A whole new concept in international fast food is coming to a stretch of Taft Street in Houston's Fourth Ward. Juan Mon's International Sandwiches and Drinks plans to bring an eclectic cuisine to one of the most eclectic neighborhoods in the city.
First, the neighborhood. Taft Street between West Gray and Fairview is anchored to the north by the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center, attended primarily by children of the neighborhood's Hispanic and African-American families, and to the south by establishments like Reeves Antiques and Ziggy's Healthy Grill serving the upper-income residents that continue to gentrify the area.
In between, all manner of spiritual and material satisfaction can be achieved -- Ecclesia church and the adjacent Taft Street Coffee, the Texas Junk Company (thousands of used boots!) and the unmistakable Rover Shoppe garage with its row upon row of beater Land Rovers.
Directly across Taft from the Rover Shoppe sits a one-story, Spanish Colonial-style building which for years was overgrown with weeds and surrounded by a chain link fence. Turns out that the building, with its unique covered driveway, was one of the first Texaco gas stations in Houston. Alas, in the over-heated condo market of this neighborhood, an old building like that might as well have a sign in front that says "Bulldoze me!"
Into this quirky mix stepped entrepreneur and would-be restaurateur Juan Montero, who acquired the old gas station property. Montero, a self-described world traveler originally from Mexico City, decided that instead of bulldozing the building to make way for another stucco-covered townhouse development, it could be re-used and restored in a way befitting the ethnic and economic diversity of the surrounding community.
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And so the concept for Juan Mon's International Sandwiches and Drinks was born. Using simple and fresh ingredients, Montero will serve inexpensive sandwiches inspired by the street fare of his favorite international cities -- Cuernavaca, Acapulco, Cancun, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Amsterdam, San Diego, Ibiza, Santorini. For instance, the "Mexico City" sandwich will be the Tortas de Milanesa which is breaded beef with Mexican cheese, cream, green salsa, lime juice, lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, on a Mexican telera bread, just like they serve in the streets of Mexico City.
But the concept doesn't stop there. Eventually, says Montero, he will have a taco truck-inspired, GPS-enabled, sandwich-making van whose location at any moment can be determined by checking a map on the shop's Web site. And if you don't want to track down the van, you can place an order on the Web site and the van will come to you.
All great ideas. But the proof will be in the execution. The place is scheduled to open in mid-February, and let's hope Mr. Montero's sandwich shop stays focused on the one concept that makes or breaks all new restaurants of this type: you must serve high-quality food consistently and at reasonable prices. And if he does, we can all look forward to visiting Taft Street to say a few prayers, buy some used cowboy boots, get our Land Rovers fixed, and then head over to Juan Mon's for an authentic Mexico City sandwich.