Changes at Massa's

Downtown changes and post-Harvey slump have 2 Houston restaurants singing the blues

Downtown changes have 2 Houston restaurants singing the blues

Blue by Massa's sign
Blue by Massa's has been downtown for 25 years.  Blue by Massa's/Facebook

By any measure, downtown Houston is booming. The residential population is growing, new hotels have opened, and more restaurants have opened to serve diners.

But all that increased competition — and the relocation of a few large companies to the suburbs — has caused serious problems for one veteran operator who will be making major changes as a result.

“Massa’s has been downtown for 74 years,” Michael Massa tells CultureMap. “We are coming up to some hard issues. We’re working on them right now.”

Massa and his brother Joseph own two restaurants downtown, Massa’s South Coast Grill in the Shops at Houston Center and Blue by Massa’s at 1160 Smith St. Each has faced challenges.

For South Coast Grill, the biggest problem has been increased competition from all of the new restaurants that have opened in and around Avenida Houston. As a result, Massa says that restaurant will close by the end of 2018.

At Blue, the biggest problem has been the loss of corporations like Shell and Exxon to locations in the suburbs. The restaurant’s once-thriving lunch business has declined without executives who could write off a nice lunch as a business expense, and occupancy at the nearby Hyatt is down as people choose newcomers like the Marriott Marquis or Le Meridien. The post-Harvey slowdown has been especially challenging.

“When Harvey hit, we lost a lot of money. We weren’t able to recover from that. I went to my landlord, and they offered me nothing,” Massa says. “It came to an end this weekend when I had to file for bankruptcy. I plan to reorganize and keep it open.”

Still, Massa still thinks Blue, which has been open for 25 years, has a shot to survive the bankruptcy. His reasons for optimism about Blue include a “decent” lunch business and a “booming” happy hour. Unfortunately, weekends have been tough; the restaurant is just far enough away from the nightlife on Main Street to be off diners’ radar. He’s focusing on catering and offering the space to people for weekend events.

“I’ve been at this 42 years. This is not the way I wanted it to end. But I’m confident there’s new opportunities even if I have to start over,” Massa says. “It’s been a fascinating ride. I’m not finished. I love it and I hate it. It’s fun to watch [Houston’s restaurant scene] morph into what it’s doing right now.”