This week has some surprising new openings and some sad closings, some permanent, some just temporary. As Texas sees a second spike in COVID-19, it's inevitable that it would affect the restaurant industry. Staff are on the front lines serving guests and while most employees are wearing masks, many customers are not. The efficacy of wearing masks, gloves, social distancing, etc. seems to be up for debate non-stop and everyone has an opinion. However, the truth remains that COVID-19 is hitting the service industry hard and many businesses are trying to keep up with the safety protocols while keeping their staff and customers safe.
A few, however, are not. Social media is abuzz with observations of bars and restaurants exceeding the capacity restrictions or establishments not taking proper precautions. These bad actors are the minority but they make it more difficult for the businesses who are diligently striving to keep the public's trust.
Many establishments are currently taking precautions by voluntarily closing while dealing with COVID-19 testing of their employees and working to reopen safely. We know it's tough right now and we applaud all the people who are striving to get Houston's bar and restaurant community back on track.
Voodoo Doughnut, 1214 Westheimer, is slated to open near the end of the year. This will be the second Houston location for the funky doughnut shop which opened its first Houston store in January 2020 on Washington. The new store will employ over 70 staff members. Grant Walker and Brad Kilbride of Lee and Associates, along with Wade Green of Transwestern represented Voodoo Doughnut LLC in the lease of the 3,000 square foot space in the Montrose Corridor.
The doughnut chain was founded in downtown Portland, Oregon in 2003 by lifelong friends Tres Shannon and Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson. It has since spread its voodoo to other cities in Oregon, Denver and Los Angeles with its first Texas store opening in Austin in 2015. Its Houston location at 3715 Washington is the first and only to offer a convenient drive-thru.
Voodoo offers large doughnuts, cake and raised yeast, with creative names and flavors. There are cereal toppings such as the Cap'n Crunch Crunchberries on top of the 'Captain, My Captain' and slices of bacon on the Bacon Maple Bar, a bestseller. For bachelor and bachelorette parties, the Cock-N-Balls makes a naughty treat. It's two chocolate-covered Bavarian-cream doughnuts on either side of a long twist doughnut.
The Union Kitchen, 9920 Gaston, is currently in its soft opening stage in Katy. There will be modified hours this week with the weekend brunch available Saturday and Sunday. It will begin its regular operating hours and full menu June 23. This is the seventh location of TUK which opened adjacent to Jax Grill, both concepts are from Gr8 Plate Hospitality. Jax Grill opened June 8 at Stableside at Falcon Landing.
Owner Paul Miller opened the first The Union Kitchen in 2010. He is excited to bring a new Jax Grill, its first new location in 25 years, and a TUK to Katy since he and his wife are residents. The new location will eventually feature exclusive menu items unique to the Katy location. James Lund will serve as executive chef, overseeing the kitchen with Chef Paul Winn. David Ray will take on the role of general manager, bringing previous experience from his time at TUK Memorial and Cypress.
Taco Bueno, 20995 Katy Freeway, opened June 16 in Katy. It's the first location for the Dallas-based taco chain which first opened in Abilene in 1967. It is similar to Taco Cabana in the fact that it has a fresh salsa bar but it doesn't sell margaritas or beer.
It offers the usual tacos, burritos and quesadillas plus the chilada, a burrito topped with chili sauce and melted queso. There's the Big Freak'n Taco Salad and a variety of street tacos, too. On the sweet side, there's cheesecake chimichangas and churros. For broke blokes, there's the Bueno Under a Buck menu.
Common Bond On the Go, 601 Heights, opened May 18. The new concept comes from Common Bond Bakery and Cafe which has three locations in Houston. It differs from its parent concept by offering a full service drive-thru and an expanded coffee menu. The menu offers grab 'n go breakfast, lunch and dinner choices like Breakfast Bites, Tomato Salad, TLT on Sourdough and Charcuterie on Ciabatta. There's also a Picnic menu with Prosciutto and Melon, Meat and Cheese, Spreads and Breads and Cheese and Fruit. The quick service version will still offer the full Common Bond pastry menu.
The new 1,176 square foot space includes counter-service with limited indoor seating and a new 450 square foot outdoor patio. Wines by the glass or bottle and craft beers are available plus there's Frose by the carafe to take the edge off the summer heat.
There are two other Common Bond concepts planned for the Greater Houston area in 2020. Common Bond Bistro & Bakery will open at CityPlace at Springwoods Vilage in July and Common Bond Brasserie & Bakery is slated for the Bank of America Tower later this summer.
Cafe Adel, 6363 San Felipe, is currently undergoing the permitting process and the owners plan to start construction soon. The Bosnian restaurant closed its original location at 13110 FM 529 May 12 in order to prepare for the new restaurant. It serves traditional Bosnian food like gulas (beef stew) and sakavci (Bosnian meatballs) plus Mediterranean fare such as gyros, dolma, kebabs and pita sandwiches. There are also pizzas, a generous meza platter and a Bosnian version of baklava. The new location will be inspired by European bistros and have a wine and beer menu plus a Dome-style gas/wood pizza oven.
When asked why she chose to relocate to the Galleria, owner Anel said, "My desire was always to move or open a second location in the city. Just the diversity about the city was something I always admired." Unfortunately, that means her many loyal suburban patrons will have to make the drive into town to get their Bosnian cuisine fix.
Riel restaurant in Montrose is temporarily closing and according to a statement released Thursday it is doing so our of an abundance of caution and to allow its staff to be tested for COVID-19. The restaurant closed Thursday night and will remain so through Monday, June 22.
In a statement on instagram it said: "Nobody on our team has tested positive, but we believe that this is the right thing to do for the well-being of our staff and customers. We are being proactive out of an abundance of caution.
"Due to the recent wave of restaurant closures and spike in COVID-19 cases, we want to make sure that everyone is healthy. Despite these challenging times for the restaurant industry and our passion for serving the Houston community, safety is our utmost priority. We will do a full deep cleaning of the restaurant while we are temporarily closed, and we look forward to seeing you at Riel again soon."
Red Crab Juicy Seafood, 8383 Westheimer, is under construction. We reached out to the company for more information about its opening and two other Houston locations at 5370 W. 34th and 9205 S. Main which are also in the works and will relay it when we get it.
Upper Kirby Bistro, 2736 Virginia, was in its soft opening phase when the pandemic restrictions hit, closing its dine-in service. It had recently changed ownership in January and renovations were made before it opened in March. Now, it has reopened with an updated menu that draws from the African Diaspora with dishes based on Creole, Caribbean and African-American cultures and cuisines. The menu includes starters such as Collard and Artichoke dip served with wonton chips and Cauliflower Tacos. Soul-satisfying comfort foods like Oxtails and Grits, served with collards and cabbage, and Curry Roasted Chicken appear on the entree menu along with sandwiches like The Yardbird, a double-dipped fried chicken breast with parmesan-garlic aioli, hot sauce, bread and butter pickles and slaw.
There are New Orleans inspired dishes such as Louisiana Gumbo which features shrimp, chicken, sausage and okra in a homemade roux plus crawfish fried rice and smoked turkey collard greens as sides. Ingredients like coconut milk, guava and passion fruit make their way into cocktails at this River Oaks bistro. The restaurant also offers a New Orleans-style brunch Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Happy hour runs Tuesday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Cigar aficionados can make their way upstairs to the Downing Street Social club for stogies and cocktails.
Co-owner Jocelyn Williams hosted George Floyd's family and close friends at the restaurant after the family had met with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife at Lucille's earlier in the day. Floyd was killed May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on the handcuffed African-American man's neck until he was no longer breathing, resulting in Floyd's death.
Lucky's Pub, 801 Saint Emanuel, shut down the party at 2 a.m., June 13 downtown. The sports pub, which opened in 2007, posted on its Facebook page, blaming the pandemic for shutting down its East End location and offering up a #FUCOVID-19. It went out with a bang, literally, as the owners set off firecrackers the next day to bid farewell. Owner Anthony Wegmann told the Houston Chronicle that it could not negotiate a lease with the landlord but he is looking to find a new location, possibly.
The closing, first reported by Houston Food Finder, came as a shock to many who have frequented the bar for its sports game block parties, week-long St. Patrick's Day festivities and its raucous New Year's Eve celebrations. It was also known for some decent bar food. It has repeatedly been recognized by the Houston Press and also its readers as Best Sports Bar and most recently for Best Happy Hour and Best Bar in 2020.
The pandemic restrictions arrived March 17 just as many bars and restaurants were prepared to have a huge cash inflow from St. Patrick's Day. The move by Governor Abbott to close restaurants and bars for dine-in service may have prevented some more serious consequences such as the damage done in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
Though the EaDo location was party central for Houstonians, Lucky's Pub West, 17754 Katy Freeway, remains open due to a "cool land lord", according to its Facebook page. For those who are feeling the pandemic pinch financially, it is offering some great deals for Taco Tuesday including $1 tacos (beef, pork or chicken), $1 Rolling Rock drafts, $3.75 craft drafts and happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. There are also $2 sliders on Thursday with an 11 a.m to 7 p.m. happy hour. Lucky's loyals can now drown their sorrows on the west side.
Bar 5015, 5015 Almeda Road, was severely damaged by an explosion June 12, which was reported at 4:55 a.m., according to abc13.com . The bar and restaurant had recently reopened May 1 after it closed July 2019 for renovations.
The explosion and resulting fire were being investigated as arson and now, according to khou.com, four men have been caught on video pouring a liquid around the restaurant and deck. Investigators believe the four suspects may have sustained injuries from the explosion but no one else was injured.
Alfreda's Soul Food Cafe next door received some damage as well, thought it appears the mural of famous black personages such as the Obamas, Martin Luther King, Barbara Jordan and Duke Ellington remains intact. The mural was done in 2018 by local artist Victor Gaddie. The barbecue truck which is regularly parked at the location was also damaged.
Buddy's, 2409 Grant, has closed temporarily as first reported by abc13.com. Owner Christopher Barry announced in a Facebook post that the bar had brought back nine employees when it reopened. Unfortunately, five of them have tested positive for COVID-19 including Barry himself. The Montrose gay bar had only been open for 11 weeks when the March 17 restrictions took effect. Barry is now undertaking sanitization and cleaning efforts to prepare for reopening.
Blur Bar, 710 Pacific, has also closed temporarily, according to the Houston Chronicle. In a Facebook post June 14, the longtime Houston LGBTQ dance club stated that it was closing due to employees having tested positive for COVID-19 and that it would remain closed for up to two weeks for a deep cleaning. According to many of its Facebook comments, Blur has been needing a deep cleaning and renovations well prior to the pandemic.
Two other LGBTQ nightclubs, Ripcord, 715 Fairview, and Hamburger Mary's, 2409 Grant, announced June 16 via Facebook that they would close for a week to have employees tested, according to OutSmart Magazine. Both venues are doing so out of precaution with regards to the cases that have been reported elsewhere, not within their own businesses. It's a particularly tough time considering that June is Pride month and a time when the LGBTQ community and its supporters celebrate and advocate for gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and queer equality and human rights.
Pappas Restaurants has reopened the majority of its restaurants, but a dozen or so remain temporarily closed. Diners can check out its website for a list of restaurants that have reopened and others that remain closed for the time being. The website also lists the precautions being taken to ensure the health of its guest and employees.
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Gourmet Ranch also offers a selection of meats by the cut or other boxed packages like the Summer Party Box ($35.65) which offers four 5.3 ounce beef patties, one whole chicken (eight piece-cut), four 6 ounce chicken breast fillets and eight 44 Farms Angus beef franks. There are pick-up and shipping options available.