Last week, we published an article that revealed that in only five years, 60 percent of our picks for the best new restaurants of 2011 had already closed. That’s a depressing statistic. A reader asked, “Why not write an article about the successful ones?” and that seemed like a terrific counterpoint. Some restaurants endure and a little optimism doesn’t hurt.
There’s a special group of Houston restaurants that have been more than successful. They have done so despite hardship, trial and trauma. Through personal issues, fires, bankruptcy and more, these restaurants have still managed to endure. Here are ten Houston restaurants that have stood the test of time and lasted more than a decade.
1941: Molina’s, three locations. The original Molina’s was at 1919 West Gray. It was born when Raul and Mary Molina bought the Old Monterrey Restaurant after Raul had worked there for a decade. The business was successful and expanded to multiple locations. Among them, the one opened decades later at 5227 Buffalo Speedway proved the most popular. In 2008, after being in business for 20 years, Ricardo Molina, one of the grandsons of the founder, says, “H-E-B came knocking at the door. You think it’s a lifetime and the next thing you know, you’re gone. It was one of our most successful locations — easy access from downtown, great place for happy hour, great neighborhood. Just perfect. It took us almost four years to find a new space, but we got lucky in finally finding it at our West University location." The week of September 11, Molina’s will celebrate its 75th anniversary in business.
1949: Three Brothers Bakery, three locations. Most of the adversity happened before the original location of Three Brothers Bakery opened on Holman — more than anyone should have to go through for a lifetime. There would be more along the path, though. Three Brothers really was started on May 8, 1949, by three brothers: Sigmund, Sol and Max Jucker. It was four years to the day after they, along with their sister, escaped a Nazi concentration camp on Liberation Day. The Holman place had no parking, which hurt sales, so they later moved to Almeda Road. The business kept growing, so they moved to 4036 South Braeswood. Then, a set of coincidences shut down every location, as described by Robb Walsh in a 2008 article: "The Sugar Land location went out of business in July 2006 after 20 years thanks to the diversion of traffic during highway construction. The River Oaks shopping center location was closed in May 2007 when the center was scheduled for demolition. Hurricane Ike took out the main location and production bakery on South Braeswood."After nine months, the Braeswood location reopened. These days, there are two more locations: one on 12393 Kingsride in Memorial and another at 4606 Washington Avenue.
1967: Brennan’s of Houston, 3300 Smith. This has long been one of Houston’s favorite places for birthdays, celebrations or even just hanging out on the gorgeous patio during happy hour. In September 2008, Hurricane Ike mercilessly whipped its way through Houston and, in the process, sent a fire roaring through the premises. It destroyed everything except the brick and, curiously, the awning with the Brennan’s logo near the front door. Soon after, chef Randy Evans took his leave to go open a restaurant of his own. Brennan’s of Houston was rebuilt, better than ever, and thrives to this day as a mainstay of fresh Gulf coast fare and sumptuous New Orleans-style brunches.
1973: The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation, 2704 Navigation. When “Mama” Ninfa Rodriguez Laurenzo first opened her little ten-seat restaurant to keep her tortilla factory afloat, it was simply called Ninfa’s. It was so successful that a second location, on Westheimer, followed two years later. By 1982, there were 13 Ninfa’s. Entering into a joint venture with another company to reduce risk was the beginning of the end. Thanks to a bunch of corporate maneuvering, by 1998 the Laurenzo family no longer had control of or involvement in the restaurant their matriarch had started. Since mid-2006, the original Ninfa’s has been owned by Legacy Restaurants and, in all fairness, the company has done a fine job of taking care of the legacy, even if it bought into it. Chef Alex Padilla probably doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves for carrying the torch of Tex-Mex history.