Two weeks. For the last year or so, that’s the answer operating partner Stephen Harrison has been giving any time someone asked him about the opening date of Retrospect Coffee Bar, the new cafe that’s located on the same Midtown block as Axelrad Beer Garden and Luigi’s Pizzeria.
Original plans for a fall 2015 opening got pushed back as the plan to meld the property’s 1920s era gas station with a shipping container that houses the kitchen, prep area, office, and bathrooms took longer than expected. The delay also allowed time for the cafe to secure a historic landmark designation from the City of Houston.
Finally, “two weeks” actually means two weeks. The work has been completed, save for a few final items on the punchlist that need to be knocked out before seeking a Certificate of Occupancy that will allow Retrospect to open. Now Harrison and his staff can focus on dialing in the Slayer espresso machine, finalizing crepe recipes, stocking the beer, and all of the other details that will turn the space into a functioning restaurant.
As part of the “Almeda Yards” block that includes Axelrad and Luigi’s, Retrospect will give the area an all-day utility that should mesh well with the neighboring businesses and HCC campus. Student and professor discounts will be available to build a relationship between college and cafe.
“I think the community is pumped,” Harrison tells CultureMap. “People come by everyday, asking, looking in. We’re ready.”
Although the gas station itself is pretty tiny, Retrospect will have plenty of outdoor seating thanks to tables out front and a large fenced-in courtyard that will be home to movie nights, drag bingo, and other events. Ideally, the spaces serves as a more sedate alternative to Axelrad’s energetic atmosphere.
The heart of the food menu will be a selection of crepes named after prominent Houstonians and Texans like Barbara Jordan, Willie Nelson, Sam Houston, and Marvin Zindler (filled with chicken, of course). Priced at $7 to $9, the crepes are intended to be filling and affordable.
“We started very humbly with the crepes,” Harrison says. “We went straight to Youtube and started learning. How do they make a crepe in France? How do they make a crepe in Japan? What’s a street style crepe in China? Learning about the different ways of approaching it and trying to figure out what would be our way.”
Other offerings will mix items made in house such as a salads, sandwiches, and baked goods with vegan options from Pat Greer’s Kitchen, pastries from Angela’s Oven, and ice cream from Honeychild Sweet Creams. A rotating crew of food trucks will provide heartier dinner for the cafe, which will be open until 10 pm during the week and midnight on weekends.
Retrospect will serve Boomtown coffee as its base espresso but also plans to feature selections from local roasters like Katz Coffee, Amaya Roasting Company, Java Pura, and Xela Coffee Roasters. “There’s a lot of good coffee in Houston,” Harrison notes. While the staff has a preference for espresso beverages, they won’t be shy about pouring drip coffee for a student who wants a quick caffeine hit before class.
“There’s a lot of shops that take coffee to a very high, serious level,” Harrison says. “I think our approach is somewhere in the middle. We want to be able to offer a great cup of coffee and have the equipment and knowledge behind it but not necessarily force that on everybody, kind of work with people where they’re at.”
People looking to unwind rather than speed up can opt for a can of beer from a rotating selection of Texas craft options, which, like the food trucks, should give Retrospect the same sort of all-day utility that’s made places like Siphon Coffee and Black Hole so successful.
At least, that’s the plan. Harrison and his crew will find out when they open the doors is about two weeks. For real this time.
Retrospect Coffee Bar, 3704 La Branch St.