On this week's episode of What's Eric Eating, Veronica and John Avila join CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss their three concepts: barbecue restaurant El Burro & The Bull, modern general store Henderson & Kane, and upcoming bakery Sweet Mary's.
The conversation begins with John Avila describing his roots in the restuarant business, which go back to sweeping the floors at his grandparents' barbecue restaurant in Bryan, Texas. Ultimately, Avila made his way to Austin where he worked for Melissa Brinckmann at Cake and Spoon before spending time at Franklin Barbecue. He met Veronica in Houston shortly before moving to Brooklyn to open restaurants there. After returning home, he and Veronica launched El Burro & the Bull, which serves both barbecue and Mexican-inspired dishes at the Conservatory food hall in downtown Houston. The couple shares the various influences that shaped the restaurant's menu, as well as the steps they're currently taking to open a brick and mortar version of the restaurant.
From there, they move on to Henderson & Kane, the modern general store they just opened in the Old Sixth Ward that will celebrate its official grand opening on July 4. The new business provides another outlet for the Avila's barbecue and sells a range of retails items including eggs and produce from Texas farms, wine and beer, and crafts. Veteran barista Jeremy Masters oversees H&K's coffee program. So far, the shop is off to a strong start, drawing people from its neighborhood to visit multiple times per week and expanding its offerings to include vegan food items.
Although the couple has spent over a year working on Sweet Mary's, the podcast is their first time discussing it publicly. Inspired by the bakeries that John Avila patronized while growing up in Houston's East End, Sweet Mary's will offer a full range of pastries, breads, and sweets. Veronica Avila has created the design, which will utilize shipping contains and be located on the esplanade directly across from The Original Ninfa's on Navigation. While all of the couple's projects reflect elements of their heritage, Sweet Mary's is particularly special.
"It's a cultural thing. A lot of us grew up with it. An opportunity to have those things again, to eat those things again, to show up every weekend, we were just waiting for the opportunity to do this kind of thing," John Avila says. "It's near and dear to our heart, because it's been our way of life our whole childhood to go to these places and grab stuff. We want to be able to put it right in the middle of Navigation."
Prior to the Avilas joining the show, Sandler and co-host Nathan Ketcham discuss the news of the week. The segment begins with Ketcham recounting the various ways Anthony Bourdain shaped his career in the restaurant industry and the loss he feels since Bourdain's recent death by suicide. Sandler notes that Bourdain's death has prompted some important conversations in the restaurant community, including via writer Kat Kinsman's group Chefs With Issues, which is devoted to helping people in the restaurant community who are struggling with mental health issues, and David Chang, who spoke movingly about his battle with depression on a recent episode of his podcast.
The rest of the segment is considerably lighter, with the duo sharing some thoughts on Goodnight Hospitality's plans to open three new concepts in Montrose and commenting on the recent openings of Pitch 25, Brian Ching's soccer bar and beer garden that's been a smash hit in EaDo, and Calle Onze, the new Mexican-inspired restaurant from the owners of Edison & Patton. In the restaurants of the week segment, Sandler and Ketcham recount their recent meals at Robard's Steakhouse in the Woodlands, which has some new energy since the arrival of chef David Morris, and Dream Tacos TX, the new concept from Jenni's Noodle House owners Jenni and Scott Tranweaver.
Anyone in crisis, or who knows someone in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741.