As Houston approaches the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, parts of the city are still recovering from the storm’s massive floodwaters. That’s particularly true in west Houston, where the decision to release water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs kept people out of their homes and businesses for two weeks or more.
Despite the challenges, Houstonians are determined to come back from these challenges, as one restaurant demonstrates.
Cafe Benedicte, a Mediterranean restaurant on Memorial Drive west of Eldridge, had almost four feet of water in it for 18 days. Closed since the storm, it quietly reopened on August 6.
“As I got here, I started to see and smell the disaster,” owner Vahid Navissi tells CultureMap. “The next morning, we got a demolition crew in here. My family and my friends were all here. We were in awe as to the extent of the damage. By the time we got done, you could see all the way to the other end of the shopping center.”
Due to an oversight, Navissi had neglected to pay a $639 premium on his flood insurance policy. As a result, all of his claims on the damage had been denied. Although the restaurant’s landlord, local real estate developer Braun Enterprises, offered to help, Navissi simply didn’t have the $250,000 or so it would take to rebuild the restaurant. He thought he was done.
Thankfully, the relationships with his customers that Navissi had spent almost 15 years building paid off. “One of my old, longtime customers and friends, who had always said he wanted to open a restaurant with me, he sought me out and said why aren’t you back yet,” Navissi says. “I said, ‘I can’t get the credit line.’ He said, ‘I’ll build it. You run it.’”
With money in hand, Navissi started rebuilding in May. He even did a little light remodeling by extending the bar from nine seats to 22, converting a private dining room into a lounge, and adding a draft system for craft beer.
For the first two or three weeks, Cafe Benedicte is running a limited menu so that Navissi can get his kitchen crew trained and up to speed. After only a week of service, he’s already seeing a mix of returning regulars and some new faces.
As always, the restaurant will earn its customers’ business by going above and beyond. Navissi says he’s never been shy about making something off the menu — everything from fried chicken to kibbe — if he gets a little advance warning and has the ingredients on hand.
“I was fortunate to put a team together that cooks and serves with love and focus,” Navissi says. “Those are the things that are important to me. To have the honor of being people’s second kitchen, it puts the pressure on to do it right.”
Navissi may be feeling the pressure, but for regulars who can’t wait for that first bite of Cafe Benedicte’s signature lasagna or to linger over the popular brunch, just having the restaurant back may be enough.