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From porn to pasta: Houston restaurant king lauded for completely changing a neighborhood

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News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Rose Carrabba, Johnny Carrabba III, Randi Smith and Johnny Carrabba, April 2014
Rose Carrabba, honoree Johnny Carrabba III, Randi Smith and Johnny Carrabba II. Photo by Jay Ford
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Jeff Steen,  Ellen Cohen , Buddy Bailey, April 2014
Jeff Steen, left, City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen and Bud Bailey. Photo by Jay Ford
News, Kirby Game Changer, Michael Ainbinder, Mary Bowman, Steve Duble, April 2014
Michael Ainbinder, left, Mary Bowman and Steve Duble. Photo by Jay Ford
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Mike Ramsey and Myla Ramsey with Linda Marroquin, April 2014
Mike and Myla Ramsey, left, wth Linda Marroquin. Photo by Jay Ford
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer,  Rob Axelson with Allison de Wynter and Judy Penner, April 2014
Rob Axelson, from left, Allison de Wynter and Judy Penner. Photo by Jay Ford
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Karla and Steve Aranda with the Johnny and "Cow'rrabba, April 2014
Karla and Steve Aranda cut up with Johnny "Cow'rrabba." Photo by Jay Ford
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Bart Duckworth, Dan and Pam Linscomb, John Kuhl, Upper Kirby District board member Patty Chesnick, April 2014
Bart Duckworth, from left, Dan and Pam Linscomb, John Kuhl and Patty Chesnick. Photo by Jay Ford
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Rose Carrabba, Johnny Carrabba III, Randi Smith and Johnny Carrabba, April 2014
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Jeff Steen,  Ellen Cohen , Buddy Bailey, April 2014
News, Kirby Game Changer, Michael Ainbinder, Mary Bowman, Steve Duble, April 2014
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Mike Ramsey and Myla Ramsey with Linda Marroquin, April 2014
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer,  Rob Axelson with Allison de Wynter and Judy Penner, April 2014
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Karla and Steve Aranda with the Johnny and "Cow'rrabba, April 2014
News, Upper Kirby Game Changer, Bart Duckworth, Dan and Pam Linscomb, John Kuhl, Upper Kirby District board member Patty Chesnick, April 2014

The story goes that Johnny Carrabba thought he was buying a neighborhood newsstand back in the mid-'80s when he purchased the lot on Kirby at West Main. But it turned out that the future home of the original Carrabba's was actually an adult bookstore. So when the Italian grill opened in 1986, the Houston Post proclaimed in its headline story on the new eatery, "From porn to pasta."

That was just one of the tidbits offered when Carrabba was recognized with the inaugural Upper Kirby Management District Game Changer Award at a cocktail gathering at 2727 Kirby. As one of the pioneers of the gentrification of Upper Kirby, a founding board member of the Upper Kirby District and the owner of three restaurants in a single stretch of the bustling boulevard, the native Houstonian was a cinch for the honor.

Today, Carrabba oversees his namesake restaurant as well as Mia's and Grace's.

Myla and Mike Ramsey hosted the event on the seventh floor of the residential high-rise that overlooks the recently-installed Tree and Three Flowers sculpture by James Surls. From that aerie, the 120 guests could view the transformation of the once-relatively quiet route connecting River Oaks and West University.

Joining in the brief program were Upper Kirby Management District chairman Rob Axelson, Upper Kirby District Foundation chairman Buddy Bailey and City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who presented a Mayoral proclamation naming it "Johnny Carrabba Day in Houston." Restaurateur Lonnie Schiller introduced Carrabba, who was then interviewed in "fire-side chat" style by Upper Kirby district deputy director Travis Younkin.

Joining in the salute to Carrabba were his fiancé, Randi Smith; his parents Rose and Johnny Carrabba; and a host of friends and Upper Kirby proponents including management district executive director Jamie Brewster, Adele and Dan Hedges, Robin and Danny Klaes, Paty Chesnick, Jeff Steen, Helen and James Schutz, Allison and Dusty Silk and Pam and Dan Linscomb.

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