I recently had lunch with the delightful Melissa Stewart, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, to pick her brain about what the industry might see in terms of trends in 2014.
We dined at Frank’s Americana Revival where I had a delightful tuna tartar that I meant to have asked about the provenance of but forgot. (Research for a future column on tuna.)
Anyway, so what can we expect in this New Year?
Stewart says snout-to-tail will still be huge.
“More and more restaurants are having in-house butcher shops,” she says.
“Houston is a foodie town, but we love food that looks like real food."
Sadly, one of the adopters of that, Feast, is no longer with us. But Chris Shepherd still reigns at Underbelly and Randy Evans at Haven does some mean things with a carcass of sustainable veal. And with the availability of locally raised meat, like Black Hill Ranch, the trend is so not surprising.
What did surprise me was her next prediction: More focus on healthy kid options on menus. This after a local eatery made national news last year for banning children at the dinner hour.
“There’s a lot of focus on what we are feeding our kids today,” Stewart, the mother of a young daughter, says. “We are looking at healthier options, even McDonald’s has yogurt on the menu. And with the economy turning, families are going back to real restaurants with their kids and they want healthy choices for the whole family.”
And, because disposable income is increasing for many folks, she predicts that the days of “eating out because it’s Aunt Myrtle’s 100th birthday will turn into eating out because it’s Tuesday.” Good news for restaurants.
Stewart also talked about the increase of gluten-free menu items at local restaurants and that last year’s explosion of ramen will likely continue. Although, like me, she’s not really a fan.
“I don’t get it,” Stewart laughs. “Isn’t that what we ate in college when we were broke?”
She also sees the continuing explosion of craft cocktails at restaurants (I love, love, love John Nova Lomax’s Houstonia article where he coins the term Heugelism, so stealing that!) and had a few broad stroke thoughts.
“And I love the fact that we now have second- and third-generation kids running ethnic restaurants.”
"We will see more concepts inside concepts and pop-up concepts. It’s a great way to try out a restaurant idea.”
Stewart points to Ba Mien Bistro, an outside the Loop Vietnamese restaurant now run by the owners’ kids.
“They are so creative,” she says. “They take orders on iPads, they have Wi-Fi, but they keep the traditional recipes and good pricing.
“So many things closed last year,” Stewart sums up, “ but I think this year we will see more concepts inside concepts and pop-up concepts. It’s a great way to try out a restaurant idea without betting the bank, and it’s very big in New York City right now.”
Think The Pass & Provisions and Cove Cold Bar inside Haven.
“Some concepts just have a shelf life, but if you can put something inside an existing restaurant you can try it out,” Stewart says.
One other note, the Texas Restaurant Association is bringing its annual trade show back to Houston this year. Renamed Marketplace, the event will held at the George R. Brown Convention Center June 22 and 23. Hundreds of exhibitors will showcase the latest products and services. Attendees can learn about the latest industry trends and business best practices and network with the leaders of the restaurant industry.
Sounds like a great 2014 for Houston restaurants.