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Amid turmoil in Houston's dining scene, reality TV star vows her restaurant is here to stay

Susie Jimenez Trenza
Susie Jimenez says that Trenza is here to stay.  Photo by Michael Saavedra

With the recent closures of Brio Tuscan Grille, Saint Genevieve and Downing Street, diners and restaurant industry insiders alike have begun to speculate which domino will fall next in the suddenly turbulent Upper Kirby restaurant scene. Turning to the most recent TABC report, some have identified that eight-month old Trenza could be next, because it only reported $9,100 in mixed beverage sales. That's far below other West Ave. restaurants like Del Frico's Grill and Eddie V's, which earned almost 20 times more money (over $180,000 each). 

 With a new menu, the addition of Sunday brunch and the morale boost that comes from her People's Choice awards, Jimenez is optimistic about the future.  

However, chef Susie Jimenez tells CultureMap that her Latin/Indian fusion restaurant is here to stay. She says that her principle investor, former hedge fund manager Sonny Sachdeva, "has patience of  — I don’t even know how to describe it. He’s amazing. There’s not a deadline.

"Sonny has been an amazing friend and business partners. When I got into this, I told him I never opened a restaurant before . . . . I had a successful catering business in Aspen, why would I want to switch my entire thing? I wouldn’t have moved from Aspen to Houston just to see if it would work. I needed to know the assurance that we were going to be in this good or bad, or I wasn’t going to pick up my life and leave my husband for X amount of time and my home just to do a trial."

Jimenez says both she and Sachdeva see reasons for encouragement. "We’ve sat down, and he knows our sales might be low, but we’re introducing things. We’re winning people’s choice (awards) at two festivals."

Learning curve

Since Trenza is her first restaurant, Jimenez acknowledges that she may have stumbled out of the gate, but she says she's learned from her initial mistakes.

"The whole concept at the beginning was tapas-style but bigger plates. . . . Now, I realize being open eight months that Houston wasn’t ready for something like that. They wanted the entrees and appetizers they’re traditionally used to," Jimenez says. "I think as a chef you have to be able to adjust the way people want to do things and be able to adjust the way you do things without just throwing the cards in and saying ‘Oh, I’m going to give you a bunch of Tex-Mex’ or huge entrees and stuff. It took me awhile to get it, but now I feel I have my small appetizers, my soups, my salads and my entrees. People have embraced it."

 "People get very confused. They’re in front of Tootsie’s and they’re, like, we don’t understand where you are."  

One of Trenza's other challenges is its physical location, which is situated directly above Del Frisco's Grill but with an entrance that's around the corner. "People get very confused. They’re in front of Tootsie’s and they’re, like, we don’t understand where you are." Trenza will add signage to its elevator shaft and has added tables to its first floor entrance to better guide people to where they're supposed to go.

One other observation that some people have relates to Jimenez's husband Doug Lyons, who still lives in Colorado. Asked whether she's committed to living in Houston full-time, Jimenez responds quickly and affirmatively.

"When I decided to come onto this project . . . I committed to sacrificing not seeing my husband and not seeing my house and giving up my catering business and sacrificing a little of my TV personality to make this happen. I was given an opportunity that most people don’t. I’m not just going to give it up because the rumors are this and the rumors are that." 

As for Lyons, Jimenez says that her husband "visits me a lot, but it took him 16 years to establish his painting company to be as well known as he is. He can’t really come out here. Once the restaurant does its thing, it’s going to be a little easier for him to stop working as much. When he’s here, he’s fixing my paint. He’s touching up tables. He’s doing stuff that’s very involved in the restaurant. He’s very much involved without really being here."

She notes that they went without speaking to each other for three months while she was on The Next Food Network Star, which makes the physical separation relatively easy. "We’ve been doing this for over a year between the build-out and now it being open. It’s worked out. I’m good with it."

With a new menu, the addition of Sunday brunch and the morale boost that comes from her People's Choice awards, Jimenez is optimistic about the future. 

"We’re just going to keep plugging along," she says. "I'm not worried about it at all."

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