How many food halls can downtown Houston support? Three are already slated to join Conservatory: Finn Hall, which will feature a mix of first-time concepts and new locations of popular concepts like Dish Society and Goode Company; Bravery Chef Hall, where chefs will cook in front of diners; and Lyric Market, which is being curated by chef Charles Clark and his business partner Grant Cooper (Brasserie 19, Coppa Osteria, etc).
Add the Capitol Tower to the list. Real estate development and construction firm Skanska has enlisted Austin’s Michael Hsu Office of Architecture (Uchi, Hunky Dory) to help it develop a food-oriented concept for the tunnel level of the 35-story, LEED certified office building.
Understory, a name Hsu suggested due to both its literal meaning as “the lively space between the forest canopy and the underbrush” as well as its recognition that the space is under the ground level of the building, will offer a full service restaurant, seven chef-driven food counters, and a cocktail bar. Located at 800 Capitol St., formerly the site of the Houston Club building, the prime location in the heart of downtown’s central business district offers five points of tunnel access. While that should ensure steady lunch business for all of Understory’s restaurants, Skanska intends for it to be a destination of evenings and weekends, too.
“It’s really a public place that more than people in the building can enjoy, Matt Damborsky, executive vice president for Skanska USA Commercial Development in Houston, tells CultureMap. “We are seeing downtown, it’s definitely changing very rapidly with more residents. We’re located next to the Theater District. We hope to have patons come before or after a show.”
To achieve that goal, the building will have prominent signage at the street level to lure visitors in (most of the tunnels are closed on evenings and weekends). In additions, Understory will need to recruit the sort of operators who will make the space a food hall and not a food court. While the company isn’t ready to reveal any names, they’re targeting the right kind of concepts to make the space a draw.
“Most of the engagement we’ve had so far are chefs with one or two locations, a couple are from outside the city of Houston,” Damborsky says. “We’re looking for a diverse mix of options. Later he adds, “As we investigate different chefs and their concepts, we’re trying to make it a mix that will appeal to a wide variety of people.”
One thing is certain — the place will look good. Skanska’s announcement touts design features that include “artist murals, copper-clad kitchen hoods, wooden butcher block countertops and white marble.” Skanska’s goal is that the space becomes an important part of downtown.
“We’re trying to create more than a place to eat,” Damborsky says. “We want to partner with the visual and performing arts for more than food. In the end, we want it to be a place for people who are visiting Houston to go see and go visit.”