Surviving as a restaurant in Houston requires a skillset of the highest order. It's an extremely tough business, and it comes with lots of twists and turns— from fickle customers to outrageous rents and sometimes even changing demographics in neighborhoods.The Houston Press recently addressed the spike in restaurant 'reconcepting' in H-Town and the question of if it actually helps to save a restaurant in a cover story back in July.
In the food world, the old switcheroo isn't necessarily uncommon, but restaurants are much more likely to simply rebrand with a new menu or a dining room update, rather than go for broke with complete overhauls of entire concepts, but it seems to be on an uptick lately. Crazily enough, since that article appeared last month, even more restaurants have announced that they are rebranding. Here now is a quick glimpse at ten restaurants in Houston that have re-concepted in the past year.
10. burger chan, 3 Greenway Plaza
Formerly Kuma Burgers
In late 2016 Diana and Willent Feng, owners of then Kuma Burgers, the beloved burger and milkshake haven tucked inside the Greenway Plaza food court, received a Cease and Desist Cease and Desist letter from a death metal-themed gastropub and burger spot Kuma's Corner in Chicago. "We thought it was a joke," Diana Feng told the Houston Press last month, but the duo shelled out money for a trademark lawyer and changed their name, logo and all branding to burger chan. Same great burgers and that must-order black sesame shake, but now with a legally-protected name.
9. Edison & Patton, 4203 Edison
Shockingly, the same Cease and Desist situation has just happened to Houston gastropub Edison, which according to Houstonia, received the letter from Los Angeles-based Kinetescape Holdings LLC, who operate a high volume cocktail lounge called The Edison. The Northside Village destination must stop using the name and any reference to Thomas Edison in order to avoid a lawsuit. Currently, the name has been changed to Edison & Patton, referring to its location at Edison and Patton streets.
8. White Oak Bier Garten, 2520 Houston Avenue
Formerly Lucky's Pub
Lucky’s Pub in the Heights, 2520 Houston Avenue, is reinventing itself as White Oak Biergarten on August 26, with exterior changes and a new eatery Buck's Barbeque Co. headed up by pitmaster Jim Buchanan, formerly of Pappa Charlie’s.
The kitchen at White Oak Biergarten will serve market style barbecue Tuesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and switch to a bar food menu incorporating smoked meat items from 8 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
7. Pepper Twins, 315 Fairview
Formerly Cooking Girl
Montrose Sichuan favorite Cooking Girl closed in January 2017, supposedly due to work that needed to be done on sewer lines, but it reopened as Pepper Twins, the name of its popular purported sister eatery actually run by sisters Yunan Yang and Lily Luo. Meanwhile, a new Pepper Twins just opened in Upper Kirby. A Cooking Girl location that recently opened in Sugar Land is not related to the sisters' restaurants.
6. Forthcoming Restaurant, 933 Studewood
Formerly Glass Wall
The Heights eatery was regarded as one of the best restaurants in Houston when it opened in 2006 as a "New American Surfer Bistro" with a menu that changed monthly. The spot sure saw its share of talent in the back and front of house, including opening chef Lance Fegen, who went on to become culinary director of Liberty Kitchen, and Shepherd Ross, now owner of Pax Americana, who made Glass Wall a popular wine destination. But after 11 years in business, owners Studewood Hospitality Group LLC decided to close the upscale dining destination in May, as first reported by Houston Food Finder, with plans to reopen later this summer as a more on-trend casual neighborhood restaurant. Update: Studewood Hospitality Group has reportedly leased the location to Bosscat Kitchen, which will open BCK: Kitchen & Cocktail Adventures in the space this fall.
5. Cafe Annie, BLVD Place, 1800 Post Oak Blvd #6170
Formerly RDG + Bar Annie
When legendary Houston chef Robert Del Grande moved Cafe Annie to a new location in 2009, a rebranding into RDG + Bar Annie didn't exactly sit well with longtime regulars, who reportedly just continued to call it Cafe Annie. In 2016, Del Grande brought back the restaurant's classic logo and Southwestern dishes to the new space.
The restaurant, which has operated since 1981 and established Del Grande at the forefront of Southwestern cuisine as Houston's first Beard Award winner, is now broken up into three main sections, including the upscale Grill Room, the more affordable Bar Annie and the upscale casual Blvd Lounge.
4. One Fifth: Romance Languages, 1658 Westheimer
Formerly One-Fifth Steak
In late July, chef and restaurateur Chris Shepherd closed One Fifth: Steak, the ragingly popular first incarnation of his eatery One Fifth, which will reconcept into five different eateries over the five years time. Yes, this is Houston's first reconcepting restaurant. One Fifth: Romance Languages plans to open by September 1, after just a month long hiatus to transform the entire restaurant into a new one.
While not much is known about the upcoming menu or digs, the Press recently reported that there won't be any radical changes to wine director Matthew Pridgen's program, but more neo-Latin wines that reflect the menu's pivot to European and Mediterranean cuisine will be available.
3. Alice Blue, 250 W 19th
After 14 years as a Heights staple, known for its shrimp and grits and more Southern comfort fare, restaurateur Claire Smith decided to close up shop and do something fun. She opened Alice Blue, a new modern American bistro that welcomes back a handful of her former employees— an industry best-of staff really— including chef Kent Domas who turns out a menu of solid bistro fare, including housemade pastas and seasonal fare with a European bent. A shiny new bar program from Sean Jensen also updates the restaurant it factor.
2. Helen in the Heights, 1111 Studewood
Formerly Arthur Ave
Back in March, after just six full months in business, Helen Greek Food and Wine pulled the plug on its underperforming red gravy offshoot Arthur Ave Italian American, revamping into Greek taverna Helen in the Heights. After a quick month-long renovation chef William Wright and team reopened with a menu of Greek best hits and a more casual vibe than the Rice Village flagship.
“I honestly thought we’d face a much more uphill battle to right the wrongs,” Tim Faiola told the Press in June, which included creating a better restaurant "culture" and a vibe that's much more casual.
1. Peska Cocina Latina, 1700 Post Oak, #1-190
Formerly Peska Seafood Culture, Peska Seafood & Steak and Peskarne
“We’re trying to find our niche,” Peska consultant and owner of Grazia Italian Kitchen Adrian Hembree told the Press in July. “Can we sit and watch things unfold? There’s no time to do that. At this point, it’s about surviving. Every day is a new day.”
The restaurant, once helmed by chef protege Omar Pereney, and known for both its seafood market and high end seafood dishes (with a high end price tag) has rebranded with a ktichen now run by chef Chris Loftis- an alum of both the Killens and Hugo's restaurant groups— and a menu that's inspired by the cuisines of Mexican, in particular, those found at owner Maite Ysita's restaurants in Mexico City and Acapulco.
Also rebranded or rebranding:
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Karma Kolache, 17415 FTM 529 Formerly Koala Kolache
Koala Kolache at 17415 Farm to Market 529 changed its name to Karma Kolache in May. The two-year-old breakfast shop has been known for its wide variety of kolaches, croissants and its take on the famed Dominique Ansel pastry, the Cronut.
Jimmy Chew Asian Kitchen, 1609 Westheimer
Perhaps the strangest rebranding news in sometime has been about this late night Chinese spot on Westheimer that offered a $20 lobster special. The owner went on The Cleverley Show in June, according to CultureMap, to explain that the restaurant had shuttered but now has a new unnamed hotshot chef on board and is currently looking for investors to help reconcept and reopen.