Food halls galore: Can downtown Houston handle the latest food service trend

As if Houstonians don’t have enough restaurant options already, another new concept is coming to the Bayou City. But this time, hungry Houstonians will be able to choose from among many options in one place.

By the end of 2019, Houston’s downtown area will have at minimum five operating food halls, which is a concept that’s similar to a food court in a mall or airport but elevated by offering different food options from independent chefs rather than chains. 

The area’s first food hall — Conservatory at 1010 Prairie St. — opened in 2016. By the end of 2018, it will be followed by Bravery Chef Hall at Aris Market Square at 409 Travis St. and Finn Hall inside The Jones on Main at 708 Main St. Next year, two others will follow: Lyric Market at 411 Smith St. inside the Lyric Centre garage as well as Understory at 800 Capitol St. inside the new Capitol Tower. 

“A food hall is taking that same dynamic that we know works: Creating a destination and making it convenient to people by offering a wide variety of products at the same time so that there’s this heightened sense of community — but with a higher level of quality,” said local restaurant consultant Chris Tripoli, owner of A La Carte Restaurant Consulting Group. 

It was only a matter of time before Houston encountered its own food hall craze because the trend has been in full force across a few years. In 2010, there were less than 50 food halls in the U.S., according to the April 2018 report “Food Halls of America” by commercial real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield PLC. By 2015, there were more than 100 operating halls, and by 2020 there will likely be 300. 

Although Houstonians are proud of their city’s culinary reputation, the question remains whether they will flock to five food halls within a six-block radius in downtown. 

“I like that we are getting food halls, but there’s only been Conservatory, and it has had mixed results,” Tripoli said. “And now we have Finn, Lyric, Bravery and Understory, and all will be larger. Having that many food halls with that many tenant spaces available, we might be overserving today’s market.”

Click the following links to read more about each food hall:

However, the odds are in favor of Houston’s fab five: Of the 200 current operating food halls in the U.S., only four permanent projects have closed in the past two years, said Garrick Brown, a national retail real estate analyst who wrote the Cushman & Wakefield food hall report.

To survive, food halls must do high volume of sales because of their size and high investment costs. They also must attract a regular, affluent consumer willing to spend at least $15 per meal a few times a week. 

Enlarge

Garrick Brown is the vice president of Americas head of retail research at Cushman & Wakefield.

COURTESY CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD

“I do think that there are enough people downtown who will utilize food halls for meals on a regular basis,” said Jonathan Horowitz, who is the former president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association and currently serves as CEO of Houston-based Legacy Restaurants, which owns Antone's Famous Po’ Boys and The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Ninfa’s will be opening a concept inside Understory.

“The one question I have is: Will there be enough evening business that the developers are hoping for?” he said. “And I think that’s just an unknown.” 

Attracting the downtown food hall consumer

Tripoli, Horowitz and other local industry experts expect the five food halls to be busy on weekdays during breakfast and especially lunchtime thanks to the nearly 158,000 people who work downtown. About three-fourths of these workers earn more than $3,333 a month, according to a June report from public agencies Central Houston and Downtown District. 

“It’s a captive audience, obviously, because most of those folks who work in those office buildings don’t want to walk to the parking garage, get in their car and try to drive somewhere else (to eat),” Horowitz said. “You can never say anything is certain, but I don’t see downtown all of a sudden losing all of its workers.” 

However, Brown wasn’t as optimistic — though a majority of the current 200 food halls do survive primarily on daytime business, he said.

“A workforce of about 160,000 could support two food halls,” he said. "It's going to be competitive."

For these five food halls to survive, they need to build an evening and weekend crowd. Local restaurant experts aren’t sure how successful those efforts will be. 

“The key thing for one of these things to work well in downtown Houston is marketing,” said commercial real estate broker David Littwittz of Littwitz Investments Inc. “And the marketing money has to come from the landlord because you have to get people in the door, and — in this case, in Houston — you have to change their thought patterns and explain to them what it is.” 

Food halls will have to persuade office workers to stay in the area after 5 p.m.; sway theatergoers, sports fans and residents to choose a food hall over a full-service restaurant or favorite bar; and convince Houstonians across 655 square miles that the drive, traffic and parking is worth it. But most importantly, these new food halls will need to create a sense of community. 

“Food halls in other cities are successful because they don’t just serve food,” said Greater Houston Restaurant Association Executive Director Melissa Stewart. “They’re a community center.” 

Can 5 food halls survive in downtown Houston?

HBJ asked several retail experts, chefs, developers and food hall operators whether they think Houston's downtown can support five food halls. Here are their answers.

Luckily, downtown is no stranger to change. In the past 15 years, GreenStreet and Discovery Green opened. The METRO-Rail launched. Minute Maid Park, the George R. Brown Convention Center and theater buildings were renovated and expanded. Market Square Park was updated. And several office and residential high-rises were built.

“Everything’s moving downtown. It’s become a bigger city,” said Phi Nguyen, owner of The Pho Spot, a concept inside Conservatory, and The Waffle Bus food truck. He recently moved downtown. “It was dead for so long, but now on Friday and Saturday nights, there’s people everywhere.” 

Several local restaurant experts expressed that there is a demand for more dinner options before theater performances and drinks afterward. With 13,000 seats in the Theater District, many of those attendees need a place to sit down and eat. In fact, a lack of dinner options before a theater performance was the inspiration behind Lyric Center, which is a block away from the Alley Theatre, developer Jonathan Enav said.

What will drive people into food halls at night, Brown said, is evening programs, such as poetry slams, live music and cooking classes, in combination with more residents living within walking distance or a short Uber or Lyft drive away. 

More Houstonians are calling downtown home. The household population in the 2-mile radius of greater downtown Houston is about 67,000, a 30 percent increase since 2000, per Central Houston and Downtown District. These organizations and others are working on growing the downtown area. And with more businesses, families and places for entertainment, there comes the need for more food options. 

“We absolutely need and can support these food halls,” said Angie Bertinot, director of marketing for District Downtown. “I think they will all complement each other, and the clustering will continue to position downtown as a foodie destination.” 

If downtown food halls survive, it will be because they attract more residents and offices. Brown said that in the current amenities’ arms race, many multifamily, office and mixed-use projects want a food hall component with local vendors. Developers often see a halo effect from a food hall in which they’re able to lease space easier and at a higher price in part because of the food options. As such, some developers won’t close a food hall even if it is losing money. 

In particular, tech companies highly desire office space with a food hall component, Brown said, citing Google’s recent purchase of New York City’s famous Chelsea Market and Facebook’s own campus restaurants in Menlo Park, California. 

But four food halls that will open within 12 months and a total of five food halls within six blocks of each other is worrisome, said Scott Taylor Jr., a professor at Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. 

“I don’t know if huddling around Main Street is the right thing,” he said. “Five operations is too many. ... Maybe in five or 10 years when more people live downtown.”

Taylor also doubts that attendees at the George R. Brown Convention Center will make the nearly 1-mile trek to Finn Hall, the nearest food hall, between activities. He felt that Discovery Green, with its established green space and many nearby hotels, would have been a better location for a food hall. 

In the next 18 to 24 months, Brown expects to see a wave of food hall closures across the U.S. The ones that shutter will be those that aren’t authentic to the food hall concept as a food destination with local vendors; are inefficient with operations; and are located outside high-density areas.

“I do have concerns in markets where multiple food halls open up in close proximity to one another,” Brown said naming Denver and Miami, which had five open over 18 months, though none of them have closed. “What’s going to be important (for Houston’s downtown food halls) is that they differentiate themselves in meaningful ways from one another.” 

Of the five food halls, experts say Lyric Market has the best chance of survival because it caters to a specific niche market: Theatergoers and an evening crowd. Its market vendors selling fresh goods will also set it apart from the other food halls. 

Experts predict that Bravery Chef Hall will also do well because it will attract true foodies thanks to its chef-driven tenants who are up-and-comers driven to create. Time will tell for Finn Hall and Understory, both of which are from out-of-town operators, though Understory does have an advantage with its five access points to the underground downtown tunnel system along with street access. 

Houston’s food hall future 

Brown and local restaurant consultant Tripoli stressed that food halls aren’t a fad but rather an example of how the food and beverage industry is changing in response to a growing foodie consumer segment, millennials’ desire for experiences over physical items, e-commerce and higher rent. 

“It is not just a short-term trend,” Tripoli said. “This is a trend in food service, whereby developers can use square footage in highly populated area to create much larger variety than they would be able to if they just split (the property) up and put in three or four tenants. It’s a wiser, better use of space.” 

Brown added that the food hall trend is the industry’s sharing-economy model, and it will continue to evolve. 

Similar projects are popping up all over Houston: The 24,000-square-foot Bellaire Food Street in Chinatown, which will bring nine vendors offering Asian cuisine; the redevelopment of the 17-acre Houston Farmer’s Market in Greater Heights; the 3-acre Railway Heights Market near the Memorial Park Golf Course; and a food hall at The Grid in Stafford

Overall, food halls are a win for the many parties involved: The developer adds value to his or her property, the operator generates high revenue from alcohol sales, tenants gain exposure in a new market with a low cost of entry and consumers have more dining options. Some restaurants in downtown even see food halls as a boost for their own sales. 

“If anything, the new food halls will be good for business and increase exposure to our two Hearsay locations downtown,” said Zaidi Syed, director of operations for Landmark Houston Hospitality Group, which owns the Hearsay restaurants downtown. “An influx of people will be in the area to dine at the food hall, which will create an opportunity for us to capture their interest for a cocktail or light bite.” 

Regardless, there’s a good chance that not all five food halls will make it, but that’s how the food and beverage industry is, Stewart said. Restaurants close frequently. Luckily for food hall operators, if one tenant doesn’t work or pull in their share of the revenue, contracts are usually set up in a way to quickly get a new concept in.

Stewart, like many others, wants Houstonians to support food halls.

“When we open the five food halls here in town, and if one of them doesn’t succeed in 18 to 24 months, and we are back down to four, that to me is in no way a failure of the concept,” she said. “It’s just how business works sometimes. I think it speaks very well of our continuing food industry here in Houston, and there’s going to be a lot that we can learn from this no matter what things look like in five to 10 years.”

Source: Houston Business Journal

Houston's Top 100 restaurants for 2018 revealed

Dive into this year's Top 100 Restaurants with a virtual banquet of Houston's best dining. There are 17 newcomers to Alison Cook's list, and five returnees have upped their performance after a hiatus.

Two of those newcomers landed in the top 10 tier; and a total of six of them appear in the top 30 ranked restaurants. (The rest of the list appears in alphabetical order.) That's a solid showing that demonstrates the continued vibrance of the city's dining scene, even in the trying year after Hurricane Harvey.

Source: Houston Chronicle

Celebrity chef Jonathan Waxman brewing up all-day cafe in Houston's new 2-story H-E-B

Four prominent New York chefs are opening a coffee shop in Bellaire’s brand new H-E-B. The Roastery unites Jonathan Waxman, Jimmy Bradley, Joey Campanaro, and Jason Giagrande — bringing over 100 years of collective kitchen experience to a group that refers to themselves as “The Four J’s.”

Job postings for the Roastery describe it as “a new quick-service café with a strong coffee program, local coffee roasting operation and a chef-driven menu.” The cafe will use beans roasted by Four J Foods, a company the chefs created that sells sauces, coffee, and tea at H-E-B. Four J touts that it sources all of its coffees from specific farms, which should help ensure the same level of quality from bean to cup that diners find at coffee shops like Blacksmith, Catalina Coffee, and Southside Espresso that are directly affiliated with a local roaster.

The Roastery is located inside the H-E-B but has a separate entrance that's adjacent to the store's. A TABC poster in the window indicates that the cafe has applied for its own beer and wine license. Judging a restaurant's readiness by peeking in the windows is an inexact science, but the build-out looks to be complete. 

Neither The Roastery nor H-E-B have responded to CultureMap’s request for comment about the timing of the opening, but an employee mentioned they're targeting the middle of October. A CultureMap reader discovered a since-deleted webpage that offered a draft version of the menu (see screen shot above). The all-day cafe will likely serve a variety of pastries, breakfast items (avocado toast, quiche), sandwiches, salads, and maybe even bone broth.

Turning to the owners, Waxman constitutes the group’s most prominent name. In the ’80s, his restaurant Jams bought California cuisine to New York City. The chef also won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York in 2016 and has appeared on two seasons of Top Chef Masters. His roast chicken is legendary.

Waxman's partners in Four J are less prominent but still very accomplished. Bradley is known for The Red Cat, an almost 20-year-old Mediterranean-influenced restaurant in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Campanaro own three establishments, including The Little Owl, an Italian-inspired restaurant in the West Village. Giagrande serves as the company’s CEO; he’s held a variety of roles throughout his career, including serving as the vice president of food service operations for the Starbucks outlets at Barnes & Nobles bookstores.

In scientific terms, that’s an epic shit-ton of culinary talent for any restaurant, particularly a cafe in a grocery store. Hopefully, H-E-B will provide some more information soon. Some secrets are too good to keep.

Source: CultureMap Houston

Foodgasm: The Union Kitchen

HOUSTON — A local restaurateur has turned an idea he had in his college days into big business. Grab a plate! Paul Miller takes us from student union to one of the The Union Kitchen's five locations.

"It's global cuisine served with Southern hospitality," Miller says.

For more information on The Union Kitchen check out their website.

Full story" CW39 Houston

Hot dog! There’s a formidable new frank in town

For much of the country, Labor Day spelled the end of the so-called dog days of summer. We're lucky, though: it's always hot here, and dog days are a constant especially if you're talking hot dogs.

And now, thanks to Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen Restaurants, there's a new hot dog star in town. Owner Ziggy Gruber's restaurants recently introduced a new hot dog (called a frank on the menu) that have the texture and flavor of old school Jewish deli franks.

Gruber didn't simply switch hot dogs, he actually helped create a new wiener made specifically for Kenny & Ziggy's to the deli man's specifications. He did so after he noticed a drop in quality of the franks he had been using for years (we'll not embarrass the well-respected brand).

"Franks have always been a cornerstone of every deli through the decades. There was always a frank grill in front of every store," Gruber said. "I was feeling nostalgic for that, and also not happy with the changes in the franks we had been serving and wanted something better for my customers."

THREE BROTHERS BAKERY: A year after Harvey; lessons learned

So, he fished out an old family recipe for hot dogs and contacted a friend who owns a USDA-certified hot dog factory in New Jersey, which Gruber said is one of the few that has equipment to handle natural casings. The all-beef wiener with natural casing is now available on the menu at both his Kenny & Ziggy's locations.

And it's a beaut. The robust red frank with its bun-defying length sports that unmistakable snap so prized among hot dog aficionados. The flavor is spot-on.

"It's like tasting my childhood," he said.

FRIED CHICKEN REVIVAL: Kenny & Ziggy's kosher, deli-style version

Gruber has lent even more authenticity to his house franks. He has his own proprietary mustards; there's excellent sauerkraut available; and he offers that only-in-New-York pushcart sauce of tomatoes and onions. Fans of Sabrette onion sauce, surely an acquired taste from the streets of the Big Apple, will be delighted by this nostalgic bit of hot dog flair.

The menu at Kenny & Ziggy's offers a number of options with the new, soon-to-be-famous frank: Rubenesque (with corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing); Slaw & Order (with pastrami, mustard and cole slaw); Yoso Dog (avocado, fried onions, chili sauce and chipotle cream); Queso-ra-Sera (wrapped in bacon and topped with pepper jack, avocado, pico, chipotle cream, sour cream and onion rings); and Sweet & Saucy (slathered with the pushcart onion sauce). All dogs come with fries and are priced at $12.95. Believe me, these franks are substantial; it's a meal.

Me? I'll take a simple dog with Gruber's good mustard. And I'm happy because the most delicious dog days have finally arrived.

Kenny & Ziggy's New York Delicatessen Restaurants, 2327 Pos Oak and 5172 Buffalo Speedway; kennyandziggys.com.

Source: Houston Chronicle

Biscuit-obsessed restaurant takes off with Midtown and Memorial locations

Homey Atlanta restaurant chain The Flying Biscuit Cafe is headed for Houston, with two locations in the works, in the prime neighborhoods of Midtown and Memorial City.

The Midtown restaurant will open at 2850 Fannin St., on the ground floor of the Caydon residential high-rise, sure to be a nice amenity for the tenants.

Memorial City's address is 12389 Kingsride Ln., taking over the space previously occupied by Reginelli's Pizzeria.

Flying Biscuit debuted in Atlanta in 1993. Famous for its biscuits and grits, the chain now has locations throughout Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, where it made its debut in Richardson in 2017.

And yet it has maintained its quintessential neighborhood spirit, with a focus on Southern-inspired comfort food.

It serves breakfast all day, with options that go beyond bacon and eggs. There are biscuits with eggs and gravy, but also penne pasta with chicken sausage, spinach, mushrooms, and grits; wrap sandwiches; and even a vegan barbecue burrito.

Other tempting breakfast fare includes turkey hash, and flat iron steak with eggs. A breakfast bowl has eggs and fried green tomatoes. There are oatmeal pancakes; omelets; a biscuit Benedict; and a tofu scramble, with red and green peppers, onions, spinach, and mushrooms.

It also offers brunch, lunch, and dinner, with salads, shrimp and grits, biscuit pot pie, turkey pot roast, meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes, and oven-fried chicken.

Sandwiches include one with pimiento cheese; a fried-green tomato BLT; fish tacos; wraps; and the above-mentioned vegan barbecue burrito with barbecue tofu, collard greens, and mushrooms, folded into a sun-dried tomato tortilla.

Drinks include coffee, chai latte, and a "sledgehammer" combining four shots of espresso with half-and-half.

Source: Culturemap Houston

Houston’s Most Anticipated New Restaurants, Fall 2018

As has been true for years now, restaurants continue to open in Houston at a dizzying pace. Throughout the end of the year, the city will become home to a bounty of new eateries, including multiple food halls, award-winning barbecue, and a steakhouse from one of Houston’s most celebrated chefs.

There’s a ton to look forward to, but these exciting new establishments should be at the top of any diner’s list this fall. Browse through this guide below, then stay tuned for more intel on when each of these spots will officially open the doors.

Truth BBQ

  • Who: Leonard Botello IV, the pitmaster behind the original Truth BBQ in Brenham, Texas.
  • What: One of the state’s most-lauded new smokehouses, Truth will expand in a major way when it arrives in Houston. Botello tells Eater that the new restaurant will occupy 6,000 square feet, and he’s building a kitchen big enough to produce a broader menu. Expect top-quality smoked meats, including brisket and beef ribs, sides like corn pudding and tater tot casserole, and the famous cakes in flavors like red velvet and banana caramel, inspired by Botello’s mother Janel’s own recipes.
  • Where: 110 South Heights Boulevard
  • When: October 2018. No official opening date has been announced yet.

Agricole Hospitality’s EaDo Takeover

Who: Chef Ryan Pera, Morgan Weber, and Vincent Huynh, the minds behind Houston restaurants Coltivare, Night Heron, Eight Row Flint, and Revival Market.
What: A gigantic EaDo project that will involve three distinct restaurants — Indianola, Miss Carousel, and Vinny’s.

Scope out details on each individual restaurant below:

  • Indianola — A restaurant named for the Texas town where Weber’s ancestors first arrived in Texas in the 1870s. Indianola will feature classic American dishes, made with painstakingly-sourced, heirloom ingredients. Chef Paul Lewis will helm the kitchen.
  • Miss Carousel — A sprawling 5,000 square foot bar named for a Townes Van Zandt song that will be attached to Indianola. Up to 30 different classic cocktails will be on offer, along with new libations crafted by beverage director Marie-Louise Friedland.
  • Vinny’s — A by-the-slice pizza joint with fast-casual service. Vinny’s will deliver locally, and keep the doors open well into the late night hours.

Where: 1201 St. Emanuel in East Downtown

When: Mid-September

Bravery Chef Hall

Who: Restaurateur Shepard Ross, partnered with Anh Mai and Lian Nguyen, the minds behind Conservatory, Houston’s first food hall.
What: A chef-focused food hall with a seriously impressive line-up of chefs. Scope out the major restaurant players below:

  • The Blind Goat — A Vietnamese restaurant from Masterchef winner Christine Ha, popularly known as “The Blind Chef.” Ha will focus her menu on nhau dishes, or Vietnamese shared plates like banh gio (pyramid-shaped dumplings) made with brisket from Pinkerton’s BBQ.
  • Nuna Nikkei Bar — A Peruvian restaurant from Andes Cafe owner David Guerrero. Guerrero will serve a menu of cevches and other Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes.
  • BOH Pasta — A new pasta spot from Ben McPherson, who’s been previewing dishes like taleggio and artichoke ravioli served with chanterelles and aged balsamic.
  • Cherry Block Craft Butcher & Kitchen — A steakhouse from sommelier, chef, and rancher Felix Florez.

Where: 409 Travis Street

Georgia James

  • Who: Restaurateur and chef Chris Shepherd and the rest of his crack team at Underbelly Hospitality.
  • What: A steakhouse born of the first iteration of Shepherd’s shape-shifting restaurant One Fifth. Expect steaks cooked in cast iron, and a representative for Shepherd tells Eater that a martini cart is in the works. A number of popular dishes from that temporary restaurant will return, including the beloved uni panna cotta and 1-and-a-half-pound apple pie.
  • Where: 1100 Westheimer Road, in the space formerly occupied by now-shuttered restaurant Underbelly.
  • When: Mid-September

Sing

  • Who: Food writer and chef Cuc Lam and Jerry Lasco, a restaurateur known for popular eateries like Max’s Wine Dive and Boiler House.
  • What: An Asian fusion restaurant that will highlight Malaysian, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Szechuan, Thai, and Indian cuisines. Diners can look forward to dishes like chicken tikka masala, mango-shrimp spring rolls, and char kway teow, a stir-fry made with flat rice noodles.
  • Where: 718 West 18th Street, in the Lowell Street Market development
  • When: October 2018

Finn Hall

  • Who: Operator David Goronkin, plus 10 independently-owned restaurants.
  • What: A food hall featuring Houston favorites like Dish Society and Mala Sichuan Bistro, and newcomers like pizza spot Mr. Nice Pie and Vietnamese street food destination Sit Lo. Popular food truck Craft Burger will also make a home at Finn Hall, along with Goode Co. Taqueria, a seafood restaurant called Low Tide from the owner of Harold’s in the Heights, and Yong, a Korean comfort food spot.
  • Where: 712 Main Street
  • When: Opening date still TBD.

MAD (BCN Taste & Tradition)

  • Who: BCN Taste & Tradition owner Ignacio Torres, chef-owner Luis Roger, and general manager Sebastien Laval
  • What: A Spanish restaurant named for the airport code for Madrid. Look forward to pinxtos, small snacks served on toothpicks, and shareable plates, all inspired by MAD’s owners’ travels through Spain. MAD will be open for lunch, brunch, dinner, and late-night service.
  • Where: 4444 Westheimer Road
  • When: Late 2018

Source: Houston Eater

J.J Watt and Kealia Ohai: Couple’s Rehab and Recovery

On the eve of his eighth NFL training camp, J.J. Watt opened a text message and got emotional. Inside was a cell-phone video filmed in a hospital corridor 10 months earlier. Watt was on crutches, still wearing his surgery socks and a giant bandage wrapped around his left knee. A physical therapist was showing the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year how to take a single step forward.

“It’s crazy when you look back at it,” Watt said after a late July practice at the Texans’ training camp site in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. “That day, you are thinking to yourself, How the hell am I ever going to get back to who I am?

The scar left behind from the complicated surgery to repair the fracture of his tibial plateau, which snakes up from his shin to the side of his kneecap, is lighter now, and even a source of pride. On the practice field, Watt has been back in his usual spots, leading the defensive linemen through position drills and slicing past blockers in 11-on-11 team reps. And on Sept. 9, when the Texans open their season against the Patriots, Watt fully expects to be starting at right defensive end.

But last October, with a second straight season officially cut short by injury, Watt couldn’t be sure about any of those things. If there was anyone who could understand what it’s like to traverse the long and uncertain road back, though, it was the person who recorded the video.

Kealia Ohai was at NRG Stadium on the night of Oct. 8, for the Texans’ Sunday night game against the Chiefs. She was sitting in the stands with her sister, Megan, when she saw her boyfriend run a third-down pass-rush stunt and then crumple to the turf. Ohai rushed downstairs to the locker room, and when she heard the team doctors say Watt definitely hadn’t torn his ACL, she was relieved. She had good reason to be.

In June 2017, Ohai, captain of the Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League, was racing for the ball during a road game in Orlando. When she stepped to cut, she felt a pop in her leg. The diagnosis was what she’d feared—a torn ACL and meniscus. She had surgery 10 days later. A month after that, she needed a second procedure to clean out an infection that developed when one of the stitches didn’t heal. By early October, she still hadn’t been able to start running again. That night, she thought Watt avoiding ACL rehab was a win.

Then they got the diagnosis. Watt had shattered the top part of his lower leg, breaking bone and tearing cartilage, the sort of injury doctors said they usually saw in car accidents. He needed to be operated on within hours of the injury. Ohai waited at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, a setting she knew well. The orthopedic surgeon who had repaired Ohai’s knee months earlier was part of the team working to put Watt’s leg back together with a metal plate and screws.“They weren’t even sure if the surgery would work and if he would be able to run anymore. That’s what was so scary for us,” Ohai says. “An ACL is difficult, but it’s pretty straightforward. With J.J.’s, because of the type of injury, I remember the doctors were not exactly sure how his leg and his knee would react to [the surgery]. From the beginning, he wanted to work hard and come back. But for a while, [the question] was, would he be able to come back and play at the same level, and support that much weight? Will his leg ever be the same again?”

It was during those anxious days that Ohai filmed the video of Watt trying to master the delicate art of moving his nearly 300-pound frame on crutches without putting any of his weight on his injured leg. The physical therapist helping him down that hospital corridor knew what awaited the couple in the months ahead—a lot of time on the couch—so he made a recommendation: Peaky Blinders, a British crime drama, available on Netflix.

Unable to walk for nearly two months after the surgery, Watt leaned on Ohai to help with almost everything. She’d bring him his toothbrush and a bowl of water, so he could brush his teeth while sitting down. “So I didn’t have to stand there,” Watt explains, “with my leg throbbing.” She mastered the art of sponge baths and took over the critical household duty of making the chocolate-chip pancakes. At the same time, she was in the most intense portion of her own rehab, strengthening her injured leg and getting her range of motion back. Before she’d leave the house they share for her four-to-five hour physical therapy sessions, she’d make sure Watt had his phone, food, water and anything he might need within arm’s reach. When she’d come back, he’d be sitting in the same spot where she’d left him—it was too painful for him move.

In so many ways, this was old hat. For most of the two-plus years that Watt and Ohai have been dating, he’s been rehabbing one serious injury or another. When Watt needed back surgery for a herniated disc in the summer of 2016, Ohai would carry his urine bottles from the bed to the toilet, where she’d dump them out for him. (And this after they’d been dating for only two months.) But this time was different: Now the heartbeats of two franchises were confronting the feelings of anxiety, frustration and uncertainty together.“Neither of us could feel too sorry for ourselves,” Ohai says, “because the other one was going through the exact same thing.”

For instant pick-me-ups, the couple relied on yellowtail-, tuna- and truffle vinaigrette sushi rolls from Kata Robata or Neapolitan pizza from Pizaro’s. To conquer the boredom, they watched The Office for the fourth or fifth time through, and soon found themselves devouring episodes of Peaky Blinders. (They learned an important lesson: Why had it taken them so long to start watching the BBC?)

Watt resumed walking on Dec. 1, ahead of his doctors’ schedule; in January, he and Ohai vacationed in Italy and visited the Coliseum, rediscovering the feeling of stepping into an arena of competition. Toward the end of the winter, Watt started playing backyard goalie for Ohai—as long as she kicked from at least 20 yards away, to soften the sting.

“Having somebody to go through it with makes the bad days so much better,” Watt says. “Back when you are by yourself, you have nobody at all to talk you through it; nobody at all, if you are having a dark day, to really pick you up. I had my family, but they don’t live here, so you are sitting in an empty house all by yourself as opposed to when you have a girlfriend who can help lift you up.”

Ohai returned to the field first, in April, at the very same arena where she’d felt her knee pop. Playing in Orlando again in June, one year and one day after her injury, she booted a distance goal to tie the game. Last month, the forward got called up to the U.S. women’s national team training camp, an opportunity she was worried might disappear for good after her injury. “That was cool for J.J. to see,” she says. “I think that gives him hope and confidence in himself that he’s going to [come back strong], too. I truly believe he’s going to have the best season of his career.”

Watt isn’t willing to make any such predictions. Such is the toll of the past two seasons, during which he played a total of eight games. But, as he talks about his road back from this most recent injury, he references the end point, when you feel like the player you used to be. When did that happen? “Over the summer,” he says. Before training camp began, he felt the shift, being able to make the cuts he used make and feeling like he had full use of his lungs and legs for his entire workout. “It’s more of a feel than anything,” he says. “You can feel that you got in a proper workout; you are doing the things you know how to do, and you are also not completely gassed at the end.”

In the nearly two years since Watt last sacked an NFL quarterback, his frame of reference has changed. He impacted the city of Houston well beyond anything he could have done on the football field, raising more than $37 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and for two years in a row he had to confront not being able to play the game he loves for an indefinite amount of time. “I feel like he has a confidence now,” Ohai says. “I know he’s always been confident, but I think he saw himself lose [the ability to do] everything, and possibly not play, and then work his [butt] off to get back to where he is now. That gives you a sense of confidence; it makes you not really afraid of anything anymore.”

Before Watt left for Texans training camp at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, he handwrote Ohai a letter thanking her for helping him get to the other side. In return, she sent him the video of him taking those literal first few steps of the long road back. The clip wasn’t more than 20 seconds long, but watching it was like rewinding through the past 10 months.

“People say you’re going to come out on the other side of an injury better,” Watt says. “I always questioned that. I always wondered about it. But this one, I really do feel, when I look back at it all, I did come out better. She helped me through the struggle, so I could see the beauty at the end.”

Source: Sports Illustrated

 

Union Kitchen's owner dishes on sweet success, plus the hottest Houston openings

On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Gr8 Plate Hospitalityowner Paul Miller joins CultureMap food editor to discuss his growing business. Miller traces his rise in the restaurant business from its roots in the Pappas organization to its current point, which includes five locations of The Union Kitchen, two locations of Jax Grill, a food truck, and a thriving catering business. 

The Union Kitchen has thrived based on two primary strategies. The first is a broad menu that truly offers something for everyone, and the second is finding opportunities in underserved neighborhoods like Bellaire, where Miller opened his first restaurant almost 10 years ago, Memorial, Kingwood, and Garden Oaks. Gr8 Plate has also grown through acquisitions, as Miller did when he purchased the burger-oriented Jax Grill concept a few years ago. Miller explains why he might be interested in acquiring other restaurants in the future.

There's a lot of stuff that is, I don't want to say in peril, but there's a lot of question marks around town. People are looking to make some moves. If somebody came to me and said, 'I've got these three restaurants that are doing just ok. I would sell them to you for X number of dollars.' I would buy them and bring them under our umbrella. Use our buying power from our broadline distributors and liquor distributors to take costs down. Fortunately, in that situation, we could be making money within a month, whereas the other restaurateur doesn't have that buying power . . . That's really what we're talking about with some of these other concepts that we're looking at. Can I take their P-and-L and bring it into our system and put more money to towards the bottom line? If the answer is yes, we'll talk about it. If it's a no, let move on down the road. 

Prior to Miller's interview, local bartender and beverage consultant Linda Salinasjoins Sandler to discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: the sale of State Fare to the owner of Star Cinema Grill; the prospects for Savoir, the wine-driven new restaurant coming to the Heights later this year; L'Olivier's plans to reconcept as Avondale Food & Wine; and the imminent opening of State of Grace owner Ford Fry's two new restaurants, La Lucha and Superica. In the restaurants of the week segment, the duo share some first impressions of Saint Arnold Brewing Company's new restaurant and beer garden and Kau Ba Kitchen, the new Vietnamese restaurant in Montrose.  

Source: Houston Culture Map

Retail wrap: Fortress BeerWorks heading to Spring; Flying Biscuit Café to make Houston debut

Fortress BeerWorks has leased a 6,620-square-foot space at 2606 Spring Cypress Road in Spring for a craft brewery to open this fall. The brewery, co-owned by head brewer Dion Billard, expects to be open Thursday through Sunday at the outset, and will partner with local food trucks. Chris Caudill of NAI Partners represented the brewery. Thomas Leger and Chase Cribbs of Lee & Associates represented landlords Blake Vincent and Richard Werner.

Flying Biscuit Café has leased 3,087 square feet in The Shops at Memorial City, 12389 Kingsride Drive, for its first Houston location. Brett Levinson with Weitzman represented the landlord. David J. Littwitz with Littwitz Investments represented the restaurant, which will open later this year. A second Houston location is set for 2019. Founded in Atlanta in 1993, there are 17 Flying Biscuit locations.

A private investor purchased a 3,850-square-foot building leased by Mercantil Bank at 3200 S. Shepherd Drive. JLL’s Pierce Owens, Donna Kolius and Kaylie Walker represented the seller. Ethan Offenbecher with TREK Investment Group represented the buyer.

Sozo Japanese Steakhouse has leased 2,625 square feet at the Crossing at Telfair at Texas 6 and U.S. 90 in Sugar Land. Hampton Inn Hotel and three more retail buildings are being built in the center, which will house Wingstop, Decadent Dessert and Coffee Bar, 20/20 & Beyond Eyecare, Nails of America, Lash Studio and other tenants. Eddie Lang of Quenby Commercial represented the tenant. Inna Gallagher of Rubicon Realty represented the landlord.

Shaka Power Yoga has leased 2,396 square feet at 10611 Fry Road, Cypress. Feysal Edris of Lee & Associates represented the tenant. Grant Gold with Howard Hughes Corp. represented the landlord.

Wingstop has leased 2,235 square feet at 11092 Fondren for a store to open this fall. Jason Gaines of NAI Partners represented the tenant. Austen Baldridge of New Quest Properties represented the landlord.

Hummingbird Montessori has leased 10,000 square feet at the Shops in Riverstone on the northeast corner of University Boulevard and W. Avalon Drive, Sugar Land. Jesse Hernandez represented the landlord, Hunington Properties.

Honeybee Foods has subleased 4,087 square feet at 6127 Texas 6, Missouri City. Benny Nguyen of Retail Solutions represented the sublessor. Hal Colbert of Colliers International represented the subtenant.

Full story: Houston Chronicle

Local restaurant group to expand 2 concepts to Katy lifestyle center

Gr8 Plate Hospitality is heading west — west Houston, that is. 

The locally based restaurant group inked leases for two of its concepts at Houston-based NewQuest Properties’ Stableside at Falcon Landing in Katy in the Cinco Ranch area, according to a press release. The Union Kitchen will open its sixth location in a 5,000-square-foot space with seating for 450 guests, while the third storefront of Jax Grill will be 4,000 square feet with seating for 350. 

The restaurants are scheduled to break ground this summer, and the construction is expected to finish by early 2019, per the release. Both locations will feature large patios with outdoor seating and views of a shared green space. Click through the gallery above to see renderings of the concepts and the lifestyle retail center.

Total investment costs for the new storefronts are estimated to be $2.2 million, a spokesperson said. The Union Kitchen, at 9920 Gaston Road, suite 100, will hire about 60 employees, while Jax Grill, at 9910 Gaston Road, suite 200, will need about 40 people to work in the restaurant. 

Owners Paul and Doris Miller tapped two Houston-based firms as the designer and general contractor: Mark Boucher of Houston-based Boucher Design Groupis doing the design, while Charles Chapman of Corinthian Contracting is overseeing the build-out. Chapman also constructed The Union Kitchen’s Ella Boulevard and Washington Avenue locations, per the release.

David Littwitz of Littwitz Investments Inc. represented Gr8 Plate in the lease negotiations, a spokesperson said.  

Stableside is on 34.4 acres at the intersection of Gaston Road and Falcon Landing Boulevard in the Cinco Ranch area. The restaurants’ neighbors at the lifestyle retail center will be the 121,000-square-foot VillaSport Athletic Club and Spa, whose lease kicked off phase II of Stableside, and the 102,473-square-foot Kroger Signature store, which anchored the first phase of Stableside. That first phase was announced in September 2015 and completed in late 2016.

Across Gr8 Plate's three concepts — The Union Kitchen, Jax Grill and The Rollin’ Kitchen, which is an events and catering concept — the company has more than 400 employees, per the release. The Union Kitchen has locations in Bellaire, the Memorial area, Kingwood, Ella Plaza and on the ground floor of a new luxury apartment complex, Elan Memorial Park, off Washington Avenue. Jax Grill has stores in Bellaire and on Shepherd Drive just south of Katy Freeway. 

The Millers recently won the Texas Restaurant Association's Outstanding Restaurateur award, per the release. In January, they were recognized as the Greater Houston Restaurant Association Restaurateur of the Year.

Full story: Houston Business Journal