Skeptics scoffed last summer when Mickey Kapoor, owner of the Khyber North Indian Grill [2510 Richmond, (713)942-9424], joined forces with native New Orleanian Troy Roth to create The Gumbo Shop [2207 Richmond, (713)522-1311]. It sounded like an improbable notion, frankly, and featured what some thought an unlucky location: the site of the former Q Cafe, just across Greenbriar from the struggling Shepherd Plaza.
The food got good reviews, though -- witness the Press's own testimonial ("Chicken Soup for the Cajun Soul," by Dennis Abrams, September 30, 1999) -- and at least two complimentary letters to that other paper. The Gumbo Shop drew bustling lunch-hour crowds from nearby office buildings. Nevertheless, last month the partners agreed to close The Gumbo Shop's doors, only seven months after they opened.
"Sure, people came here for lunch. Lots of people! We'd be packed! But they just didn't want to come for dinner," Kapoor says gloomily. "For some strange reason, after 3 p.m. or so it would die on us, every day. I just don't think inside-the-Loopers want to eat Cajun food for dinner."
Kapoor is certain his location wasn't the problem. "Well, look at that Mexican place," Kapoor says bitterly, referring to the neighboring Don Lito's Mexican Restaurant [2181 Richmond, (713)522-9502], which opened around the same time last summer. "People do the 59 Diner thing, too, or the Italian thing. And that Hobbit Cafe! Seems like those guys are doing famously well, lunch and dinner and all the time." Kapoor has another theory: Perhaps people wanted either full service or just straight fast food from a drive-up window, he mused, instead of the hybrid counter service his cafe offered.
Whatever the reasons, Kapoor and Roth are down -- but not out. "Troy and I have been friends for 15 years," Kapoor says. "We aren't going to let a little thing like gumbo stop us now."
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The duo has been mapping out a new concept for the same space, this one to be called Just Fajitas. That's right, totally Tex-Mex: sizzling platters of fajitas, fajita nachos, fajita tacos... Well, you get the picture.
"Houstonians are obviously biased towards Mexican food," says Kapoor, a touch irritably. "We're going to serve a 'cleaner' version of Tex-Mex, too: real fajitas, not ground meat, not that slop most Mexican restaurants serve."
The partners hope to reopen no later than February 11, Kapoor says. Right now they're busy putting the finishing touches on the place, and waiting for the permits to be finalized, especially the all-important liquor license. Just Fajitas will offer a full bar, with an emphasis on margaritas.
"After all, you can't operate a Mexican restaurant without margaritas," Kapoor observes. "That would be like trying to take a woman out to dinner on the bus. It just wouldn't get you very far."