Hai Hospitality’s plan to bring Loro to Houston has almost come to fruition. First announced two years ago, the Asian smokehouse concept is currently under construction in a former church on 11th Street in The Heights.
Ahead of its expected opening in the first quarter of 2022, Hai director of design Ellen Saathoff, interior designer Chelsea Fanning, and chief branding officer Amber Quist led a group of media, and influencers on a tour of the space. Developed by two James Beard Award winners — Uchi founder Tyson Cole and Franklin Barbecue pitmaster-owner Aaron Franklin — Loro serves dishes that blend its founders’ talents like a brisket sandwich topped with Thai-style papaya salad or oak smoked salmon with cucumber-yuzu broth.
Turning the former W 11th Church of God into Loro has required considerable work, but the Hai team expressed confidence that the wait will be worthwhile.
“This is a really special project to all of us because we got to use this amazing existing building,” Saathoff said. “It has such amazing character and the bones are so cool. It lent itself to becoming Loro.”
The centerpiece of those changes involves transforming the church’s former sanctuary into its main dining room. Converting a place once intended for solemn prayer into a lively atmosphere for eating and drinking required a number of changes.
Most noticeably, the Hai teamed added skylights to let in more light. In addition, the church’s former entrance will be replaced with an east-facing glass wall. Acoustic panels on the ceiling will allow for conversation that won’t get drowned out by echoes. While the framing for the main bar and banquettes has been completed, significant work remains.
“There’s a lot of wood paneling in a Loro that brings in some warmth,” Saathoff said. “The walls will have wood paneling and the bar will have white oak. There’s a lot of wood paneling and finishes that need to be done.”
Moving into the kitchen and smokehouse, Loro will be powered by two large, rotisserie-style smokers from J&R Manufacturing. In recognition of the restaurant’s expected popularity for both dine-in and to-go, its kitchen will be larger than either the Austin or Dallas locations.
“We learned a lot through the pandemic,” Quist said. “We had to-go in Austin, but we weren’t really pushing to-go because we were so busy already; 20 to 30-percent of our business tends to be to-go now, which is significant volume when in Austin we have 1,000 people a day come through our doors.”
Loro will also feature plenty of outside seating. A waiting area near the entrance will feature lounge-style seating, games, and a bar that servers craft beer and frozen cocktails. Those who prefer to eat outdoors will find plenty of picnic tables.
Last weekend’s pop-up should have dispelled any doubts about the restaurant’s potential popularity. It took less than three hours for Houstonians to claim the almost 1,000 reservations for free brisket sandwiches and gin and tonic slushies that Hai offered up. Surely Houstonians can push beyond Austin’s mark of 1,000 diners per day once Loro finally opens its doors.