In the conversation about where to go for Houston’s best chicken fried steak, one restaurant pops up again and again: Hickory Hollow. And why not? The restaurant has been serving them for 41 years at its Fallbrook location in northwest Houston and for over 31 years at its Heights Boulevard location just off Washington Avenue.
February 2019 will be a sad day for fans of the Heights location. Owner Tony Riedel has sold the property to local real estate developer Braun Enterprises, who plans to find a new tenant for the space. The Fallbrook location will remain open, and the restaurant plans to consolidate its successful catering business there, too.
“I’ve been at this for 50 years. I’ll be 70 this year. It’s time to step back,” Riedel tells CultureMap. “I’m working towards that, which I imagine will be 2020 [when that happens.] This is step number one.”
Riedel explains that Braun approached him two years ago about the possibility of acquiring the 4,400-square-foot building and, most importantly for an Inner Loop restaurant, its spacious parking lot. He wasn’t ready to sell then, but a couple of recent health scares have convinced him that the time is right to slow down and spend more time with his family. After some negotiating, they agreed on a purchase price last week (terms of the deal have not been disclosed).
“We strongly value well-placed, inner loop second generation restaurants,” Braun director of leasing Zach Wolf tells CultureMap. “The property is directly across the street from the new mixed-use H-E-B. There is already tremendous traffic in the area, and it will only increase with that project.”
Still, the restaurant will remain open through January 2019. That gives customers plenty of time to get their fill of chicken fried steak or the restaurant’s signature pecan-smoked barbecue. Like Goode Co., Hickory Hollow comes from a time before trendy, new school barbecue joints could sell out of meat at 2 pm and still build a following. The same pitmaster has been tending the smoker for 23 years.
Hickory Hollow is also one of the very few places where people can go to see live music with no cover and no minimum. A small stage in the rear of the dining room hosts a bluegrass jam on Wednesdays and western swing or folk music on Fridays and Saturdays. Those performances will probably form the basis of some sort of farewell event once the closing date in January gets closer.
In a restaurant world where even making it to five years in business can be difficult, being open for 31 takes real skill. Riedel cites his longtime employees (half have been there 10 years or more) as a big part of the restaurant’s success. Respect for their contributions to the business is part of the reason he’s making the announcement about the closing now.
“There will be some people who will not be employed [with us] when this is done, and that’s the scary part,” Riedel says. “We want to treat them with some dignity as opposed to, ‘hey, tomorrow’s your last day. Here’s your box. Load up and go.’”
The regulars who eat there a couple times a week (or more) will certainly miss the convenience of the Heights location, but they’ll still be able to get their fix from time to time. They’ll just have to drive a little farther for it.