What's in a name?
For restaurants, they can be the difference between getting people intrigued enough to come by or getting lost in the crowd. Lots of Houston restaurants are named for either their owners (Tony's), chefs (Mark's) or someone in the owner's family (Vic & Anthony's). Other restaurants, such as Churrascos or Hugo Ortega's upcoming Caracol, are named for dishes that connote the restaurant's cuisine.
Others are more adventurous. Goro & Gun takes its name from the cult movie classic Tampopo.
Then there are a few that are less obvious. Here's the behind the scenes naming stories of three recent restaurant openings as well as the legend behind the naming of a Houston classic.
After all, who doesn't want to understand restaurant names better?
If there's one restaurant name people want to know about, it's Mr. Peeples, the newly opened steakhouse in Midtown with the over-the-top look. Landmark Hospitality Group owner Lucky Chopra tells CultureMap that the name is entirely made up.
"It’s something you can’t put in a box and explain in traditional terms — and something you won’t find anywhere else."
"It’s a name that exudes fun with a touch of formality," Chopra says. "The name is as unique as the urban chic design fantasia of the restaurant itself, intended to be memorable while stimulating one’s imagination and breaking down the walls of traditional steakhouse names.
"Like its downtown relative Hearsay, the name is intentionally vague in order to allow the concept of Mr. Peeples to evolve without any preconceived notions. It’s something you can’t put in a box and explain in traditional terms — and something you won’t find anywhere else."
In other words, just as the name U2 doesn't imply Bono's soaring vocals and The Edge's shimmery guitar, the name Mr. Peeples doesn't mean anything at all, and the idea is that air of mystery will both lure in diners and allow the restaurant to change over time.
Sugar Land's latest hotspot brings together craft beer, pizzas and waffles in unexpected flavor combinations, but why is it named after the largest planet in the Solar System?
Owner Robert White, who also owns Guru Burgers and Crepes, explains: "Jupiter (the planet) in Hindi is 'Guru.' Not that we speak Hindi, but I thought that was cool. It's my 4-year-old son's favorite planet on his placemat. The wood grain in our pecan bar top and hostess stand looks exactly like Jupiter's surface. Jupiter is round like pizzas and waffles are. "Drops of Jupiter" is one of my favorite songs of all time!"
White's, um, unusual taste in music aside, at least there's a certain logic to this one.
Award-winning pastry chef Roy Shvartzapel and his partners turned to New York City based branding firm Base Design to help them develop a name for the planned "best bakery in America" currently under construction at Westheimer and Dunlavy. Shvartzapel says that as they discussed the ideas for the cafe, he mentioned the common bond that all of the people involved in the project have for achieving their goal.
"We all are of the belief that extraordinary cuisine can and should be available to everyone," he says. "We are united in our passion to bring an outstanding product on every level to patrons from all walks of life."
Also, since he has worked with all of the chefs on the team before, Shvartzapel himself is the common bond that binds them together.
Hidden away in the Warehouse District, the Last Concert Cafe has been serving Mexican food since 1949. Current owner Dawn Fudge traces the restaurant's name back to founder Elena Lopez, who opened Last Concert in her backyard after her husband committed suicide and her son died in World War II.
"Jupiter is round like pizzas and waffles are."
Her nephew suggested the name, because "that way they could attract musicians from the Shamrock or Rice to play the last concert of the night." Fudge says that Lopez told her nephew, "Well, I'm 62 years old, so it's definitely going to be my last concert."
As for the tradition of knocking on the unmarked door for entry, Fudge traces that to the house's even earlier history as a brothel. "That's why there's no sign," she says.
Whether a restaurant name is rooted in a place's history or completely arbitrary, there's always a story to tell. Maybe the world of restaurant names and band names will come together.
Coming someday to Spring Branch: A coffee shop called Strawberry Alarm Clock. Try the incense and peppermints latte. It will be spectacular.