Restaurant News

Openings and Closings: James Coney Island's New Plans, Hungry's Expands

Have a coney with your honey.
Have a coney with your honey. Photo by Eric Sauseda

James Coney Island (JCI Grill)
, is turning 100 next year and as its 99th year of business comes to a close, the Houston institution wants the community to know that it has big plans for the future. Despite the oft-reported closings of some of its locations over the past couple of years, JCI has begun a major reconfiguration to adapt to the ever-changing restaurant market.

It's exciting news for the brand, which began as a downtown hot dog stand in Houston in 1923, founded by Greek immigrant brothers Tom and James Papadakis. It could have been named Tom Coney Island except for the fact that brother James won the coin toss and it was his name that went on the sign. It wasn't until forty years later that a second location opened and by 1988, it was a multi-million dollar brand.

The Papadakis family sold the business in 1990 to a group of local investors. In 2014, James Coney Island began rebranding as JCI Grill; streamlining its menus while closing a few locations and redesigning others. Because of its 1968 policy of owning the land and buildings of the early locations, it had the financial stability to gamble on making significant changes.
click to enlarge
The chili recipe is top secret at James Coney Island.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Social media has been all abuzz over the past year about the closing of the Shepherd, Mason and most recently, Westheimer, locations. However, it is part of the company's strategy to sell off expensive real estate locations and underperforming stores. Such measures will allow the brand to undertake major new changes.

What will those changes be? In a press release, Darrin Straughan, JCI President of 29 years, said, " Future builds and locations will be smaller in footprint with interiors closer to 2,000 square feet. The company will shift operational focus to a technological and consumer-facing enhancement of the drive-thru, curbside pick-up and off-premises experience."

New menus will also mean an emphasis on some legacy menu Items like the "Greek-style Coney" and other signature dishes. Currently, the company is scouting locations for future expansions.

We're thinking dropping the JCI Grill bit would be a great start. It's always been James Coney Island to the legions of Houstonians who have eaten its chili-covered dogs and always will be. 
click to enlarge
Hungry's is opening a third location.
Photo by Julie Soefer

Hungry's, 5750 Woodway, is set to open in February 2023. The expansion will be the first for the Hungry's brand in 40 years. The family-owned and operated restaurant has two current locations on Memorial and in Rice Village. Founded in 1975, it has served its international cuisine to the Houston community for decades and has led to a second generation concept, Heartbeet, which offers healthy and clean eating dishes including a number of plant-based items, some of which will make their way onto the menu at the upcoming Tanglewood location.

The increased demand for plant-based food led Hungry's to incorporate daily specials for the dishes in 2016, eventually ending up with a permanent menu of items under 'Vegan for All', which also includes a kids menu. With the plant-based offerings available, the upcoming Hungry's will feature a more modern menu of fresh and nutritious meals inspired by global cuisines.
click to enlarge
The hummus sampler is nutritious and delicious.
Photo by Becca Wright
Hungry’s Woodway will have an inviting bar area along with an expansive indoor/outdoor bar that is dog-friendly on the patio. It offers beer, wine and a selection of craft cocktails.

Nousha Nowamooz, Vice President of Development at Hungry's Concepts said in a press release, "This is a true passion project for our families. We like to think of Hungry’s as your go-to neighborhood restaurant and not feel guilty about what you’re putting into your body."
click to enlarge
The Fairview location gives an idea of what to expect in Webster and Katy.
Photo by On Deck Concepts
BoomerJack's Grill & Bar is opening two Greater Houston locations in 2023. Planned for Webster and Katy, the upcoming restaurants are the first for the company outside of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The brand, with a dozen locations in DFW, is part of On Deck Concepts which operates more than 16 restaurants across North Texas including Bedford Ice House and Sidecar Social.

BoomerJack's provides a multi-experiential good time with dining, drinking, wall to wall televisions and an expansive covered patio. The atmosphere is laid-back and the prices for food and drink are budget-friendly, with daily drink specials and a reasonably-priced food menu. Some of its daily drink specials include $2 Pabst Blue Ribbon and Lone Star Beer, $4 shots and $5 cocktails. Specials vary daily and for each location.

There's a Small Bites menu during special hours with fried pickles, sliders and boneless wings. Lunch deals run Monday through Friday with options in the $8 to $10 range. The main menu includes game-watching nosh such as hand-cut and fried to order mozzarella bites, burgers, sandwiches, quesadillas and much more. Entrees like a 14-ounce ribeye, pork chops and Wagyu chicken fried steak are hearty dinner options.
click to enlarge
The Wagyu Burger takes sports bar food up a notch.
Photo by On Deck Concepts
The sports bar is also family-friendly with a kids menu and desserts like its homemade banana pudding served in a mug.

The Webster location will feature a patio bar with service from a repurposed shipping container plus fire pit tables and fans and heaters, so outdoor relaxing is possible year-round. The Katy spot will be similarly outfitted and will offer two large bar-height communal fire pit tables. Both locations will offer a warm, cozy feel with reclaimed wood and vintage racing and auto-themed decor.
click to enlarge
An Austin pizza import will open soon.
Photo by Jane Yun
Home Slice Pizza,  3701 Travis, will open later this fall and is currently in hiring mode. There are a number of positions including front-of-house shift leads and counter servers, plus line and prep cooks. There is also potential for hiring bonuses.
click to enlarge
Lionel Richie says hello.
Photo by Sammie Burnett
The Austin-based pizza joint serves New York-style pies and slices for dine-in or carry out but the Houston location, its third, will be primarily take-out with pick-up (both traditional and curbside) and will also offer delivery through third party apps. There will still be walk-up and dine-in options with booths available on the inside and a temperature-controlled outdoor patio that will seat 50 guests and will also accommodate pizza-loving pooches.

Besides its pizza pies, there are calzones, hot and cold subs, Buffalo wings and a variety of salads.
click to enlarge
The Katy location has a gorgeous covered patio.
Photo by The Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory, 5000 Katy Mills, opened September 20. The Katy location makes the 6th in the Greater Houston area for everybody's favorite mall restaurant. With a massive menu and equally massive portions, it's always a solid choice when trying to please a group because there is something for everyone.
click to enlarge
This is how they do it.
Photo by The Cheesecake Factory
And the menu keeps growing with recently added items such as Streetcorn and Cacio e Pepe Flatbread on the starters' side and seasonal items such as the Harvest Chicken Salad. Other new items include the Spicy Rigatoni Vodka and its Classic Basque Cheesecake that gets a burnt top like a creme brulee. There are also additions to the drinks menu like the Espresso Martini and the Paradise Colada made with Caribbean rums, pineapple, strawberry, coconut and lychee.

The Katy Mills restaurant is expansive with over 10,000 square feet of space and a large covered patio for the beautiful autumn days that are upon us.
click to enlarge
The Pineapple Bowls are coming to Houston.
Photo by Cali/Trap Kitchen
Cali, 12910 Northwest Freeway, is expected to open in late November or early December 2022. The former Brick House Tavern + Tap space is being transformed into an urban eatery with a West Coast vibe which takes some of its cue from its parent concept, Trap Kitchen in Los Angeles.

The popular Black-owned Trap Kitchen is part of a cookbook and catering empire created by Malachi "Spank" Jenkins and Roberto "News" Smith. The two former rival gang members began cooking and selling Soul Food meals out of a Compton apartment in 2013. With owner Oscar Edwards, the two chefs eventually earned a celebrity following among artists like Snoop Dog and Kendrick Lamar. Their cult following has created a brand with three L.A. food trucks and two brick and mortar restaurants in Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon. The company also has a pop-up in Las Vegas and a weekly stand at Smorgasburg Miami.
click to enlarge
Seafood takes mac and cheese to a whole new level.
Photo by Cali/Trap Kitchen
Edwards is now bringing his new concept to Houston which will include some of the signature menu items created at Trap Kitchen. It will be a hybrid of California cuisine with Cajun flair, fitting for Houston's diverse culinary scene. While Trap Kitchen is the foundation for the new concept, the restaurant will incorporate Texas flavors, executed by local chefs.

Some of the dishes that will make their way to Houston include the visually-popping pineapple bowls with a filling choice of charred teriyaki chicken or seafood. Other tasty items include Lobster Pizza, lamb chops, fried shrimp and seafood mac and cheese.
click to enlarge
The Forbidden Roll is tempting.
Photo by Jennifer Wales
TEN Sushi + Cocktail Bar, 4200 Westheimer, is slated to open in late October 2022. In anticipation of the new restaurant from Daily Dose Hospitality Group, TEN will pop up at Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, 4310 Westheimer, October 12 through October 14.  Pop-up guests will be able to taste a limited menu from the upcoming restaurant; just a sample of what diners can expect from the full-service sushi bar and its elevated cocktail program.

The pop-up menu will feature four of TEN's food menu items: VC Rock Shrimp Tempura ($13), Chicken Gyoza ($11), Forbidden Roll ($20)and Yuzu Salmon ($17). The pop-up will also offer its signature Lychee Rose Cocktail. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, TEN will donate $1 from every purchase to The Holly Rose Ribbon Foundation.
click to enlarge
The Lychee Rose Cocktail is popping up
Photo by Jennifer Wales
The Houston location will be the second for the restaurant, which Daily Dose Hospitality Group partners John Reed and Leslie Nguyen have operated in Southern California since 2014. The new outpost offers seating for approximately 100 guests in the 3,700-square foot space plus an 800-square-foot patio that looks onto Mid Lane.
click to enlarge
Velvet Taco's decor is unique to each restaurant.
Photo by Velvet Taco
Velvet Taco, 10201 Katy Freeway, opened October 3. It's the 23rd location for the quirky taco restaurant in Texas. It first opened in Dallas in 2011 and has since grown to include 35 locations in its portfolio overall.
Teccora Biggers, General Manager at the new Memorial City location said, " We are hoping to make a splash with our eclectic, chef-driven menu and I think folks will find that there is something for everyone on our menu."

The choices include funky faves like Spicy Chicken Tikka, Cuban Pig and Chicken and Waffles along with more traditional tacos such as Rotisserie Chicken and Grilled Flank Steak. For vegetarians, there are several choices including Beer-battered Cauliflower, Fried Paneer and Falafel. Besides the nearly 20 different tacos available, there are sides like Chips & Queso and Elote & Chips.

Along with soft drinks, there is a selection of beer and cocktails including its Kick Ass Margarita.

Sweet Greek Pastries, 8320 Louetta, opened in late August. Located in Spring, the new pastry and lunch shop sells delicious Greek treats like baklava, chocolate baklava, kataifi, milfai (mille-feuille) and kourabiedes (Greek wedding cookies). However, there's a savory menu as well with panini, pitas and crepes, with the chicken mushroom crepe being a popular item. There is also a variety of tortes and cakes.

Coffee drinks, tea and lemonades are available as well.
click to enlarge
These canned martinis offer daytime fuel with a wind-down buzz.
Photo by Chase Hall
Apres Hours hit the shelves at local Total Wine & More stores October 6. The Dallas-based canned espresso martinis will be available at Total Wine locations in San Antonio, Dallas, Austin as well as Houston. This is the first foray out of the Dallas market for the brand, founded by Nicole Craven and Alexis Smith, which launched this past August. It is available in three flavors: Classic, Salted Caramel and Vanilla. All three alcoholic beverages are gluten and dairy-free.
click to enlarge
Heights & Co. has a new brunch and a decadent French Toast.
Photo by CKO Digital
Heights & Co., 1343 Yale, has just launched a brunch service, new menus and game day specials. It recently opened in May of this year on the corner of Yale and 14th as a neighborhood cocktail bar and patio hangout from Brian Doke, who also owns Savoir just across the street.

The weekend brunch runs Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. with a menu from chef Eric Johnson. It offers French Toast with rum caramel and bruleed bananas, a Brunch Burger, Steak & Egg, Flatbread Avocado Toast, Everything salmon Toast and Hash cake, a crispy hash brown with bacon, ham, guacamole, fried egg chipotle aioli, dill aioli, tomato and herb salad. There are also brunch beverages such as the Jala-Pina Margarita and the Heights & Co. Brunch Spritz.
click to enlarge
Game's on at Heights & Co. with sliders and lots of televisions.
Photo by CKO Digital
Its new Gameday Menu is tailgating-inspired with all-American Sliders, Black Angus Hot Dogs and loaded  Gameday Fries. Gameday specials on beer include $17 buckets of six domestic brews and  Beer & Back of Whiskey ($8) which offers a Montucky paired with a shot of Jameson. The Gameday Menu is available Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday through February 12.

In addition to the new menus, Heights & Co. has added 6 new televisions to its pergola-covered deck to complement its 20-foot projector screen. There are also new putting greens alongside the patio and cornhole for your pleasure.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lorretta Ruggiero is a Houston Press freelance writer based in Cypress, Texas. She loves entertaining her family and friends with her food and sparkling wit. She is married to Classic Rock Bob and they have two exceptionally smart-aleck children.