is backed by Connecticut-based private equity firm L Catterton.

Loss leader

Still, the question remains: Can Snap Kitchen and other food retailers profit from food deliveries, which burdens them with additional costs such as drivers and vehicles?

“The problem with food delivery, whether it’s grocery, restaurant or Snap Kitchen, is that nobody is making any money from it,” Lampert, of, said. “While delivery is nice and a lot of people like it, it’s not sustainable until we have a more efficient operation, whether it’s autonomous vehicles or whatever it is.”

Littwitz, the restaurant consultant, said many Houston restaurateurs begrudgingly offer their food on demand despite losing a cut of the profits to delivery platforms such as GrubHub and DoorDash. Some restaurants, such as Carrabba’s corporate locations, have even installed special delivery windows and redesigned takeout boxes to adapt to the growing popularity of food deliveries.

On the grocery side, Kroger has partnered with robotics companies Nuro from San Francisco and Ocado from the United Kingdom to automate its food warehouses and use self-driving grocery delivery vehicles at two Houston-area grocery stores. H-E-B is now testing an autonomous delivery van in San Antonio through a partnership with California-based Udelv.

“They all realize food delivery is a necessary evil and a way for them to expand their base,” Littwitz said.

Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire owner of Landry’s restaurants, recently invested in Waitr, a startup that focuses on food deliveries because customers are demanding it.

“It’s not as profitable a business, but you have to do it right now,” Fertitta said. “We tend to make things better and figure things out, and I think that’s what’s going to happen.”

Digital shift

Carter doesn’t dispute the challenges facing Snap Kitchen and the rest of the food industry as it adapts to food deliveries.

The former Union Bank of California and Live Nation Entertainment executive said he has seen how e-commerce has transformed the banking and entertainment worlds, and is prepared to help lead Snap Kitchen as it makes the pivot. Carter joined Snap Kitchen in 2015 as its chief digital and technology officer to help others live healthier lives after losing his father to diabetes. He was named chief executive in January.

“I’m an e-commerce guy through and through,” Carter said. “Everyone’s trying to figure out how do we respond to this internet thing. Having done this in other consumer sectors, I can say disruption has sped up in every case.”

As it began shifting its brick-and-mortar operations toward e-commerce, Snap Kitchen consolidated its two Houston-area and two Austin-area kitchens into a 30,000-square-foot central kitchen in Fort Worth and laid off more than 160 employees in Texas in 2017.

To handle e-commerce orders, Snap Kitchen is prepared to increase its kitchen production by 50 percent to 100 percent, and is looking to expand its meal subscriptions to make production more predictable and reduce waste, Carter said.

“The proliferation of smartphones and new technology has collectively contributed to the large-scale adoption of this way of transacting and food consumption,” Carter said of food deliveries. “I think it’s only going to continue and speed up. I think the impact of this will be felt widespread over the next five to 10 years.”

11 Essential Houston Sandwich Shops

Houston may not be known as a sandwich capital like New York or Philadelphia, but the city’s unmatched multiculturalism results in a diverse array of bread based specialties. From Cajun po’boys to Vietnamese banh mi to Mexican tortas, here are Houston’s best sandwich destinations.

Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen

2327 Post Oak Blvd
Houston, TX 77056

(713) 871-8883

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This New York style deli is a family business that began three generations ago. Kenny & Ziggy’s has sandwiches galore including bagelwiches, burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, grilled cheeses, and hot and cold deli sandwiches. If you dare, try the massive 8 decker Zellagabetsky with meats stacked higher than the Empire State Building.

2. BB's Tex-Orleans

6154 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77057

(713) 339-2566

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BB’s is a beloved late night spot serving Texas-New Orleans fusion. Po’ boys range from traditional fried seafood or roast beef to the Tex-Mex inspired South Texas Fire with fajita beef, jalapenos, and a peppery cheese sauce, all on soft and flaky Leidenheimer French bread. (Multiple locations)

3. Niko Niko's

2520 Montrose Blvd
Houston, TX 77006

(713) 528-4976

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A longstanding Greek eatery, Niko Niko’s specializes is gyros, souvlaki sandwiches, and pitas spread with creamy tzatziki. Carnivorous toppings include chopped lamb and beef, grilled chicken, pork kebob, and beef tenderloin while falafel, spinach and feta, and chargrilled vegetables accommodates vegetarians. Sample three different sandwiches with the hat trick combo—mini versions of the gyro, chicken kebob, and pork sandwich.  (Multiple locations)

4. Local Foods

2555 Kirby Dr
Houston, TX 77019

(713) 255-4440

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Area purveyors Atkinson Farm, Black Hill Ranch, and Slow Dough Bread Co emphasize the “local” in Local Foods. The crunchy chicken sandwich (baked, not fried) is crusted with nuts and seeds adding texture that complements the fluffy pretzel bun. Another standout, the garden sammie, is packed with veggies like Brussels sprouts and avocado and full of flavor from the curry spiced cauliflower and pickled onions. (Multiple locations)

5. Pappa Geno's

1801 Ella Blvd Ste. C
Houston, TX 77008

(713) 863-1222

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Pappa Geno’s brings a taste of Philly to the Bayou City. Grab an authentic cheesesteak sprayed with Cheese Whiz or a number of other steak and cheese varieties like the spicy Wicked Philly, the Texas Philly Melt sandwiched between slabs of Texas Toast, or the Smothered Philly with mushrooms, melted cheese, and brown gravy.  

6. Paulie's

(713) 807-7271

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Paulie’s is a casual neighborhood haunt that’s been a staple of the Montrose community for over 20 years. Known for housemade pasta and shortbread cookies, Paulie’s also offers Italian-style sandwiches like ham, salami, and provolone hoagies; saucy meatball sliders; and grilled paninis like the mozzarella, tomato, and pesto Pizzitola and the Principe with Italian sausage, mozzarella, grilled onions and peppers.

7. Las Tortas Perronas

1837 Bingle Rd
Houston, TX 77055

(713) 461-1900

Las Tortas Perronas is a divey counter service shop in Spring Branch with eclectic decor and over 30 varieties of tortas. Crowdpleasers include the super Cubana with heaping portions of ham, pork, skirt steak, chorizo, egg, and cheese; the ham and pineapple based Hawaiana torta; and the guera with grilled chicken, rich Oaxaca cheese, and avocado. 

8. Les Givral's

2704 Milam St
Houston, TX 77006

(713) 529-1736

Houstonians line up at Les Givral’s for consistently delicious banh mi. These Vietnamese-style street sandwiches are piled with chargrilled barbecue pork or shredded chicken, a smear of pâté, pickled veggies, and fresh cilantro. Wash it all down with a potent Vietnamese iced coffee. 

9. Katz's Deli

616 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006

(713) 521-3838

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Indulge late night cravings at this 24-hour deli. Katz’s signature sandwiches are available in three sizes: skinny, klassic, and towering New York-sized. The reuben with corned beef, swiss, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye is a house specialty.

Turkey Reuben at Katz’s

10. Urban Eats

3414 Washington Ave
Houston, TX 77007

(832) 834-4417

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Urban Eats is a 3-in-1 market, bistro, and restaurant. The extensive menu features 11 types of sliders including the Picnic, a toasted ciabatta roll topped with barbecue brisket, slaw, and pickles. Also find a fried green tomato BLT slathered with spicy-sweet peach pepper jam and served on a pretzel roll.  

Urban Eats chicken-fried steak and eggs signature sliders

Urban Eats/Facebook

Beloved Houston Seafood Restaurant Debuts New Name, New Location Later This Year

Later this year, the beloved Montrose seafood restaurant formerly known as Danton’s Gulf Coast Kitchen will debut in a new home with a brand new name.

As Eater reported last year, the restaurant is en route to a new space at 1985 Welch Street, and owner Kyle Teas now plans to debut the newly-rebranded Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine later this year. Originally, the plan was to reopen as Eugene’s in January 2019, but that date was pushed back as Teas and his team revamped the 4,600 square foot space on Welch Street, which formerly housed Mockingbird Bistro.

Danton’s served its final meals on December 31 of last year, when it was forced to vacate its Chelsea Market location in Montrose after its building was set for demolition to make way for a fancy new high-rise tower.

To create a homey, vintage look at Eugene’s, Teas repurposed decor from the iconic (and long-shuttered) Sonny Look’s Sirloin Inn for the space, along with the original wood bar from Houston relic Joske’s, according to a press release. The menu for the restaurant will be similar to Danton’s, with classics like gumbo, the New Orleans-style “debris” sandwich, and blackened Gulf catches on offer.

Expect Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine to debut sometime in “late summer or early fall.” Stay tuned for an official opening date.

The Union Kitchen continues its Houston-area expansion with new Cypress outpos

Houston-based Gr8 Plate Hospitality is gearing up to debut its sixth Houston-area The Union Kitchen outpost in Cypress.

What began as a sole Bellaire restaurant has quickly evolved into a beloved local chain of New American fare from restaurateur Paul Miller.

Miller is simultaneously readying to debut a seventh location in Katy, as well as a new Jax Grill at Stableside at Falcon Landing in Cinco Ranch.

The Cypress location will be nestled into the The Boardwalk at Towne Lake, at the space formerly occupied by Jaxton's Grill House & Bar, 9955 Barker Cypress.

"We've been looking at the Cypress area for a long time," Miller said in a prepared statement. "Between the property, the community and the unbeatable location on the lake, it all added up to a great opportunity. We're excited to connect with the Towne Lake community, local sports teams and the Cy-Fair school district to make this a special gathering place for everyone at any time of day, whether they're looking for lunch, Happy Hour, dinner, drinks or our signature weekend brunch."

The sprawling 5,000-square-foot interior will seat 200 guests, and a 2,000-square-foot patio will accomodate 130 more diners who can enjoy of a view of the 300-acre lake. The bar area, decked out with TVs for game days, will open up to the patio area.

Chefs James Lundy and Edward Roberts, from the Washington Avenue Union Kitchen, will be at the helm.

Expect this location to debut later this month.

Source: Houston Chronicle

The 30 most anticipated restaurants, bars, breweries, and food halls opening in Houston this summer

Halfway through 2019, it feels like this year has been a relatively slow one for new restaurants. Sure, places like 1751 Sea & BarTruth Barbeque, and Squable have made big splashes, but the overall pace hasn't been quite as torrid as in 2017 or 2018.

Well, friends, that's about to change. This summer is loaded with interesting concepts from both prominent local operators and established restaurants from beyond the Red River. That doesn't even include the new Ninfa's, which dropped off this list by opening on Monday.

Just to note, this list isn't designed to be comprehensive. For example, some of the 13 restaurants coming to Bellaire Food Street will open this summer, but it isn't yet clear which of them will arrive by Labor Day or in what order. The first, a second Houston-area location of Japanese cream puff purveyor Beard Papa opens June 22.

Also, this list focuses on establishments expected to open before Labor Day. That means that Killen's, the new comfort food restaurant that will replace Hickory Hollow, or Be More Pacific, the Austin-based Filipino restaurant coming to the Heights, are not included, because they won't debut until this fall.

With those caveats out of the way, read on for information about two new food halls coming to downtown, a massive new brewery, the latest project from Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel, Tex-Mex from The Pit Room, and so much more.

B.B. Lemon - Montrose
Ben Berg will open a second location of his upscale diner in the former Pax Americana space. Like its sibling on Washington Avenue, the menu will feature a first-rate cheeseburger made with Texas wagyu beef, but executive chef Emily Trusler will expand the number of seafood offerings. In terms of design, the decor will feature a similar style of plaid wallpaper as Washington, and the patio will be reworked to make it more functional. Expect an opening just before the July 4th holiday.

Bravery Chef Hall
Remember when this food hall in the Aris Market Square apartment tower was going to open in late-summer or early-fall 2018? We don’t either, but the beginning of hiring and training employees makes it appear as though Bravery will finally open in late-June or early-July.

When it does open, the food hall will feature six restaurants and three bars including: Atlas Diner from Richard Knight, the Blind Goat (a Vietnamese pub) from Christine Ha, BOH Pasta from Ben McPherson, Cherry Block Craft Butcher and Seasonal Kitchen (a steakhouse with a wood-fired grill) from Felix Florez and Jess Timmons, Kokoro (seafood) from former Uchi chefs Patrick Pham and Daniel Lee, and Nuna (Peruvian seafood) from David Guerrero. Veteran bartender David Cedeno will lead Lockwood Station, the venue’s cocktail bar, and partner Shepard Ross will oversee the wine bar. Each stand features a dining counter, which will allow patrons to interact with the chefs as they prepare each order. 

Buffalo Bayou Brewing Company
Houston’s most creative brewery will soon open the doors to its massive, three-story facility in Sawyer Yards. In addition to providing increased capacity to make more Crush City IPA and Sam’s Daily, the new Buff Brew will feature a beer garden on the first floor, a 200-seat restaurant on the second floor, and a rooftop patio with a view of the downtown skyline. Chef Arash Kharat moves over from Beaver’s to lead the kitchen; expect the menu to feature his creative cooking mixed with a new focus on beer and its component ingredients. With construction moving quickly, it should open in August.

Set to replace Indika after it closes at the end of June, Bukhara is a new concept from veteran restaurateur Mickey Kapoor (Khyber North Indian Grill). The restaurant takes its inspiration from the region in Uzbekistan that helped shape the culinary trends along the Spice Route that ran from China to Turkey. With kebabs and rice pilaf dishes on the menu, Kapoor promises it will be a “meat lover’s paradise” when it opens in mid-July.

The Burger Joint - Heights
The over two-year process of turning a former mechanic shop at the corner of N. Shepherd Drive and 20th Street into a second location of the popular Montrose burger spot should finally come to an end later this summer. In addition to all the creative burger and hot dog combinations that have made the original equally popular with regular Houstonians and celebrities like Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, the new spot will feature a large patio and a full bar.

The Tex-Mex restaurant from Sambrooks Management (The Pit Room, 1751 Sea & Bar, etc) is on track for a mid-July opening. Powered by a custom-built wood-burning grill, the restaurant, which replaces the shuttered Montrose location of Cane Rosso, will feature high-quality ingredients and scratch-made recipes. The Wednesday night fajitas special at the Patio at the Pit Room is already a hit; mixing in enchiladas, margaritas, and other classic dishes certainly sounds like a winning formula.

Common Bond - Heights
The third location of the ultra-popular bakery and cafe will makes its debut in the Heights Waterworks development in July. Expect the same sky-high croissants, decadent cakes, and savory entrees as its siblings in Montrose and near the Medical Center.

Craft Pita
The transformation of the Fountainview Square Shopping Center — Barnaby'sreplacing Eatalia, Cabo Bob's replacing Harvest Green — continues with this Mediterranean concept. Owner Rafael Nasr brings years of experience working for Pappas Restaurants to this "fast fine casual" establishment that will serve pita sandwiches, bowls, rotisserie chicken, and more. Locally sourced ingredients, such as vegetables from Plant It Forward Farms and pita from Phoenicia, will help set it apart from other, similar establishments when it opens in August. 

Edelweiss Stube
Located in Bridgeland’s Lakeland Village Center, this Swiss restaurant will celebrate the joys of raclette, which will be served tableside and scraped onto diners’ plates. Chef and co-owner Markus Klauser’s menu will feature Swiss specialities like Älplermagronen, penne pasta with potato cubes in a creamy cheese sauce, and Zürcher Geschnetzeltes mit Rösti, beef, and mushrooms in gravy with shredded, roasted potatoes. We’ll find out whether Cypress residents crave stinky cheese when the restaurant opens in late June.

Eugene’s Gulf Coast Cuisine
Restaurateur Kyle Teas is updating Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood and Steaks in a new location, the former home of Mockingbird Bistro at 1985 Welch St. Named for Teas’ father, the new concept will feature a similar menu as Danton’s with some updated dishes designed to appeal to contemporary diners. Unfortunately, a rep couldn’t confirm a specific opening timeline, but we expect it to open by summer’s end. 

How to Survive on Land and Sea
Mike Sammons, the beverage expert who co-founded 13 Celsius, Weights & Measures, and Mongoose versus Cobra, will bring this wine bar to the Second Ward. Details are light, but Sammons’ track record of success makes anything he does worth following. Look for a mid-July opening.

Loch Bar and Ouzo Bay
Coming to Houston courtesy of Baltimore’s Atlas Restaurant Group, these two seafood restaurants should bring even more energy to River Oaks District. Of the two, Loch Bar is the more casual option. Described as a “seafood tavern,” it features classic fare (crab cakes, lobster roll) as well as an extensive selection of raw oysters. A bar with 400 whiskeys and daily live music should make it a lively hangout spot when it opens June 24.

Ouzo Bay is a more upscale affair that features fresh seafood sourced from around the globe. Dishes like Norwegian langoustines, West African salt prawns, and a lamb shank may be paired with a selection from sommelier Evan Turner’s(Helen, Emmaline) 300-bottle wine list — 225 sourced from Greece. An indoor-outdoor fireplace, octopus tentacle lighting fixtures, and "high-backed cherry banquettes" give the interior a luxurious feel. It opens June 19.

Lotti Dotti
Chef Adam Dorris (Pax Americana, Presidio) makes his triumphant return to Montrose at this new bar, which replaces Brooklyn Athletic Club. General manager Michael Riojas (Beaver’s, Ladybird’s) will oversee the cocktail menu, which will focus on draft options to expedite service; draft beer and wine will also be available. The limited food menu will focus on charcuterie, with Dorris preparing pates, terrines, and dry-cured items that harken back to his time at Stella Sola and Revival Market. It opens in late June.

BCN chef Luis Roger will expand his repertoire at this new restaurant in River Oaks District than takes its name from the airport code for the city of Madrid. MAD will focus on tapas and a rotating selection of paella cooked over a wood-burning fire. As at BCN, a selection of both classic and creative gin and tonics will be the focus on the cocktail program. While BCN is fine dining with prices to match, MAD will have a more casual atmosphere and lower price points. It opens for dinner on June 19 with lunch to follow in the coming weeks.

Mendocino Farms
Backed by investment money from Whole Foods, this California-based restaurant has already revealed plans for four Houston locations in Rice Village, Uptown Park, downtown, and the Heights — in that order, with Rice Village kicking things off later this summer. Known for its creative sandwiches and salads, the restaurant prides itself on using locally-sourced produce and freshly-baked breads. A reputation for excellent service and reasonable prices have also contributed to its rapid growth.

Monkey’s Tail
Sharif Al-Amin (Helen Greek Food & Wine) and Greg Perez (Calle Onze) are transforming a north Houston dive into a modern, Mexican-American bar with creative cocktails and food. Steven Ripley (Helen, Jonathan’s the Rub) is overseeing the menu, which will include New York-style pizzas, wings with Mexican-inspired dry rubs and sauces, and street corn. A draft wall with 20 taps will join Perez’s cocktails that draw on his Mexican heritage. Since the original late-April timeline has slipped, let's hope for a mid-July opening.

Montrose Cheese & Wine
One of two new concepts from Goodnight Hospitality (Goodnight Charlie's), this retail shop will feature a rotating selection of 12 to 15 cheeses along with a selection of 75 wines focused on (but not limited to) organic, biodynamic, and natural production, In addition, the 760-square-foot shop will also feature gifts, accessories, and wine-related tools when it opens later this summer.

Musaafer by The Spice Route Company
Named after the Hindi world for “traveler,” this ambitious restaurant aims to take diners on a journey across the entire Indian subcontinent. Chefs Mayank Istwal and Shivek Suri took a 100-day journey across the country to collect recipes, techniques, and ideas for the restaurant's a la carte, bar, and tasting menus. Details on specific dishes are still elusive, but the two courses they served at a Recipe for Success dinner in October hint at its potential. Expect lavish decor in the 10,000-square-foot space, which will sit above Fig & Olive in the Galleria VI. Fingers crossed for an August opening.

Penny Quarter
Having successfully launched Squable, Justin Yu and Bobby Heugel can now turn their attention to this all-day cafe that replaces Etro in the space next to Anvil. Pitched as the evolution of Montrose staples like Brazil, Penny Quarter will offer coffee in the morning (courtesy of Alex Negranza), but the cafe’s real focus will be a wine list created by Justin Vann (Public Services, Theodore Rex, etc) that will be available until midnight Sunday-Wednesday and until 2 am Thursday-Saturday. Yu will contribute a menu of toasts, small plates, salads, and other dishes. The opening timeline is still uncertain, but Heugel promises it will be sometime this summer.

Postino - Montrose
A second Houston location of the Arizona-based wine cafe will open in the former Montrose Mining Company space. As with its location in the Heights, patrons may look forward to $5 glasses of wine until 5 pm, a selection of bruschetta and other shareable dishes, and a stylish renovation of the historic building. Expect a late-August opening.

Rosie Cannonball
This casual restaurant from Goodnight Hospitality will features dishes prepared by a wood-burning oven and grill. Chef Adam Garcia will utilize locally sourced ingredients, including vegetables from Goodnight's farm, to prepare pastas, seafood, and meat dishes that let their ingredients shine. Master sommeliers June Rodil and David Keck will team up on a wine list that features affordable vintages from places such as Beaujolais, the Loire Valley, and "progressive" New World producers. Like Montrose Cheese & Wine, Rosie is on track for a late-summer opening.   

This wine-fueled new restaurant in the Heights features talents such as managing partner Brian Doke (Tiny Boxwoods), beverage director William Meznarich, and chef Micah Rideout (Potente, Reef, etc.). The restaurant will feature an eclectic menu of mostly European-inspired dishes with enough global touches to feel in touch with contemporary Houston alongside an extensive wine list that covers all varietals and price points. A pop-up dinner in Januaryfeatured two dishes from the menu — chicken bundles (sauteed chicken wrapped in mustard greens) and balsamic-cured duck — both of which received an enthusiastic response from diners.

Beyond the wine list, the restaurant’s stylish look will help set it apart from other spots in the neighborhood. With permitting and construction delays behind it, the restaurant seems to be on track for a July opening.

Shake Shack - downtown
Houston's fourth full service outpost of the New York-based global burger juggernaut — no, the one at Minute Maid Park doesn't count — will arrive at 712 Main St by "mid-summer," according to a representative. That's good news for downtown office workers, JW Marriott hotel guests, and anyone else that appreciates the elegant simplicity of a ShackBurger.  

Strato 550
Named after its height, this restaurant occupies the 43rd floor (550 feet above street level) of downtown office building 1415 Louisiana. Executive chef Evan Parker’s Mediterranean-inspired menu features dishes such as chilled cauliflower soup and scallops with lentils and Spanish chorizo, but it's the expansive views that will be the real draw. It opens June 24.

The Toasted Coconut
The team behind Nobie’s — chef Martin Stayer, sommelier Sara Stayer, and bar manager Sarah Troxell — will celebrate their love of all things tiki at this Montrose restaurant that replaces Maria Selma’s/Texas Shrimp Shack. The food menu features dishes inspired by countries within 20 degrees of the equator with a focus on shareable items like skewers and dumplings. Cocktails will both pay homage to classics like the Zombie and the Painkiller and offer alternatives that don't rely on rum and sweet juices.

If the recent presence of Peter Jahnke (Tongue-cut Sparrow) behind the bar at Nobie’s is any indication of future staff, the Stayers will launch the concept with a talented, veteran crew. Send positive thoughts for a mid-to-late-July opening.

Toukei Izakaya
Chef Mike Tran (Tiger Den, Mein, etc) will complete his project to open six restaurants in a Chinatown shopping center with this izakaya. Inspired by his many trips to Japan, the restaurant will feature a large, wood-burning grill, a chef’s counter for raw dishes, and an extensive selection of Japanese spirits. Predicting the chef’s moves is always a little tricky, but a mid-July opening seems like a safe bet.

Located in the newly-constructed Capitol Tower, this food hall features a design by acclaimed Austin architect Michael Hsu. It will feature seven restaurants and a cocktail bar, six of which have been announced: SeaSide Poké, East Hampton Sandwich Co., Boomtown Coffee, Mama Ninfa’s Tacos y Tortas, MONA Fresh Italian Food, and Flip ‘n Patties. While most of those are familiar, Mama Ninfa’s is new; it's a fast casual, taco-oriented concept from the owners of The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. We anticipate a mid-July opening.

The Union Kitchen - Cypress
The sixth location of this wine-fueled comfort food restaurant will replace Jaxton’s Grill at The Boardwalk at Towne Lake complex. That’s good news, since the restaurant comes equipped with a wood-burning oven and grill that sets it apart from other TUK locations. Work is moving swiftly enough that it should open in late June or early July.

Warehouse 72
This restaurant in the Marq*E Entertainment Center will update Spaghetti Warehouse for a new generation. Executive chef Don Flores' new menu will mix Spaghetti Warehouse classics like the 15-layer lasagna and spinach and mozzarella ravioli, while also introducing new tastes like porchetta, Gulf shrimp, and short ribs. To drink, expect an all-new cocktail menu, a focus on Italian wines, and an expanded beer selection. The restaurant plans to open on July 22, according to its website.

Source: CulturemapHouston

The Union Kitchen Is Moving into Cypress

The Union Kitchen scores a new location

This summer, neighborhood restaurant The Union Kitchen will move into the former Jaxton’s Grill House & Bar space at The Boardwalk at Towne Lake at 9955 Barker Cypress Road #104. This will be the sixth The Union Kitchen outpost in the greater Houston area, and the Cypress location will boast 200 seats indoors and 130 seats outside on a patio facing Towne Lake.

“We’ve been looking at the Cypress area for a long time,” Gr8 Plate Hospitality owner Paul Miller said in a press release. “Between the property, the community and the unbeatable location on the lake, it all added up to a great opportunity.”

Squable serves up melted French raclette cheeseburgers

Houstonia visited Justin Yu, Bobby Heugel, and chef Drew Gimma’s new restaurant Squableand counted down the most popular dishes so far. Best-sellers include a Dutch baby pancake with preserved citrus, salt-baked sweet potato and the pork neck schnitzel, and a giant burger topped with butter, melted French raclette, and cornichon pickles.

Elizabeth Warren dines at Ninfa’s on Navigation

While in Houston for the She The People event, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren sang the praises of Ninfa’s on Navigation. “The first time Bruce came to Houston to meet my family, I picked him up at the airport and drove him directly to my favorite Tex-Mex place, Ninfa’s on Navigation. He’d grown up in Massachusetts and everything in this part of the world was new,” she tweeted, adding: “I ordered him a huge lunch, and he wolfed down every bite. At the end, he said he loved it. Right then, I knew this was a guy I could live with forever. This week we were back in Houston for She the People, and we went back to Ninfa’s.”

Source: Houston Eater

Hugo Ortega arrived in Houston in the trunk of an Impala. How a smuggled immigrant became a top chef

Editor’s note: Hugo Ortega ranks among the nation’s top chefs. He won the 2017 Best Chef: Southwest Award from the James Beard Foundation and has received accolades for his culinary brilliance from a variety of publications, including Bon Appétit, Forbes Travel Guide and Smithsonian Magazine. He and his wife Tracy Vaught own and operate several restaurants including: Backstreet Café, a neighborhood bistro she opened in 1983; Hugo’s, which features the traditional cuisine of Mexico’s various regions; Caracol, a showcase for Mexican coastal dishes; and Xochi, celebrating the flavors of Oaxaca. But before all the kudos, Hugo arrived in Texas a hungry immigrant teenager. Here, he tells the story of his American journey. This was originally published by the Center for Houston’s Future in “Houston’s Economic Future: Immigration.”

I was born in Mexico City. At the age of nine, I went to live with my grandmother, at the border of Oaxaca and Puebla in the mountains, a town called Progreso. I can say now, more than 40 years later, that was where I received my culinary education.

When I got there, by my surprise, there was not electricity, running water or all the necessities we have in today’s life. I found that intriguing, very primitive. But full of love on my grandmother’s side, and knowledge of my ancestors, and her ancestors. Our ancestors researched every day just to figure out what to cook. So, literally, they just lived to eat. That was pretty much the daily living for my grandmother and me. You had your little house, surrounded by animals ... like pigs, and chickens for eggs, and goats, cattle for milk and so on, and bulls to work the land.

She and I were a tremendous team. I was young, full of energy and the ability to do many things, and with her knowledge I always accommodated myself to be her prep cook. And her dishwasher, her get-to-go boy. We used to come to a little town once a week, on a Sunday, to the market. From time to time the local butcher would butcher a pig or a cow, and with a little bit of fresh meat, we’d go back to living again.

I went through eighth grade, didn’t finish ninth grade. That’s all I could afford at that moment. I stayed in Progreso until I was 14 or 15. Then my dad decided to move the family back to Mexico City. I worked for an American company called Procter & Gamble. I was part of the maintenance team, changing light bulbs and cleaning. It was a factory where they made Crest toothpaste, soap, and many cleaning products and chemicals. I learned a little bit about the company and realized there was some opportunity over here in the United States.

At the time, some friends had come already. Some were in California. I had a cousin in Houston. From time to time he would send some letters, and I would read those letters he sent to his mom. One of the things that opened my eyes was that from time to time he would send $20 or $50 ... I don’t remember what was the exchange rate, but it was like thousands of pesos to the dollar. That was eye opening for a 16-year-old man, teenager, or whatever.

At the age of 19, I finally made it to the States. One day, my dad just basically told me, “This is all I can do for you, so from this point on, if you want to be homeless, or you want to be a punk, whatever you want to be is up to you.” That may sound heartless, coming from someone who means so much in your life, but I also respected him. I respect what he told me.

One beautiful spring day, we organized ourselves — a friend and a couple of other people — and bought bus tickets north from Mexico City. We found a coyote who could pass us across the border.

We tried five times. The first, we were over 120 people trying to cross at once. Adults, senior citizens, young kids. The immigration police caught us five times, and they took me back. But there was no going back.

The fourth or fifth time they figured out crossing so many was not going to be possible. So, they divided us. They put the young people in one group. In my group, we were 14 young women and young men. On the sixth try is when we crossed. We came across the river. It was deep. I struggled, because I don’t know how to swim. I managed, and made it, and that was wonderful.

We were young and agile and jumped many fences. At some point, they put us in a train car. They told us, “People will be inspecting the cars. You make any noise and they capture us, whoever makes that noise is going to be dead.” They were not fooling around. I can laugh now, but it was terrifying.

Eventually around two in the morning or so we started moving, faster and faster. Then they told us, “Hey we made it!” We started celebrating in the car, which was pitch black. As we were about to reach San Antonio, someone made a hole in the side of the car. We started jumping one by one, like that. Out the hole. They told us, “As soon as you are on the ground, hide where people can’t see you.” It was around six or seven in the morning. That’s what we did.

Around seven that night, they picked us up and kept 14 of us in a house for about a day and a half. On the second day, they put us in a Chevrolet Impala. They put some pieces of wood on the shocks so the car wouldn’t sink under all the weight. They said stay low and put 14 people in that car. Many in the backseat. I was in the trunk with another two people. The first pothole we passed, the trunk opened. I was closest to it so I reached up and closed it, so I was a hero for a moment!

We arrived in Houston in the Wayside area, between 10 and midnight. That’s when the transaction happened. My cousin, he paid for us, $500 apiece.

This was in the early ’80s. My cousin did not recognize us at first. I had lost a lot of weight after 20 days on the streets of Laredo. From the time that we got there to the time that we crossed it was something like that. The coyotes were feeding us potatoes and eggs, and we didn’t have much clothing, we were very dirty and skinny. We really broke down crying. It was a beautiful time.

My cousin lived down there on Wayside, so he took me over there. Then we moved right near West Gray and Taft. That’s where we lived for probably a year or so.

Then we would find a job and went on our own and rented an apartment. I was a janitor at a restaurant in Montrose called Motherlode, then I became a busboy. My cousin gave me the opportunity to cook there. Things were going great until that restaurant closed. It was a gay restaurant, so I saw for the first time in my life two men kiss each other. That was eye opening, too. All those wonderful memories, they’re there. It was my new culture, my new city. It was all new to me.

After Motherlode closed, I worked in the Esperson Building. I was a janitor during the evenings and in the mornings, I was a busboy in a restaurant called Bull & Bear. When the restaurant closed, I worked part-time jobs. Those were very depressing times. My cousin, the one who lived with me, moved to California, and I had to be by myself in the city. I was very depressed. I was in trouble.

I ended up living on the streets, over by Richmond and Dunlavy. There was a grocery store nearby. Sometimes people gave me food and helped me out. One day I saw a man approaching the store, and he had equipment to cut grass. I explained what happened, and he said, “For heaven’s sake!” His name was Luis, and he asked me if I wanted to work with him. And I said, “Sure!” He taught me how to work in landscaping.

Luis was the manager of a soccer team. That’s something I was really good at when I was a young person. Luis introduced me to the players, and said, “This is Hugo. He’s by himself and he’s looking for a house.” One was from El Salvador, and said, “He can live with us.” Three brothers. I went to live with them.

Then I was getting on the streets every day looking for work. I used to walk back and forth along Westheimer. The funny thing is that I remember crossing the street many times by the building where Hugo’s is today. At some point I pointed and thought, I wonder what it would take, how much it would cost to own a building.

I would say to myself, “One day I want to own a building like this!”

Finally, my break came through in 1987. We used to play soccer at Wilson Elementary School (just a few blocks from where Hugo’s is now). One time a couple people appeared. They were dressed like cooks, with white jackets. One had the name “Backstreet” on the shirt. A friend went to them, Julio and Francisco, and said, “Hey listen, this Mexican guy is looking for work and he says he can wash dishes. Do you have anything over there where you work?

They gave me the address, and I wrote it down. They said, “Tomorrow you come around 9 o’clock.” The next morning I was there sharp, at 8:30 or 8 o’clock in the morning. I was sitting outside in the parking lot. I had anxiety, saying, “I hope I can work here, I hope I can get a job.”

Inside, the owner of the restaurant asked Julio, “Dónde está tu amigo?” Where is your friend who wants to wash dishes? And Julio responded, “He’s outside!” And she told him, “Well, tell him to come in!” And Julio said, “He’s kind of shy.”

Then she came to the step. She saw me. She said, “Hello, my name is Tracy,” and she shook my hand, kind of a hard shake. And I said, “I’m Hugo.” She said, “Well, come in!”

To be honest, when I saw my future wife for the first time, I thought she looked like a Spanish lady, from Spain. Her beauty intrigued me. I fell in love with her that moment! I absolutely loved her. I was very happy. You don’t have to speak the language to fall in love with somebody. I didn’t speak any English at first.

That day, they found me an apron and I started washing dishes.

One of the things I tell young people who come here and don’t speak English is, “Say, ‘Yes,’” to everything.” I didn’t know what Tracy was telling me, but I always said, “Yes, yes, yes!”

One day she said, “Would you like to cook?” I said, “Yes!” I remember my first duty as a cook was to slice a 10-pound tube of provolone on the slicer.

Eventually, I believe around 1989, she asked me if I would be interested in enrolling in cooking school. Of course I said, “Yes!” My English had improved a little. I was sure I could understand, so I enrolled myself in the culinary program at Houston Community College. The problem came when I had my first test. I told the teacher “I cannot write English. I can write Spanish.” The director of the department allowed me to take the test orally. From time to time, I still talk to him, and sometimes ask him, “Chef, do you have somebody who can help us?”

Around the time I went to school, Tracy bought Prego, an Italian restaurant in the Rice Village. I did a year of apprenticeship while going to school. After I graduated and spent a year at Prego, Tracy invited me back to Backstreet to be the chef.

Sometime in the summer of 1990, Tracy had a party for employees in Galveston, and my responsibility was to cook chicken and hamburgers. It was that day I declared my intentions. We married on May 19, 1994. In 1997, our daughter Sophia Elizabeth was born.

A few years later, we had the opportunity to open Hugo’s. Tracy’s uncle called to tell her a friend had a piece of property on Westheimer she might be interested in. We were very busy at Backstreet, but eventually we went to have a look.

Standing in the parking lot behind the building that years earlier had been the object of my fantasies, Tracy asked me: “What do you think about opening a restaurant cooking the food of your grandmother, your homeland?

I thought about getting up at 5 every morning, loading jars on the donkey and going to the bottom of the hill to get water for the kitchen; cutting wood to make a fire every day; taking care of 300 goats; everything made a mano ...

My answer may be hard to believe, but I said from the heart, “Tracy, my god, that’s a lot of work!”

Of course, I had learned to say “yes” to everything.

Source: Houston Chronicle

Tacos Over Texas returns to Houston April 7

The spirit of Mama Ninfa Laurenzo looms large over this city. Which is why the Laurenzo family decided to honor their mother with a celebration focusing on a food she knew well: tacos.

Last year's inaugural Tacos Over Texas, a fundraiser for the Ninfa Laurenzo Scholarship Fund, raised more than $100,000 to financially assist students in economic need to reach their educational goals.

This year's event, to be held April 7, hopes to top that amount with an event featuring a chef competition and unlimited taco samples from some of the city's top chefs.

The second annual Tacos Over Texas taco-palooza will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Original Ninfa's on Navigation, 2704 Navigation.

Guests can sample tacos from participating chefs who will include Chris Shepherd from One Fifth Mediterranean, Ronnie Killen from Killen's TMX, Greg Gatlin of Gatlin's BBQ, Ryan Lachaine from Riel, chef Jamie Zelko of Zelko Concepts, and chefs David and Michael Cordua. Other participating restaurants: Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, La Calle Tacos, Poitin, Laurenzo's Restaurant, Tony Mandola's Gulf Coast Kitchen, Café Annie, Tout Suite, Saint Arnold Brewing Company, Grace's on Kirby, Mia's Table, Christian's Tailgate, and Elliot's Table. The chefs are challenged to create a taco inspired by Mama Ninfa.

Tickets are $40 for general admission including two drink tickets; VIP tickets at $200 include early admission at noon. See

Where to Celebrate National Margarita Day

THE CREATION STORY OF THE MARGARITA is tough to pin down. In 1974, Texas Monthly profiled a former El Paso bartender who claimed to invent the drink around 1942, though it’s curious his wife (whom he married in the 1950s) had the very same name. Cocktail historian David Wondrich goes back to the 1930s, saying the drink was a Prohibition-era tequila variation of the brandy daisy. There are a bunch of other tales that can easily be disputed, many of them set in the 1930s and ’40s. 

However it was created, just know that the margarita is our chosen cocktail—the perfect beverage for the discerning Houstonian.

That brings us to Friday, which is National Margarita Day. It’s a bit of a holiday here, with plenty of restaurants and bars doing special things to mark the occasion. Here’s what’s happening:

  • Chef Hugo Ortega is offering The Greatest Margarita Ever Sold (25-year-aged Grand Marnier, anejo tequila) for a special $15 price (usually $29) at XochiHugo’s, and Caracol. Also, order a margarita-paired tasting menu for $60 per person at either of the three restaurants on Friday.

  • The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation will celebrate with $10 jalapeño piñaritas (jalapeño-infused tequila, mezcal, pineapple, Navigation mix, combier, and a salted mole rim).

  • At Arnaldo Richards’ Picos, get classic margaritas with Don Julio Silver for $10, Altos Resposado frozen tamarind margaritas for $10, El Jimador Silver and Reposado shots for $5 during happy hour, and picorita frozens made with Cazadores Silver for $6 during lunch and happy hour.

  • The Union Kitchen’s special is half-off (or $6) the Love Bug margarita, which includes Volcan Blanco tequila, cranberry liquor, sweet and sour mix, ginger ale, and a chocolate rim.

  • Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen will sell house margaritas for $6.50, skinny margaritas for $9, Ambhar mango habanero margaritas for $10, and illegal mezcal margaritas for $10. Come between 4 and 7 p.m. and pay $4 for the house ’rita.

  • Alicia’s Mexican Grille is bringing back its Millonario Margarita, its 12-year anniversary cocktail, from Friday to Sunday. It’s available for $12 (previously $40) at all locations.

  • BCK is offering $5 classic, blood orange, and watermelon margaritas from 11 a.m. to close.

  • State Fare is selling the Texans Rita (tequila, orange juice, lime, agave, curacao, sweet-and-sour mix, egg whites, and a Tajín rim) for $10.

  • The Classic and Benjy’s are both selling margaritas for happy hour prices.

  • BuffBurger’s Margarita in the Buff is available for $4 all day.

  • Get $4 margaritas (with $12 Gulf oysters by the dozen) at Field & Tides.

  • The Rustic will have the Don Julio DJ truck while pouring drinks from a five-foot-tall margarita glass. Party from 5 to 11 p.m., and live music starts at 9:30 p.m.

  • Eight Row Flint is hosting a Margarita Day/Go Texan Day celebration. It’s launching its Real Ale Single Barrel Whiskey, plus pouring Real Ale specials. Also, there’ll be four featured margaritas available at $7 during happy hour (2-6 p.m.) and $11 afterward.

  • The General Public is unveiling its Sweet Diablo Frozen Margarita, selling it for just $1 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

  • Jax Grill will have $4.50 margaritas during an 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. happy hour.

  • Axis Lounge at Royal Sonesta is celebrating with a margarita and taco combo for $18.

  • At Casa Ole, get a $1 margarita of tequila, triple sec, lime juice (regular price $2).

  • Abuelo’s is offering its premium margaritas for $6.95.

  • Fajita Pete’s is offering $0.99 ’ritas. Get a half-gallon to-go for $9.99, or a gallon for $19.99 (delivery available).

  • Pistolero’s will have a parking lot party with a DJ starting at 4 p.m. $5 Hornitos margaritas and $6 Kimo Sabe mezcal margaritas.

  • El Patio will have happy hour from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Margaritas are on offer from $6-13.

The James Beard Awards Head to Houston For 2019 Nominee Announcement

Next month, the James Beard Foundation will head to Houston to announce the nominees for its coveted annual Awards, often described as the “Oscars of food.”

The Foundation will host a live press conference at James Beard Award winner Hugo Ortega’s namesake Montrose restaurant on March 27 to announce Award nominees across more than 50 awards categories, according to a press release. “We’re thrilled to showcase the city of Houston and bring our 2019 James Beard Awards nominees announcement to this diverse and vibrant culinary and dining scene,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said in a statement.

Over the past several years, Houston has frequently dominated the list of nominees (and winners) from the Southwest region, including Ortega’s 2017 win in the Best Chef - Southwest category, Justin Yu’s in 2016, and Chris Shepherd’s in 2014. Houston’s dining scene is only getting stronger, which means that a number of those James Beard Award nominees announced next month will assuredly be locals.

“The City of Houston is honored to host the James Beard Foundation as it announces the 2019 James Beard Award nominees,” mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “The Foundation has come to the ideal place. With one in every four Houstonians being foreign born, Houston takes pride in the rich culinary scene that comes with being one of most diverse cities in the nation.”

The James Beard Foundation will announce its 2019 James Beard Award nominees from Hugo’s on March 27 starting at 9 a.m. For those who won’t have one of those coveted spots at Hugo’s, the press conference will be live-streamed via the James Beard Foundation website. Winners will be announced at the James Beard Awards ceremony in Chicago on May 6.

Source: Houston Eater

Urban Eats to host artist, Ronnie Queenan

Ronnie’s art delivers a broad spectrum of texture, style and emotion. From contrasting repetitive forms to structured figures, each offering it’s viewer an experience worth making time for,” stated owner and culinary director Levi Rollins.

“Please join us January 7th, 2019 through March 31st, 2019 and see his amazing work for yourself,” Rollins said.

Everyone is invited to attend the reception for Ronnie Queenan on Saturday, February 16th 2019, from 3-5 p.m. Come and enjoy an afternoon of art, complimentary beer, wine, champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

Urban Eats is located at 3414 Washington Avenue.

For more information about Urban Eats, visit

The Union Kitchen introduces new chef, menu at original Bellaire location

Gr8 Plate Hospitality’s Paul Miller is bringing the original The Union Kitchen back to its roots, with a new menu and wine list at his popular neighborhood restaurant at 4057 Bellaire Blvd.

New Executive Chef Jesse Esquivel (Perry’s Steakhouse, Grand Lux Cafe), who grew up in Meyerland and graduated from Bellaire High School, has revamped approximately 50 percent of the restaurant’s menu. It marks the most significant overhaul since Miller opened the Bellaire location in 2010.

“We have loved being a part of the community for the last eight years,” Miller said. “Our menu had changed quite a bit during that time. In the spirit of a true neighborhood restaurant, we wanted to get back to the community and focus on items old and new that our regulars wanted to see on the menu. The Union Kitchen has always been about ‘the perfect union of good friends and great food’, and we truly appreciate the input from our guests in helping to make that a reality.”

Back on the menu are several neighborhood favorites from when the restaurant first opened including Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus; Prosciutto Arugula Pizza; Sweet Heat Chicken; Paul’s BBQ Sandwich; Pete’s Steak Sandwich, named after Miller’s father; and Mama P’s Baked Brie, named after Doris’ mother.

New items include the Chilled Seafood and Avocado Salad, Reuben Egg Rolls, Cedar Plank BBQ Salmon, Shrimp & Grits and pastas such as Doris’ Chicken Primavera, Shrimp & Scallop Linguini Fra Diavolo, Bayou Pasta Linguini, Maine Lobster Stuffed Ravioli and Roasted Garlic Gulf Scampi.

At lunch, new highlights include the Crispy Chicken Club, Bellaire Reuben, Short Rib Grilled Cheese, Crispy Chicken Club Salad, Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Salmon & Basil Pesto Risotto and rotation of seasonal sorbets.

The Union Kitchen’s popular brunch, available on Saturdays and Sundays, features new items including House Made Sticky Buns, Katie’s Nutella Crepes, Fruit Crepes, Canadian Omelette, Corn Beef Benedict, Prosciutto & Asparagus Benedict, Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs, Corn Beef Hash & Eggs, Hash Hangover Burger and California Wrap.

Sommelier Craig Lindstrom also introduced a fresh new wine list with The Union Kitchen’s hallmark aggressive pricing. The Union Kitchen features 38 wines by the glass, ranging in price from $7 to $15. Select wines go for $5/glass and $15/bottle during lunch (“Lunch Grapes”) and Happy Hour Monday-Friday.

The restaurant offers Karbach, SpindleTap and Saint Arnold on tap and will feature special allocations, monthly beer dinners and pint nights and beer brunches with local breweries, including a Saint Arnold Beer Dinner scheduled for March 5.

The Union Kitchen has five locations in Houston (Bellaire, Memorial, Kingwood, Ella, Washington), with a sixth location to open in Katy in 2019.


Where’s Maggie? Getting Super Bowl ready at Jax Grill in Bellaire

Hope you're hungry for more than football because we've got some ultimate fan fare for you! Maggie brings her appetite to Jax Grill in Bellaire for a Super Bowl party preview with a line up wings, nachos, quesadillas, hot dogs and juicy burgers and more. Watch the above video to learn about the deal the restaurant will be offering this Super Bowl Sunday.

Houston Chronicle

Luby’s fends off board challenge from activist investor

Luby’s shareholders rejected an activist investor's attempt to wrest control of the restaurant company from the Pappas brothers on Friday, ending a 43-day proxy fight over the Houston chain.

Shareholders elected all the company's candidates for its nine-member board at its annual meeting, rejecting four nominees pushed by New York hedge fund Bandera Partners, according to preliminary results issued by the company.

Luby's did not release the voting count but said it was a close contest. Bandera said the election had a voter turnout of more than 85 percent.

Chief Executive Chris Pappas said in a statement that the company will look to improve its operating results.

"With this annual election now completed, our full focus returns to executing our turnaround plan for the business and ensuring that we have our right board composition to oversee our strategy," he said.

Jeff Gramm, a Bandera co-founder, said he accepted the preliminary results, which were reviewed by Luby’s proxy solicitor and will later be certified by an independent inspector of elections and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"Although it is early and we have not seen official results, we believe we won the vast majority of votes from non-affiliated shareholders," he said. "It is clear to me that Luby's shareholders are very frustrated with the company and desperate for change in the boardroom."

Friday’s election caps a bitter boardroom dispute between two prominent Texas families fighting for control of the iconic but struggling Houston restaurant chain known for its comfort foods, such as the LuAnn Platter. The company operates 82 Luby's Cafeterias and 59 Fuddruckers restaurants. It franchises another 104 Fuddruckers locations nationally.

Gramm, the son of former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, was seeking to oust Chris Pappas and his brother Harris Pappas from Luby’s board, which they have helmed for nearly two decades. The brothers also own and operate popular Houston restaurants Pappasito’s Cantina, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Pappas Bar-B-Q.

Bandera, which has been a Luby's shareholder for more than a decade, was lobbying fellow investors to replace the Pappas brothers, Chairman Gasper Mir III and board member Frank Markantonis with its own slate of candidates, which included Gramm and his father.

Bandera faced an uphill battle to pry control of Luby's from the Pappas brothers, who own 36.8 percent of the company's stock. Bandera has a 9.8 percent stake.

Gramm, who flew in from New York to attend the annual meeting, said he did not regret the proxy fight, which tested his close friendship with fellow activist investor and business associate James Pappas, Chris Pappas’ son. In a prepared statement to Luby’s board, Gramm encouraged it to listen to shareholders and wished it success in the coming year.

“I don’t regret my decision to take this vote to Luby’s shareholders,” Gramm said in an interview. “I really do believe that if I hadn’t done this, the company wouldn’t have committed to bringing some change to the boardroom in the coming year.”

Luby's last week announced plans to make some changes to its board in a bid to appease Bandera and other shareholders concerned with the company's stock performance.

Among the moves, Mir announced he would relinquish his leadership position to another independent board member later this year. The board said it is also looking to replace two incumbent members, several of whom are approaching retirement age, with independent directors. Luby's did not say who would step down but said the changes will take place later this year.

David Littwitz, the owner of Houston restaurant brokerage Littwitz Investments, said little has changed as a result of the proxy fight, however. Luby’s restaurants are unprofitable, the company’s stock is down and the company is still forced to sell off real estate to pay down its debt, he said.

“It’s still a tough situation for the current management to operate,” he said. “All this has done is give Chris Pappas some breathing room for the moment, but not by much.”

Ed Wulfe, the chairman of Houston retail brokerage Wulfe & Co. and a Luby’s shareholder, said he voted in favor of Luby’s slate of candidates.

“I’m very pleased Luby’s is staying in the hands of the Pappas, who are proven restaurateurs with years and years of experience,” he said. “I think in the long term, this is in the best interest of Luby’s and shareholders.”

After rising briefly midday, shares of Luby's fell 13.8 percent Friday to $1.56. The company is set to report fiscal 2019 first quarter earnings Monday.

Houston Chronicle

Radio TropRock Blog: T-Bone Tom’s Party Under The Palapa

A Musical History At This Legendary Texas Restaurant & Bar

As owners of a trop rock radio station, Gina and I are very fortunate to travel to tropical locations to visit the best bars and live music venues.

For years we kept hearing that all the best artists on the trop rock circuit were playing at a place just outside Houston called T-Bone Tom’s. We thought to ourselves “Why are all these folks playing in Houston? Shouldn’t they be in Key West or something?”

We never really gave a thought to a venue in Houston being a good host for trop rock style music. After a little research we found out this place called T-Bone Tom’s at the Kemah Boardwalk, just southeast of Houston, had been on the Trop Rock Music Association’s nomination list as Live Music Venue of the Year for many years! We decided this venue must be added to our list of locations for a live broadcast on Radio Trop Rock.

A couple of short months later we found out exactly what all the fuss was about. Upon arrival, you can’t help but notice “Tom’s Backyard.” It’s a stage, bar, and seating area under a huge palapa. Some say it’s the largest palapa west of the Mississippi, others claim it to be the largest built in Texas. I don’t know the actual answer, but I can tell you it’s a big one!

Before I go any further, I should tell you a little more about T-Bone Tom’s history, because when you get right down to it, it’s actually a freakin’ fantastic restaurant first, and a kick-ass place to listen to music and party second. T-Bone Tom’s actually started as a meat market in the mid-1960’s and began smoking meats in the late ’60’s. Around 1974 it became a restaurant. The location became well-known by locals as “the place” to go for great bar-b-que and steaks.

In 1998 Barry Terrell, with many years of restaurant experience under his belt, had the opportunity to purchase T-Bone Tom’s. Barry was not at all new to the restaurant business. Decades earlier he waited tables while attending college and progressed one step at a time until the mid-1990’s when he was on the corporate side with Landry’s Restaurant Group.

Barry made little to no changes to the already successful menu of T-Bone’s but did decide to expand the rear of the establishment to add “Tom’s Backyard,” which consisted of a bar and a small area that could host live music. Kelly McGuire, a trop rock musician, was one of the first to approach Barry about playing there and apparently it went well because shortly, thereafter, T-Bone Tom’s began hosting live music every Friday and Saturday night.

T-Bone Tom’s continued to gain momentum through the early 2000’s. When Hurricane Ike hit in 2008 T-Bone’s suffered quite a bit of damage. Barry took that opportunity to expand Tom’s Backyard to include a larger bar, stage, and the huge palapa that people now  love to party under on those hot Texas days and warm nights.

In 2009 the Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” shot an episode at T-Bone Tom’s. One of the menu items Barry had Guy Fieri try was my personal favorite; Armadillo Eggs. Strangely enough, these contain no armadillo, nor egg! What they do contain is shredded bar-b-que brisket. Think of a jalapeno popper the size of a huge egg filled with very tasty smoked brisket. My mouth is watering writing this now.

Other great items on the menu include their famous ribeye and Chicken Fried Steak. While everything on the menu is fantastic, these items have received local and national recognition as some of the best in the country. When eating at T-Bone Tom’s be ready to carry home some left-overs for tomorrow. Portions are large.  (Personal note: The Armadillo Eggs are fantastic for breakfast… Simply pull them out of your fridge and microwave for about 1 minute.  Yum)

Enough about the food, now more about the music!

T-Bone Tom’s hosts live music six nights per week. It has gotten so good at it that the Houston Chronicle has named T-Bone Tom’s the second best place to hear live music in greater Houston area. Think about how large Houston is, thousands of venues play live music. Coming in second is pretty damned good!

T-Bone Tom’s began it’s live music twenty years ago, and has since established itself as the BEST place to hear trop rock music. Proof of this is that last November in Key West, the Trop Rock Music Association named T-Bone Tom’s Best Live Music Venue in the country. They have consistently been nominated by the TRMA year after year, but in 2018 they beat out the previous winner, a venue in Key West, for the honor.  Yes, a venue in the Houston area beat out a place in Key West for best place to watch live trop rock music!

How did it get there, you ask? Well, to start with, T-Bone Tom’s is the home of one of the most successful trop rock songwriter showcases. John Burns, aka “Jon Boy” put together a songwriter showcase using talent from all over the country. The show is now frequently hosted by Jerry Diaz or Donny Brewer, two of the biggest names in TropRock. While Pirates and Poets Songwriter Showcase also has shows in Key West, New Orleans, Port Aransas, and even into Mexico, they call T-Bone Tom’s “home.”Pirates and Poets Podcast was recognized in 2016 as the Trop Rock Music Association Radio Show of the Year.

Here’s what John Boy of Pirates and Poets says about T-Bone Tom’s:

“T-Bone Tom’s is the perfect place to spend a fun evening with your friends or family. It has great food and cold drinks, plus its are located near many of the Kemah-area’s top tourist attractions. And its easily the best music venue in the area and they don’t charge a cover. They have live music six nights a week. Tuesday-Thursday features acoustic acts, many of which perform original material. The weekend are usually geared towards high energy cover bands.

“We’re lucky to have T-Bone Toms host our Pirates & Poets Songwriter Shows 11 months out of the year.”

T-Bone Tom’s hosts around sixty trop rock live music shows per year. Since Gina and I with Radio Trop Rock first visited T-Bone Tom’s October 19, 2016, we have broadcast live shows from there no less than twelve times, making it the most frequent broadcast venue for our TRMA award winning show Trop Rockin’ the USA on Radio Trop Rock. T-Bone Tom’s is also the “go to” place for many of the Galveston Bay Parrothead Club events. It is not unusual to find a large group of these brightly dressed revelers forming a conga line around the entire area under the palapa. They are especially active when folks like Jerry Diaz and Hanna’s Reef are performing. Jerry has been very instrumental in the growth of “trop rock” for a couple of decades, and it’s easy to see why when he performs for his hometown fans there in Tom’s Backyard.

While many restaurants that play live music may have great food OR great music OR great service OR a great atmosphere T-Bone Tom’s set’s itself apart from the others by having ALL of these qualities. Some people come for the food, and stay for the music. Others may come for the music, but stay for the food. What I mean by that is normally a person’s first visit to T-Bone Tom’s is for a reason, whether they’ve heard bout the great food, or maybe the great music, they go there for one, maybe not knowing about the other. Once they’ve experienced T-Bone Tom’s they are now very aware that T-Bone Tom’s is the whole package of great food, music, service and atmosphere.

Jerry Diaz has even paid homage to T-Bone Tom’s by writing and recording the song “Eat at T-Bone Tom’s” which is included on his latest CD Rum Drinks & Sandy Beaches. Jerry says in the song “They’ve got Mexican pickles and buckets of beer. Man it’s a party when Barry is here. Live music playing six nights of the week, cute little waitresses and fresh cut meat.”.  I’ve got news for you, it’s not just a party when Barry is there, it’s always a party!

Next time you are in the Houston area do yourself a favor and make the trip down to the Kemah Boardwalk and see why T-Bone Tom’s consistently receives accolades from local newspapers, national TV shows, and the Trop Rock Music Association.

Source: PubClub

Peeling Back The Onion: The Challenges Of Redevelop Redeveloping Older Product Into Mixed-Use

Limestone vaulted arcades, Tuscan columns and deep window ledges highlight the historic frame of The Star, a century-old landmark building recently converted into a residential tower in Downtown Houston. Yet, beneath the beauty lies an incredibly difficult redevelopment process. Redevelopment of historic property presents a complicated combination of what needs to be done, what can be done while meeting tax credit guidelines, what developers want to get done and what it will cost. The Star, Texaco’s headquarters in the late 1980s, serves as a case study of the challenges of converting a historic building into a mixed-use development
Reactivating Historic Spaces — To Change Or Not To Change?

Executing the redevelopment dream requires patience and tough decisions, Provident Realty Advisors’ Kip Platt said. Platt is the project development partner over The Star. A key part of this redevelopment was selecting which spaces to renovate and which spaces to leave alone. Provident is already on year seven of work at The Star, a 286-unit luxury high-rise community, and it isn’t done yet. The company bought the property in 2012, after it had stood vacant since Texaco moved out in 1989, and completed converting it to multifamily in 2013. That redevelopment focused on the build-out of the residential units. In 2016, the site underwent another round of renovations, which modernized all of the units and common spaces and added new on-site amenities, such as an outdoor pool and an attached garage. Last year, it turned to the basement, which had never been finished out. Provident Realty Advisors made a sizable investment to build out that space. The company created a game and lounge room in the basement, inspired by speak-easies with gentle lighting. The space is all new but brought back in a historic feature — an authentic 12-foot-long TEXACO illuminated sign is a focal point of the space. Designer Lauren Parson purchased the sign from a former Texaco employee, Jim Conrad. The sign was designed for a gas station that never opened in the ’80s, he told Parson. “He was happy to send it back home,” she said. The game room walls are splashed with other memorabilia from the oil company. The bottom level also features a virtual golf simulator, a dog spa, a theater and a poker room. Parson also redesigned the top floor lounge area, which includes an open meeting and kitchen space, a sitting area with a television, an Equinox-inspired fitness center and an outdoor rooftop lounge. The final piece of the redevelopment will include an 18K SF full-service restaurant on the ground level by popular restaurateur Benjamin Berg, who also runs B&B Butchers. Stepping into historical mixed-use is new for him. His first location for B&B Butchers was a free-standing industrial building on Washington Avenue and Sabine Street. On that project, he had more build-out options (like putting things on the roof) and didn't have to consider how space engages with another space. But when you’re working with historic space, not all sought-after design elements will make it to the final draft. For example, Platt wanted to add a balcony to the units that featured deep window ledges. But as Provident began to research the option, it discovered that it could cost upward of $2M to repair the Renaissance Revival-style exterior finishings if they were damaged, and the finishings can only be rehabbed by Italian designers. The add-on was not worth the financial risk so the developer skipped it, Platt said.

Also A Pain Many developers dive into historical redevelopment projects in order to maximize state and federal tax credits. However, the guidelines can be strict, the process often spans years and developers must be willing to partner with regulators to get the final stamp of approval. "If a building still has a lot of intact historic fabric it is important to understand what must be retained and preserved before any work begins," Texas Historical Commission Director Chris Florance said. The Star was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 and is an active tax credit project, Florance said. The National Park Service’s guidelines for the rehabilitation of high-rise buildings, one of the most common historic redevelopment types, say the building must be 50 years old to be listed on the National Register or awarded the state's Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation. The first phase of work on The Star, which includes everything except for the first-floor tenant space and the rooftop amenity space, has already been certified for the State of Texas Historic Preservation tax credits. The project cannot be certified for federal credits until all of the work is completed. The developer has been working with the THC since the asset was purchased in 2012, Florance said. He said it is critical that anyone interested in the historic tax credits or other related programs should contact the organization before finalizing any plans. Since much of the building had been gutted before it was purchased by the current developer, there was not a great deal of historic interior fabric left to preserve, Florance said. The most historically significant features included the first-floor entry, the original elevator lobby and the overall exterior facade. The exterior work involved cleaning, repair and restoration of masonry and the replacement of the non-historic windows to be considered for tax credits. As the design process began for the restaurant, Benjamin, Berg discovered that he was in for a big challenge. Situated on the corner of San Jacinto and Rusk streets, Benjamin will occupy the former lobby of the pre-war building. The original wing of the building was designed by the New York firm of Warren & Wetmore, which is also responsible for Manhattan's 1913 Grand Central Terminal. The build-out includes constructing two kitchens, relocating the elevator and adding a balcony to overlook The Star’s heated outdoor pool. Berg found that some of the tax-related requirements were more difficult to overcome, and he had to find creative workarounds. In order to retain and expand the original flooring, he will implement a sealing system to level it with the new flooring. Other regulations disallowed structures or objects from being placed within 15 feet of the floor-to-ceiling windows, Berg said. Developers are also not allowed to closely mimic the previous use without pictures and other documents as a reference. The restaurant's design takes inspiration from the original black-and-white flooring but will not re-create the former lobby. Benjamin, which requested construction permits in late December, has faced delays as it worked through the redevelopment constraints. It was originally scheduled to open in 2018 but is now slated to open later this year. Making Everyone Play Nice Even when there is no historical component adding hurdles, mixed-use developers have to figure out how to accommodate the space to welcome customers without disturbing the other tenants. Common residents’ concerns include parking, increased building traffic and additional odors, Platt said. The newly added parking garage in The Star will offer free valet for the residents' guests and designated spots for customers. Benjamin will feature a cold room that will be used to store trash and contain the smells. You Can't Buy Special With all the pain, why does anyone bother? It is the built-in character of historic buildings that makes it worth the trouble, Berg said. Many features of older buildings would be too expensive to build today. The cost for The Star's grand windows would probably range from $50K to $100K per window, Berg said. The all-in renovation budget for Benjamin is about $6M. Plus, buildings like the former Texaco HQ are unique. "There is nothing like it in Houston," Berg said. "If you tried to build it yourself it would lose the specialness of it."
Source: BISNOW

Conversation: Nicole Bean, Pizaro’s Pizza, Houston

Owner Nicole Bean has recently moved Pizaro’s Pizza out of its original location and into a larger and updated location nearby that could handle its three pizza styles.

We operate a fast-casual concept with two locations serving Napoletana, New York and Detroit-style pizzas. We offer a simple counter service and table delivery without the hassle of servers or wait staff. We also serve both beer and wine in addition to B.Y.O.B (small corkage fee applied).

We opened in 2011 with Napoletana style pizzas.
There was a lot of education with customers during the first year and tons of feedback about wanting more toppings and a more substantial crust to hold those toppings from those who didn’t quite understand the concept of Napoletana pizza. We knew our Napoletana was great and didn’t take long to catch on here in Houston, but we wanted to give customers something more. After opening our second and larger location (closer to downtown) in 2015, I went out to San Francisco to Tony’s International School of Pizza to learn to make Detroit-style while also learning Chicago, New York and Sicilian. Matt and I launched Detroit six months after I got back from school. I used only social media and local press to spread the word on our newest baby. Response to our Detroit went better than expected and continues to grow. It was only a year ago (2017) that we launched New York-style, which took us 10 months of development with dough, tomatoes, cheese and market testing.

All three styles are thriving, they are almost to an even split among the orders.

There is also a possibility of a new style coming…

We got tired of telling people “no;” Napoletana is challenging to keep authentic in the United States. Educating customers helped, but we still had to cut people back from piling on the toppings, which made both the customer and us unhappy.

Detroit was a great solution. We had a thick enough dough to hold more toppings and the sauce went on top; it was a no-brainer, plus the cheddar crust … People love that cheddar crust!

After getting our handle on making two styles and seeing that our customers loved having an additional option, we knew the time was right to get going on New York. It had to be more rigid (than Napoletana) with a bit of a crunch. We were listening to what our customers were seeking out. New York style was the answer and so we began the process. As soon as we started posting on Instagram about testing it, people started calling and coming in asking about the New York style even before we launched it. The response was overwhelming!

Now, we have all three styles at the re-location of our original store.

Source: Pizza Today