Meet The Branch
Hay Merchant, Underbelly alums think outside the loop with new Spring Branch bar
Rarely does a new bar get its start thanks to prompting from an online article, but Hay Merchant bar manager Kyle Pierson cites a post on the Houston Press’s Eating Our Words blog as the inspiration for The Branch, the new craft beer bar he’s opening with partners Amanda Mixon and Madeline Cabezut. An article titled “What If Houston Bars Were Named For What They're Really Like?” prompted a response that the next edition should focus on bars outside the loop.
“Of course, the very first response comment was there are no cool bars outside the loop,” Pierson says. “Part of me bristled at it, because I live outside the loop. I’ve always lived outside the loop. (I thought) Wait, we don’t have any cool bars. I work (at Hay Merchant). I hang out (in Montrose). Why can’t the uncool side of 610 have a cool bar? I’m perfectly qualified to do that.”
Pierson had been trying to open a Belgian soccer bar in EaDo near the Dynamo’s stadium but turned his attention to Spring Branch, where he found that local real estate developer Braun Enterprises was looking for a new tenant for the former Otilia’s restaurant on Long Point. Lured by its proximity to 610, they came to terms on the space. Renovations begin this week. If all goes according to plan, The Branch should open in March.
Cabezut brings her experience as a former Underbelly sous chef who oversaw the restaurant’s catering operations to the bar’s Mexican-inspired menu. Pierson describes Mixon as a former Miller spokesmodel with a deep passion for Belgian beer who will both bartend and use a business degree from UCLA to oversee back of the house operations.
As a standalone space with a generous patio, Pierson thinks he can attract neighborhood locals by providing 25 to 30 taps of craft beer and happy hour commuters by providing a respite from the Katy Freeway’s grueling traffic.
Currently, Pierson plans for The Branch to divide its taps as follows: 10 taps of popular craft beer favorites like Saint Arnold Lawnmower and Lone Pint Yellow Rose; 10 taps of hoppy IPAs and higher ABV stouts for more dedicated craft beer fans; and six “sour towers” that serve the Belgian beer that Pierson feels the most affection for.
“Ten for the real beer geeks, 10 for the lay people, and six sours and Belgians that are for me,” Pierson says. “I think that’s a nice way to share it so everyone gets what they want.”
In addition to draft beer, The Branch will offer a selection of bottled beers, including Belgian Trappist ales. The bar will also have a full liquor license. Look for frozen margaritas, a solid whiskey selection, and simple, highball-style cocktails.
Turning to the food, Cabezut’s menu will offer a Tex-Mex spin on traditional bar fare. For example, a riff on a cheesesteak that starts with thinly-sliced sirloin, which is seasoned like fajitas, topped with queso blanco instead of Provolone and served on a torta roll instead of a hoagie.
“We really want to do tacos, but there’s a taco truck across the street (selling them) for 98 cents. I can’t compete with that,” Pierson says. “We’re still working all that out. We do have a preliminary menu set. It’s mainly a lot of snacky, shareable things.”
Of course, if the bar’s customers demonstrate interest in dining at it more like a restaurant, the menu can be expanded into more traditional entrees, too. In that sense, Pierson plans to follow the lessons he’s learned at Hay Merchant, which added brunch and family-style entrees in response to earning almost 50 percent of its revenue from food.
“You have the business that you want to open and you’ve dreamed of opening, and you have what you actually open,” Pierson says. “I think the customers dictate, they have as big a say in it as I do. We’re in the service industry. You listen to your customers and you do your best to give them what they want.”