Two for one? Heights restaurant empire expands, brings Northern Thai cuisine plus one fishmonger
Fresh off having announced future plans to open Hunky Dory, a tavern concept in The Heights helmed by former Feast chef Richard Knight, the Treadsack restaurant group revealed that a recent pop-up dinner is a preview of its next food venture.
This new restaurant, called Foreign Correspondents, will be located on the same property as Hunky Dory. Chef PJ Stoops will end his tenure as Houston's premier fishmonger to reenter the kitchen and serve Northern Thai cuisine.
When Treadsack got the opportunity to secure the land for Hunky Dory, company principals Chris Cusack and Joey Treadway decided to try to conceive a second restaurant that would help manage the expense of real estate. With rental rates in The Heights going for between $38 and $42 per square foot, Cusack thought that if they could find the right concept, it would relieve some of the pressure off financing Hunky Dory. The group's other assets include restaurant Down House, ice house D&T Drive Inn and Sugar & Rice magazine.
Cusack describes both Knight and Treadsack culinary director Benjy Mason as "big Asian food guys," and says that the idea of a Thai restaurant was "something we'd been kicking around." Knowing that Stoops had both professional cooking experience and a passion for Thai food that stemmed from a three-year stint in Thailand, the Treadsack chiefs decided to approach Stoops about possibly consulting on the project. While Stoops started the bycatch movement in Houston, he was finding it increasingly difficult to compete against bigger operators.
"Two minutes into the conversation, PJ was, like, 'I'll do it,' " Cusack recalls while laughing. "It was something he was looking to do."
The group organized the Midnight Sticky Rice pop-up dinner at D&T Drive Inn to gauge interest in the concept from diners and evaluate whether to move forward with Stoops. When Cusack cautiously approached Stoops to discuss ways to improve some of the dishes, Stoops already had several ideas.
"I knew he was the guy at the end of the first night's service," Cusack says. "I know very few chefs who would pick apart dishes after a grueling service."
"One thing that was important to us was to acknowledge that while this is a cuisine that we really care about and are very interested in, we are not Thai people and we are not claiming to be authorities. Foreign Correspondents sort of captured that feeling for us. It’s about being respectful and passionate chroniclers and translators of a cuisine . . . . We truly believe that Foreign Correspondents and Hunky Dory have the potential to be interesting and important on a national scale and at the same time solid neighborhood restaurants for the the Heights."
Given the talent behind it, there's reason to be hopeful that Foreign Correspondents can join Washington, D.C.'s Little Serow, Austin's Sway and Portland's Pok Pok as shining examples of chef-driven, Thai-inspired concepts that are earning serious national press. In the meantime, Cusack expects to host more pop-ups to preview the restaurant's cuisine. CultureMap will have those details as soon as they're available.