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It's All Academic

Industry watchers are speculating as to the real reasons why Glenn Cordóa has left the restaurant business, selling the one and only Churrascos he owned, the Clear Lake location [1320 West Bay Area Boulevard, (281)461-4100]. He and his brother, Michael Cordóa, have offered several plausible explanations: It was a need to spend more time with his growing family; it was a lack of capital; it was a desire to help future generations learn the restaurant trade.

But at this point it all seems academic, in more ways than one.

The only thing we know for sure is that Glenn Cordóa has returned to a teaching career at the University of Houston. "I'm a good teacher. I love to teach," says Cordóa, who has joined the faculty of the UH Conrad N. Hilton School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. He taught psychology at UH in the '70s and '80s, and he was on the clinical faculty at Baylor College of Medicine. "It's really interesting to come back and see how it's changed."

The changes in academia pale in comparison to the changes the brothers Cordóa have witnessed since starting their South American dining dynasty in the '80s. "There have been many twists and turns," says Glenn of his experience with Churrascos, which later spawned Américas [1800 Post Oak Boulevard, (713)961-1492], New World Catering and Amazon Grill [1800 Post Oak Boulevard, (713)599-0020].

Both brothers are reluctant to discuss why they split three years ago, with Churrascos owner Michael granting Glenn a license to open his own store in Clear Lake. Yet from all accounts, their business relationship seemed strained from the beginning.

The Cordóas are Nicaraguan natives whose family fled the Central American country during the revolution. Michael graduated from Texas A&M before realizing his dream of opening a restaurant featuring the foods of his youth. Meanwhile, Glenn taught psychology and ran a private practice. He loved assessing cases, but not long-term therapy.

"I can't stand patients," Glenn says matter-of-factly. "Somebody's nervous -- so what? I want to say, 'You're getting older. Pieces are falling off. You're supposed to be nervous. Shut up and live.' " It's no surprise that Glenn welcomed the career change of joining his brother's restaurant business.

As the Churrascos enterprise grew, the brothers found themselves growing apart in their business philosophies. "My goals changed," says Glenn, refusing to elaborate. "He was interested in other things, so rather than arguing all the time, I just split." Michael supported Glenn's move, which he thought was meant to achieve a better financial position than that of an employee of Churrascos. So even though he had no plans to franchise Churrascos, Michael agreed to give Glenn a license to open the separate, individually owned restaurant. Glenn took his earnings in Churrascos -- what Michael calls sweat equity -- secured other investors and opened the Clear Lake location.

It's been rough going ever since. To hear Glenn tell it, he grew tired of the restaurant grind, particularly as his family grew. "When we got pregnant with our last baby, I said, 'To hell with it,' " says the father of four. "I needed more time with my family."

Michael believes Glenn bailed from his restaurant because of huge interest payments that "shorten the life span of a restaurant." "When you have a South American restaurant, you're still educating the customer," says Michael. "You have to wait for the curve of sales to increase."

Glenn concedes that lackluster sales can affect the outlook of a middle-aged restaurateur. "You know, I'm 50. I'm just an old professor who wants to come home," he says. "If you're Chris Pappas, and you're tremendously successful, you stay in [the business], but that's another story."

That may explain why last year, when Glenn was approached with an offer to purchase his restaurant, he readily accepted it. Frank Ramirez, former general manager of Américas, Raul Cepeda, former GM of the Gessner-area Churrascos [9705 Westheimer, (713)952-1988], and some Mexican investors are now the co-owners of the Clear Lake location. Glenn still holds the license, but Michael is not -- and never has been -- involved in the store down south. "We're trying to strengthen the company," Michael says.

Whether the rift between the brothers can be mended now that Glenn is out of the restaurant business remains to be seen. But both seem to be giving it their best shot. Glenn, who says his relationship with Michael has been smooth for two or three years, calls his brother "very competent and, obviously, very successful." Michael wishes Glenn well on his return to teaching and exalts his brother's expertise in the beverage industry. "His main contribution to us was in wines; he's fantastic with that."

Such expertise should serve Glenn Cordóa well as he takes on his new role and begins developing a commercial-beverage management program at UH. "I like alcoholic beverages, but I love the business of selling them," he says with a laugh. -- Melanie Knight

 
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