Influential Washington Avenue restaurant to shutter amidst major changes
Reconcepting has become the hottest trend in Houston restaurants. In the next month, two more restaurants will join the growing movement when L’Olivier becomes Avondale Food & Wine and Hubbell & Hudson Bistro becomes Tris.
While diners have been quick to embrace these changes — consider all the acclaim that’s come Justin Yu’s way for transforming Oxheart into Theodore Rex — restaurateurs would do well to heed Mike Ehrmantraut’s famous advice: No half measures. Making big changes without a name change could lead to confusion from customers who want to know why their favorite dishes have disappeared.
At least, that appears to be the case with the original location of Beaver’s; the restaurant will permanently close on Saturday, September 1. Once cutting edge — Beaver's is famously the last place Bobby Heugel worked before opening Anvil — the restaurant had become overshadowed by newer restaurants. Sensing the need for a major refresh, co-owner Jon Deal ceded day-to-day control to two of his partners, Axelrad owners Adam Brackman and Jeff Kaplan.
“Jeff and Adam had been after me to make major changes,” Deal tells CultureMap. “I thought these are younger guys. I thought they had fresher ideas. They’ve done a good job at Axelrad. I thought let’s give them a run.”
After a six-month closure, the comfort food restaurant reopened with a flourish by bringing back former executive chef Jonathan Jones as an operating partner. Rather than serve a similar menu of Texas comfort food and barbecue like its sibling in Briargrove, Jones blazed a new trail with global flavors and dishes that embraced current trends like the keto diet. Deal says that he initially supported the decision to bring Jones back but questioned the wisdom of taking the menu in a new direction.
“I thought it was a complete mistake, if they were going to try to carry on the Beaver’s conversation,” Deal says. “I didn’t disagree with some lighter items, but Beaver’s has always been big, heavy, fun food.”
Deal isn’t the only skeptic. Reviews on social media have been mixed with confusion from diners about the different menus at the different locations.
After a few months of operating the inbetween concept, Brackman and Kaplan have decided bigger changes are necessary. Together with Beaver’s founder Monica Pope, they’ve decided to redesign the space and give it a new name. Deal and his partner Todd Johnson will keep the Beaver’s name, including its social media accounts, and will operate Beaver’s West independently of their former partners.
“We want to launch something unique and meaningful,” Brackman says. “Our last day of service will be on Saturday. We’ll take a couple of months while we implement and finalize the plans. We’re going to give the staff a little extra pay and offer them jobs at Axelrad in the interim. They’re all be invited back to the new concept when it opens.”
Ultimately, Brackman and Kaplan hope to bring some of Axelrad’s vibe to the new concept. Jones, who declined to comment for this article, will maintain his ownership stake and serve as a consultant on the new restaurant.
“What we like doing is creating fun, playful, urban experience,” Kaplan says. Later, he adds, “We realized it would be an exercise in futility to connect the two concepts. We decided as a group to let that unit be what it wants to be and create a new concept that speaks to the neighborhood and creates some movement for the city.”
Brackman describes the separation as an “amicable divorce,” and Deal offers a similar assessment. “I want to clarify there’s no partnership dispute here. We’re all in agreement with what needs to happen. We’re longtime partners. There’s no bad blood here,” Deal says.
While some may be sad to lose the original Beaver’s, the success that Kaplan and Brackman have had with Axelrad demonstrates their ability to show people a good time. If they can bring a little of that vibe to the Old Sixth Ward, they'll have another hit on their hands.