Spicing up River Oaks
The owners of Armandos are cooking up something new for River Oaks. Chef Armando Palacios and his wife Cinda are bringing their Italian concept Lulu’s to the same shopping center as their legendary Tex-Mex restaurant.
The couple opened the first Lulu’s in Round Top in 2018. Named for Armando’s nickname for Cinda, Lulu’s serves classic Italian such as pizza, pasta, salads, and entrees. The Houston restaurant, which will occupy the Stone Mill Bakers space, is slated to open in summer 2021.
“I’d been wanting to do an Italian restaurant for only 38 years, okay, but then again who’s counting,” Armando Palacios tells CultureMap. “We had the opportunity to take Lulu’s River Oaks location almost three years ago. We decided not to. We decided to do Round Top first.”
Lulu's has developed a strong following in Round Top. With many Round Top visitors also being Houstonians, the couple is confident that the new endeavor will achieve similar success.
“When we talked three years ago, the numbers were crazy. We couldn’t take a chance,” Cinda Palacios adds. “That’s another reason we went to Round Top — for proof of concept. When the pandemic hit, they reached out to us. Obviously, things changed with the numbers, and it made it more attractive to us.”
With only 2,400 square feet and 75 seats, Lulu’s will be an intimate restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The couple envision it as the sort of flexible establishment where someone could come by for coffee and a pastry in the morning on the restaurant’s terrace then come back in the evening for date night. If that dinner happens to be on a Thursday, date night could end with dancing at Armandos.
“It’s going to be different than the surrounding Italian restaurants,” Armando Palacios says. “It’s going to be very understated. It’s going to be the type of place that brings memories of the old Armandos on Shepherd. It’s going to be unbelievable.”
Palacios Murphy Hospitality, the couple’s company, operates a number of concepts in Round Top including Mandito’s, a Tex-Mex restaurant and Popi Burger. Visitors to the area can stay in one of three guest homes the couple designed, and they’ll expand their operations next year with Hotel Lulu, a 13-room boutique hotel.
To manage the growth, the couple recently hired Alex Curley to be the company’s chief operating officer. He brings over 25 years experience in the restaurant industry, most recently serving as COO for Atlanta’s Southern Proper Hospitality group. Curley says he’s utilizing his connections in Washington D.C. and Atlanta to recruit new talent to Houston who have been displaced by the coronavirus pandemic.
“[Talented people] are being extremely careful about where they choose to further their career based on the struggles they had with groups that didn’t fulfill their commitments to them,” Curley says. “This project and Palacios Murphy as a whole is an incubator for a lot of people who are extremely excited to be a part of it. I don’t think the timing could be better.”