Since the closure of Radical Eats, I’ve been on the hunt for another go-to vegan restaurant in Houston. The purely vegan restaurant scene around town is woefully scant, but Stephanie Hoban is on her way to remedying this with a long-awaited storefront for her popular vegan food truck, Ripe Cuisine.
Her space will be located in the historic Heights waterworks space in the Greater Heights, purchased last year by Braun Enterprises from the City of Houston. The development will include a number of other restaurants and retail shops in a highly walkable, outdoor-friendly area.
We recently sat down with Hoban to get the lowdown on her new space, expected to open this summer.
How did you settle on the Heights as your final location?
Hoban: Opening a restaurant was always my goal with the food truck. Being a vendor at the farmer’s market was a test ground for the food truck, which in turn was a test ground for the restaurant. I always hoped we would be well-received enough to do that. I’ve been actively researching what it would take to open a restaurant since May of 2016.
We worked for all of last year looking at different spots. We came really close to a couple places in more of the Upper Kirby area—I knew I was interested in Upper Kirby, Montrose and the Heights. I wanted to be where people are used to finding me, and all those places are pretty central within the city. I heard that parking was a big issue from a lot of my customers and that almost ruled out Montrose. We knew they were building a dedicated parking spot for this area and I liked that there would be other tenants there. It had a lot of things on my wishlist—I was able to get a patio and it was just a weird cool space. I didn’t want anything cookie cutter.
What does your “eco-chic” vision for the restaurant look like? Will there be any special green-friendly or eco certifications for the restaurant?
Hoban: The Heights waterworks reservoir is a historic site that was built in the 1930s, so there’s not a whole lot we can do in terms of something like a LEED certification for the building. But the whole aesthetic will be very light and bright—there are some really large windows on the north and south walls, big wide-pane industrial windows that let in a lot of natural light. We’ll also use a lot of actual plants for greenery and decoration, as well as a lot of wood and mixed metal, modern, yet rustic touches. Our interior designer is Amanda Gimmie Shelters and our architect, Isaac Preminger is the same one who’s worked for Tiny’s and Adair Kitchen.
With the flexibility that a restaurant kitchen brings over a food truck, what new menu items can we expect to see?
Hoban: I’m really limited in the number of choices that I can offer on our menu at the truck because there’s only so much space to store the produce. I pretty much have to go shopping every day because I don’t have a walk-in cooler. That really limits how food I can store and keep prepped and cooked for different options—most of the items I sell have anywhere from four to eight components.
I want to combine customer favorites like the jackfruit carnitas—those are really popular. There are so many things that are easier to execute in a restaurant, like brunch—I can start making pancakes and waffles! I have a gluten-free cornmeal pancake recipe with blueberries, blackberries and an orange sauce with thyme that sounds odd but is really great.
We’ll also have beer and wine and I’m thinking about some bar bites like orange glazed cauliflower, jackfruit nachos, steamed buns with seasonal teriyaki vegetables. I do mini crab cakes made from artichoke and jackfruit with tofu feta and an herb tahini sauce, and a vegan cheese board. I make a cashew chevre that’s currently served on the bistro burger and a mozzarella that’s on the caprese sandwich. Plus, there will be a grab and go cooler—I make my own ketchup that people love, so we’ll have stuff like that, kale dressing, or components like nut cheese as well as prepacked salads, wraps and small snack items like spring rolls and hummus. Right now, if you want to eat healthy and run in and out, your only option is Whole Foods, and sometimes I still have trouble finding good options there.
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What are you most excited for?
Hoban: I’m most excited about seeing my customers I’ve seen for the past three years sit at a table. The past few years, they’ve had to work to find where we are, come in that little window when we’re open, eat the food in their car or wait until they get home when everyone knows it’s never as good as when it comes out of the kitchen on a plate. I’m excited for them to have a real dining experience with the food.