Ricky Craig, the owner of three successful Hubcap Grill locations — two in Houston and one in Kemah — has decided it's in his best interests to turn Harborside Mercantile, at 2021 Strand in Galveston, into what will be the fifth Hubcap Grill — but with a twist. The new location will serve cocktails in addition to the same kind of burger and fries menu offered by the Kemah and 19th Street locations. (A fourth Hubcap Grill is already under construction in Terminal A at George Bush International Airport.) Harborside Mercantile's last night of service is this evening and it will close at 9 p.m.
Craig says that while business at Harborside Mercantile has been great, the rigors of running and staffing a full-fledged Gulf Coast seafood restaurant have not been compatible with running his other restaurants. “[Harborside Mercantile] requires hands-on literally every single day. It’s a totally different operation. I am starting to get busy with the airport, and the Hubcap Grills are simple to run. We have headaches but nothing on the level of this,” he said. Craig says staffing of the Galveston restaurant has been an ongoing challenge as well.
According to him, turning the space into a Hubcap Grill has always been a possibility. “I’ve always had a plan B,” he said. He is retaining general manager Cedomil “Chedda” Slokar, from Harborside Mercantile, a former bartender at Grand Prize Bar, to help manage the new location, which includes overseeing the cocktail program.
Owing to permitting delays, Craig expects it will be 30 to 45 days before the new Hubcap Grill & Cocktail Bar will be open. In the meantime, Chedda Slokar will learn the ins and outs of the business at the Kemah location.
All of the striking, Southern-themed decor will go into storage, to be replaced with the usual trappings of a Hubcap Grill, including, of course, actual hubcaps. Craig says his father (who runs the Hubcap Grill downtown along with Craig’s mother) is in charge of the new decor scheme. “We’re going to put little booths, sofas and cocktail tables where you can just come in and have a drink,” he explained.
Craig expects this will allow him to return to spending some hands-on time at each of his Hubcap Grill locations, saying, “Being back in the game, I can spend two days at Kemah, two days in Galveston and two days at 19th Street.”
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That hands-on time may, in fact, be needed. Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook recently took Craig to task for an uncharacteristically bad rendition of its Philly cheesesteak burger at the 19th Street location. Craig took that criticism very seriously, immediately conducting a staff retraining session and giving away 50 free Philly cheesesteak burgers with fries to patrons in exchange for their feedback.
That said, Hubcap Grill's excellent cheeseburger was one of our top picks for our recent cover story "Building Houston's Perfect Cheeseburger."
Craig says he isn’t sad at all about converting Harborside Mercantile into a Hubcap Grill. “Actually, I’m really excited about it,” he said. “People have come into Harborside and said, ‘Oh, your food is so good. It’s amazing, but have you ever thought about offering a Hubcap burger so we can come to the bar and eat?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God, they still want burgers — but that’s kind of cool.”
Still, Harborside Mercantile’s exquisite shrimp and grits, as well as the meaty seafood and andouille gumbo, will be greatly missed.