One of Houston's most beloved food stands is ready to make the move to a brick and mortar space. For almost five years, "Buffalo" Sean Carroll has stood at the corner of Westheimer and Taft operating the Melange Creperie stand.
Houstonians have come to love Carroll's street style crepes with imaginative, locally-inspired fillings.
In order to raise the necessary funds to find a permanent home, Carroll and his wife Tish Ochoa started a Kickstarter campaign Wednesday morning with a goal of $50,000, which is consistent with the amount raised by food truck H-Town StrEATs for Hugs & Donuts and pastry chef Rebecca Masson for Fluff Bake Bar. If the campaign reaches its stretch goal of $100,000, Carroll vows to remain in Montrose.
Carroll tells CultureMap he's been searching for equity investors for two years to open a restaurant, but the process has been frustrating at times.
"I’d like to be in Montrose, because it’s where the artists and the students are. It’s the Left Bank of Houston."
"I ran into the brick wall of high expectations and my not being a sales guy. They said 'Yes, we’d love to.' Then they absolutely disappeared, which is what happens in sales," Carroll says. He has new partners ready to support him, but is looking to the popular crowd funding site to push him "over the hump."
Part of the reason Carroll is pulling the trigger now is that Mangos, the bar that Melange operates in front of, will close next month. Carroll says he'd love to take it over for a permanent home, but the space has two problems.
"He’s going to ask an astronomical amount (in rent) because the property taxes are so high," he says. Beyond that, the building's interior will require a significant investment — somewhere between $60,000 and $90,000, depending on the amount of damage a contractor finds once she's able to knock down walls.
"I’d like to be in Montrose, because it’s where the artists and the students are. It’s the Left Bank of Houston. It’s where bohemians and the Pride parade is. It’s the Greenwich Village of Houston," Carroll says.
In addition to the cool factor of being in Montrose, Carroll has an economic motivator as well. "The entire city drives to Montrose to eat. There are lots of great restaurants in The Heights. Everyone in Garden Oaks drives to The Heights to eat. But not from Katy, not from Missouri City, not from West U," he says.
As much as longtime Montrose residents like to complain about the changes that have occurred in the neighborhood, Carroll sees an upside to all the development and construction. "You’re going to say, ‘I do not want to get out into Montrose traffic. I am going to go downstairs and either ride my bike or walk,' " Carroll predicts.
In such an environment, customers could peddle to Melange and enjoy a crepe before continuing on to another destination.
Houston Restuarant Options
If Montrose doesn't work out, Carroll has other options.
"I would absolutely consider Washington, the Heights and downtown as being as cool as Montrose as far as being able to hit the right demographic, aka people who know what crepes are . . . Those three places I just mentioned are reasonably the same as far as price," he says.
Part of the reason Carroll is pulling the trigger now is that Mangos, the bar that Melange operates in front of, will close next month.
"Then you move into where it’s starting to be really hip. You have the panache of the East End. You have Midtown starting to fill in while still having lower rents compared to the Montrose and the Heights. You have Garden Oaks and you have the northeast side just east of The Heights."
Carroll's search shows the lengths would-be restaurant owners are going to in order to secure a space. In addition to those places, he's also scouting in Eastwood, at second generation spaces along Almeda and beyond. "I talked to a realtor who’s trying to push a strip center at 34th and Ella. I had an art collector offer me a free space to build out at their Warehouse in the East End. Free rent — in five years that goes a long way."
Regardless of where he eventually signs a lease, Carroll vows that Kickstarter backers will get their rewards quickly. First day backers are invited to a party Wednesday night at Good Dog. Pledging as little as $1 will get contributors discounts on beer at the party. Other rewards include discounts at local business during the campaign.
Tangible rewards won't dawdle either. "We’re offering things that will come out in the summer as far as printing them and getting them out to people. Then we have the bigger rewards for crepes and parties. We’re looking at that for September," Carroll says.
"We want a six month timeframe for this. We do not have the ability to let this drag out for two years like some restaurants."
Dig deep Houston. The time has come to build a permanent crepe stand.