Mo Jeloudar doesn't look anything like a cowboy. In fact, he appears to be the polar opposite — although you probably could've guessed that from his name.
The typical cowpoke's dirty-blond hair, dusty blue-green eyes and slightly sunburned white skin are replaced by Jeloudar's slick black hair, thin, dark eyes, and rich olive cast. Superficially, he's more Exotic Sports-Car Salesman than Bronco Buster.
His non-bunkhouse build — no more than five-foot-five, 135 pounds — seems to serve no other purpose than to act as a frame for Jeloudar's beaming, genuine smile. But then, no matter how bright, you can't break a bull's spirit with just a smile.
He doesn't sound like a cowboy either, but you probably could've guessed that, too. He's lived in America for nearly 40 years, but a Persian accent still tinges Jeloudar's assertions that he loves all things country and western.
But Mo knows cowboy. Bet your britches.
Jeloudar owns Mo's Place (21940 Kingsland), Katy's definitive, outsize honky-tonk nightlife destination. Operating since 1988, it's grown in popularity — and size — every year since. At its inception, Mo's Place was 2,200 square feet and had less than ten employees.
"I was the barback, the bartender, the dishwasher and the owner," says the convivial Jeloudar.
After 20 years and six renovations, Mo's is now a whopping 17,000 square feet, complete with two stages, a couple of bars and nearly 20 52-inch TVs. Things appear to be a smidgen more profitable now than they were back in '88.
"I [didn't] know that I was going to be successful," admits Jeloudar, alluding to the fact that his skin color isn't exactly a harbinger of success in the country scene. "I was scared when I opened Mo's. I didn't know how I was going to be accepted. The second or third night, I had about six people."
Attendance is hardly an issue now. More weekends than not see Mo's Place nearly filled to its 1,500-person capacity. But herein lies the venue's most perplexing aspect: While its prodigious size no doubt makes for stellar get-togethers, it also impedes the countrified ambience Jeloudar fancies.
And that's no jab at Mo's or its owner, either. It turns out to be one of greater Houston's more enjoyable, pretension-free venues, and its bookings — from Texas music stars like Zona Jones and Roger Creager (this Saturday) to Urban Cowboy holdovers such as the Bellamy Brothers and Johnny Lee — do draw the crowds. The occasional cowboy brawl has even been known to occur.
But in Night World, small and obscure is chic and hip; massive and populated is not. An establishment's sheer size can cost it a specific cultural identity — like Wal-Mart, but with fewer sticky-fingered kids.
On this Saturday night, Mo's customers bear this out. Even though the average patron is of a western mind-set — basically, a thirtysomething Caucasian who knows Garth Brooks's "Rodeo" is unquestionably superior to Brooks & Dunn's "Under a Neon Moon" — the standard deviation is too great to classify Mo's Place as explicitly country.
On Mo's frequently packed dance floor, or lounging at a nearby table, are a host of other nightlife types: Douche-y Haircut Guy, Still Thinks It's Cool to Wear a Small Backpack Girl, the ubiquitous White Guy Acting Black and Probably Too Young to Get in Girl are milling about. Smells like a Foot Guy stands near the stage, and a few Muscular Guys Obnoxiously Chewing Gum will almost certainly turn up.
Although such diversity seems to cut against the grain of Jeloudar's pursuit of true honky-tonk identity, it turns out the westerns Jeloudar watched as a child did little more than inspire him to come to America. He's not looking to do Road House redux.
His niche, ironically, is being niche-free, and he's succeeded. Being a cowboy is about ideals, not flannel-print shirts and a pair of scuffed-up Justins. To his credit, Jeloudar seems to have figured that out long before us.
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"This is all about Mo's" he says. "We're not the best or the worst, we're Mo's. You don't have to have [a] cowboy hat or boots to get in. People want to come in and forget about the stock market or their daily school.
"That's what we are here for," Jeloudar concludes. "In my heart, I hope I am a cowboy. But I want to be there for my [customers]. And I want to thank them all for making my American dream come true."
Happy Thanksgiving, playas. Because we assume you enjoy the company of your family about as much as we do ours, here are a few local shows to get you through this turkeyish weekend: Friday, Nightfly favorites Ton Tons play Warehouse Live (813 St. Emanuel), while GRRRL Parts do the Mink (3718 Main). Sisters Morales and Devil Killing Moth, respectively, entertain McGonigel's Mucky Duck (2425 Norfolk) and Notsuoh (314 Main) Saturday. Sunday, wave goodbye to the holiday weekend with Fulton Read, the Exclamations, Beneath the Horizon and Out of Reach at Javajazz Coffeehouse (2502 FM 1960 E.).