There's a familiar face heading downtown. Haritas Bibas has run Greek-American diners around Houston for 30 years, and it was his name on both Bibas Diner on West Gray and Bibas One's-A-Meal (now Theo's), both of which he later sold. Now he's opening a new counter-service concept called Bibas Brooklyn Express on Main Street at Congress in the former El Rey spot.
"I sold the place on West Gray because I hate that old man . . . time. I'm 78 years old," Bibas tells CultureMap. "But I went crazy for six months doing nothing, and I escaped from Connecticut because my wife and my children called the psychiatric center to put me in the nuthouse. Because when you open a place at 78, you belong in the nuthouse.
"So here I am, I'm too old for everything but work. Work for me is an aphrodisiac."
Bibas is putting in an awning that will wrap around the corner. "I'm going to make it look like Times Square," he says.
The layout hasn't changed much since the space was El Rey, with a large counter set up for ordering ready-made pizzas and Greek salad, plus a coffee bar with stool seating and several tables. Bibas has added some throwback Tiffany-style lamps and rainbow-colored umbrellas on the patio. Bibas says he's also putting in an awning that will wrap around the corner.
"I'm going to make it look like Times Square," he says.
Like his other concepts, Bibas Brooklyn Express will be open 24 hours a day, serving much of the same Greek-American diner fare minus the full-service staff. Bibas boasts that he has the best pizza in town, and he's focusing on serving it to a busy downtown lunch crowd.
"I'm going to break the record on being fast. At lunchtime I see Niko Niko's, who has excellent food, people are standing in line for 15 minutes. If you have a 30 minutes to eat, 15 minutes is gone," Bibas says.
"You've got to be blind not to see it, the area is dead. Downtown is dead. . . . I believe I'm going to make a contribution to this area to come back."
Still, despite being located right by a METRO stop, Bibas is moving into a tough part of downtown. Hotel Icon declared bankruptcy before being sold, and Cava Bistro, Cielo's and El Rey have all shuttered since January 2011.
"You've got to be blind not to see it, the area is dead," Bibas says. "Downtown is dead. . . . I believe I'm going to make a contribution to this area to come back. There's a need for it."
Bibas Brooklyn Express is set to open this Saturday.