NY Loves Houston

J.J. Watt taco is #1 at New York restaurant that's a hub for Harvey relief fundraisers

JJ Watt taco is #1 at NY restaurant that's hub for Harvey fundraisers

Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, crowd
Texas ex-pats filled Avenida Cantina in New York to raise funds for Hurricane Harvey relief funds.   Courtesy photo
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, JJ Watt taco
Avenida Cantina chef Adriana Maldondo created a J.J. Watt taco, with proceeds from sales donated to his relief fund for those impacted by Harvey. Courtesy photo
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, Tara Thurman, Shannon Looney, Colleen Thurman, Julie Weil
From left, former Houstonians Coleen Thurman, Tara Thurman, Julie Weil and Shannon Looney organized the fundraiser in New York Photo by Clifford Pugh
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, restaurant interior
A little bit of Texas in New York at Avenida Cantina. Courtesy of Avenida Cantina/Facebook
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, September 2017
The New York restaurant/bar is hosting another fundraiser for Hurricane Harvey relief on Saturday, September 9. Courtesy photo
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, crowd
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, JJ Watt taco
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, Tara Thurman, Shannon Looney, Colleen Thurman, Julie Weil
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, restaurant interior
Harvey fundraiser New York, Avenida Cantina, September 2017

When several transplanted Houstonians in New York approached the owners of Avenida Cantina, a Tex-Mex restaurant in the East Village, about hosting a fundraiser for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, they figured they would be lucky to get 80 of their friends to attend.

But on Thursday night, upwards of 200 twenty-somethings and their pals packed the small restaurant to support the cause. They raised nearly $2,500 to send to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, established by Mayor Sylvester Turner, and the American Red Cross.

"A good portion of the people we brought together are young people who moved to New York for jobs or school and maybe they can only give $10 or $20," said former Houstonian Colleen Thurman, a New York veterinarian who organized the event. "Maybe they would've done that on their own, but I think bringing people together for an event in solidarity with our home city is more convincing and more powerful than texting $10 directly to a charity."

Her Houston friends who live in New York, including Kinkaid grads Shannon Looney, Julie Weil, and Tara Thurman, all marveled at the turnout. "There are so many Houstonians here, it's awesome," Looney said.  

"It shows a lot of people in New York care about Houston," said Tara Thurman (Colleen's sister).

Funds were raised from a "drink special" bracelet that attendees purchase as admission and other donations.

A taco tribute to J.J.

The restaurant's chef, former Houstonian Adriana Maldonado, whipped up a special taco to raise funds for Harvey. It's called the "J. J. Watt taco" — a flour tortilla filled with barbecue brisket over a mound of garlic mashed potatoes and topped with sour cream. All proceeds from the sale of each $6 taco go to Watt's Harvey Relief fund, said Avenida co-owner Josh Gent.

Gent is the only New Yorker among the owners (the others hail from Rockport) but he hastily says his girlfriend hails from Dallas and the restaurant is a gathering spot for Texans fans in New York to watch their team play on TV throughout the season, so he feels like an adopted Texan.

"And 70 percent of our staff here is from Texas, so we got together (after the storm passed in Houston) and figured out what we could do to help. Everyone wants to do something."

Last weekend the bar hosted a fundraiser to benefit the Houston Humane Society. On Saturday (September 9), it is hosting another fundraiser to benefit Houston relief organizations. And on Sunday (September 10), Texans fans in New York will gather at the restaurant to watch the home opener against Jacksonville.

More fundraisers

Other New York restaurants and bars are joining in as well. The El Original TX-MX restaurant in Hell's Kitchen is hosting a "Texas-sized Happy Hour" tonight (September 8), with proceeds benefiting Hugs for Houston. "Our addresses may be in New York, but our homes and our hearts are in Texas," the restaurant said in its invitation.

On September 12, Redemption Bar is hosting a similar "Fundraiser for Texas" and on September 14, Rathbone's sports bar is hosting a "Hurricane Harvey Happy Hour Fundraiser" featuring  drink specials, live music, and a broadcast of the NFL game between the Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals.