a new cafe annie

Houston restaurant institution announces shutter and massive makeover with major restaurateur

Houston restaurant institution announces shutter and massive makeover

Robert Del Grande Benjamin Berg
Robert Del Grande will partner with Benjamin Berg on the new Café Annie. Photo by Fulton Davenport

The beloved Café Annie, long a Houston destination for everything from power lunches to date nights to special occasion dining, is about to get a new look, name, and leadership team.

Berg Hospitality has announced that it will take over the restaurant, which will close on May 16; renovation on Café Annie will begin on May 17. Benjamin Berg will partner with Robert Del Grande, the current chef and owner of Café Annie, on a new concept in the space at 6 BLVD Place. The Annie Café & Bar will open fall.

“I’m really excited,” Berg tells CultureMap. “Robert is an amazing guy, and he’ll stay executive chef, but I’ll put my two cents worth in once in a while.” Berg and Del Grande are slated to meet this week to talk about new menu concepts. Del Grande says he understands how personal food can be to diners, and he wants them to realize the emphasis Café Annie has always placed on executing simple ingredients well isn’t going anywhere.

“With something like our crab tostadas, that everyone really loved, to me, it was about having great crabs and great avocados and great technique. I look at those three things and see 24 different variations. So, I can tell people, look this new dish is super close to the dish you love. Don’t not like it until you try it.”

Del Grande, too, is looking forward to the partnership.

“Ben is full of energy and full of ideas,” he tells CultureMap. “And I was looking for a strategic partner who could take the restaurant into the future and beyond me. You know, when [Ed] Wulfe [the managing partner of BLVD Place] asked me if I wanted another 10-year lease, I looked at that number and added it to my age and I thought, well, maybe it’s time to transition.”

Berg and Del Grande began speaking informally about the partnership last year, but Berg says over the last three months, talks took on more serious tones, and the pair decided to formally partner on the reimagined restaurant. Del Grande liked that Berg’s approach to food and restaurant history was similar to his own — both confess a love to poring over old menus from iconic restaurants around the country – and he felt Café Annie was in great hands with Berg Hospitality. For Berg, it’s an opportunity to be in the ever-evolving Galleria area, and putting his group’s stamp on one of Houston’s icons.

The 11,000-sqaure-foot space will undergo an overhaul before its reopening. Berg says he’s got plans to put restrooms on the second floor; add about 50 seats to the bar; and give the restaurant new interiors, lighting, and furnishings.

“I see a lot of whites and greens,” he says. “I really want to open it up. I felt it was a little dark. And I think everyone’s going to be excited about restrooms upstairs, and I know everyone’s going to love the expanded bar. We’re looking forward to have a really cool cocktail program with fresh juices and mixes.” Berg says that as the restaurant is closing, he’s working with its staff to find places for them at current Berg Hospitality concepts, including the newly opened B.B. Italia and B.B. Pizza over in the Energy Corridor.

Both Berg and Del Grande think the restaurant’s transformation will be one that diners will appreciate. And they’re pumped to work with each other on its evolution. “I think we’re both excited to be doing this together,” says Berg.

“I’ve always loved being in a band more than being a solo artist,” echoes Del Grande. “And the fact is, time exists. A lot of people in the kitchen now weren’t even born when we opened Café Annie. And they’re the future. We’ll find ways to keep the restaurant young and vibrant.”