On this week's episode of What's Eric Eating, JCI Grill president Darrin Straughan joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the 95-year-old restaurant that's fed chili cheese coneys to generations of Houstonians. Straughan, a native Houstonian, details the path that led him to JCI (then James Coney Island) and discusses the challenges of staying relevant in a competitive marketplace.
Part of those efforts at staying relevant has involved collaborations with some of Houston's top chefs — and even the occasional food writer — to introduce new menu items. Currently, the company is offering a gyro dog. While the signature coney dogs will always be the restaurant's top seller, the company does want to provide a diverse menu that caters to different cravings.
"The reason we've rolled out a variety of different items is just to improve the ability to have frequency of our customers coming to the restaurant," Straughan says. "The coney was a low-frequency item. Over the years, we've lost, whether to an aging population or changing trends, not as many people are coming in on a regular basis to eat coneys. We needed to have another reason where you might come instead of once a week maybe twice a week, because of the variety of the menu."
Prior to Straughan joining the show, local restaurant consultant Nathan Ketcham and Sandler discuss the news of the week. Their topics include Jonathan Jones's return to Beaver's, the imminent arrival of healthy eating restaurant Flower Child to Uptown Park, and the settlement Bernie's Burger Bus reached with the Department of Labor over unpaid overtime. In the restaurants of the week segment, two men discuss their visits to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken, Cantina Barba, and the International Smoke preview pop-up.