The 7th Annual Houston Exotic Auto Festival & Luxury Lifestyle E-X-P-O is an automobile show that brings together all luxury and exotic brands to a single site. Exotic and ultra-luxury car owners and collectors will enjoy the unique opportunity to celebrate their masterpieces in front of an enthusiastic audience.

Trophies and prizes will be awarded to the best automobiles in Houston under several categories. Winners will be selected by a team of judges, and one of the two “Best of Show,” and Second-best of show awards will be picked by the audience.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz

Red-hot Houston crowd revs up posh Porsche palace's grand opening

porsche party

The highly anticipated opening of an luxurious automotive and lifestyle brand’s landmark locale recently revved up Houston’s social season.

More than 500 partiers and car enthusiasts joined Dr. Kjell Gruner, president of Porsche North America, and Sonic Automotive CEO Dave Smith and president Jeff Dyke to pack the posh new Porsche River Oaks.

More of a showroom and architectural/design gem, the new outpost is so much more than a typical dealership. Those familiar with the area will no doubt recognize the space on 4007 Greenbriar Dr. as Stahlman Lumber Company’s former home.

Local event guru Deborah Elias of Elias Events engineered a red-hot affair that spanned two floors and more than 40,000 square feet. Aside from drool-worthy Porsches of every type (including gorgeous classic rides), the grand opening soiree featured a surprise performance by country singer Clint Black, and an appearance by Houston’s “Rocket” Hall of Fame pitching legend Roger Clemens and Dynamo icon Brian Ching.

As they arrived, guests were greeted by (literally) high-flying aerial acrobats, then with glasses of champagne topped with sugar cubes emblazoned with the iconic Porsche logo.

A shimmering wall step and repeat, pyrotechnics, and 360 photo booth, plus DLG Ice Factory’s ice wall raw bar (featuring the Porsche logo), and a cocktail chemistry station with drinks created in tail-pipe-inspired vessels set the mood. As visitors strolled, they were met by balloon clouds, a strolling sax player, and a psychedelic, interactive art installation with motion tracking.

Then it was time to hit the pop-up nightclub, which was held in the dealership’s spotless shop, and boasting multiple bars, digital 3D mapping elements and motion lighting, and tasty treats by Los Angeles-based Gastro Garage.

Upstairs, the second-floor showroom starred a “rockestra” band and delicious, cheese wheel pastas tossed with truffle. The car crowd was quick to check out the Fitting Lounge, where customers can choose everything from leather finishes to shift knob designs, doubled as a Porsche design watch showcase.

Aside from the show-stopping, collectible vehicles, artwork came courtesy of The Whale Tail Project, an eye-catching sculpture series from European artist Johans Lamic, which reinterpreted the iconic 930 turbo spoiler and mingled with stunning red rose arrangements.

Also upstairs, Clemens, the Hall of Famer and former Astros legend, shared a stirring story of how he offered his beloved Porsche for charity and how it moved him in a speech that inspired laughs and thunderous applause.

Clearly, no one was eager to leave, but when they did, those departing were gifted with pina colada popsicles and goodie bags of Porsche swag. More partners making the night a success included Bravo Entertainment, Premier Sound and Lighting, Louie Balloonieville, Kirksey Gregg Productions, and AFR.

While brand new on the scene, the new dealership is hardly a secret: One guest shared with us that he’s already placed an order for the coveted and wildly rare ride that’s set for delivery soon. In all, it was a grand prix night for an elite new venue.

Seen on the scene: Roger Clemens, Brian and Mary Elizabeth Ching, David Gow, Marcelo Saenz and Adrian Duenas, Elizabeth and Alan Stein, Andrew Pappas, Kyle Rottet, Ally Ondarza, Jose Ocque, Heather Almond, Jessica Rossman, Jennifer Roosth, Hayden Jefferies and Isrel Fonseca, Dom McGee, Lisa Gochman, Chong Yi, Kayvon Sohrabi and Dr. Roland Maldonado, Beth Muecke, Roz and Alan Pactor, and many more.

The Gastro Garage.

Photo by Daniel Ortiz
The Gastro Garage.

New Buc-ee’s car wash 'tunnel' in Baytown may scrub Katy facility as world’s longest

tunnel vision

Today, the Buc-ee’s convenience store in Katy is home to the world’s longest car wash. But could a new Buc-ee’s car wash in Baytown soon knock the Katy operation off its pedestal next year?

A recent filing with the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration shows Lake Jackson-based Buc-ee’s plans to spend $6 million to add a car wash “tunnel” at its Baytown location, which opened in 2014 at 4080 East Fwy. The filing says construction will begin in November and wrap up in May 2023.

There’s no indication, though, how long the Baytown car wash will be. Therefore, we don’t know yet whether the Baytown facility will steal the title of world’s longest car wash from its 255-foot-long counterpart in Katy. For the sake of comparison, an NFL football field is 360 feet long.

Given that the Baytown project is still early in concept, a representative for Buc-ee’s wasn’t able to comment, but does promise an update when available.

As locals will recall, Katy’s store, including the massive car wash, opened in 2017 at 27700 Katy Fwy. A Southern-themed website, It’s a Southern Thing, notes that the tunnel-shaped car wash “looks more like a playland than a car wash, with all kinds of washers and scrubbers and multi-colored foam. If a kid ever dreamed up a car wash, this would be it.”

The Katy car wash cost about $3 million to build, suggesting that the $6 million Baytown car wash might be longer. The Katy facility features 25 brushes, 17 high-powered blow dryers, and suds in blue, yellow, and pink, according to the Atlas Obscura website.

“It takes five minutes to go through the entire building,” Atlas Obscura says, “and can accommodate up to 16 cars at a time.”

It should come as no surprise to any Texan that cult favorite Buc-ee’s — known for its squeaky clean restrooms, Beaver Nuggets snacks, and abundance of gas pumps — operates the world’s longest car wash. After all, it already runs the world’s largest convenience store.

For years, the Buc-ee’s store in New Braunfels (close to 65,000 square feet) has held the title of world’s largest convenience store. Recently, the convenience store chain has planned larger locations in Tennessee and Colorado. Those two out-of-state stores are under construction.

So, for the time being, the New Braunfels store remains the world’s largest.

The company revealed in June that a 75,000-square-foot replacement store in Luling, outside Austin, would return to Texas the honor of hosting the world’s largest convenience store after the Tennessee and Colorado locations open.

In perhaps proof that the beloved beaver haven is a true cultural icon, Buc-ee’s was featured in a lengthy CBS Sunday Morning segment — appropriately titled “Welcome to Buc-ee’s”— in January.

Image courtesy of TDECU

Houston-area credit union pumps up customers with new Buc-ee’s credit card

who needs a black card?

Buc-ee’s fanatics, rejoice! As consumers cope with skyrocketing prices, those Beaver Nuggets and gas purchases are getting cheaper for certain credit card holders.

A new credit card from Houston-area credit union TDECU offers a five percent discount for in-store and at-the-pump Buc-ee’s purchases made with the card. TDECU says holders of the new Buc-ee’s Platinum Mastercard, featuring the iconic Buc-ee’s logo, can take advantage of the discount at participating Buc-ee’s locations.

“We are thrilled to share the expanded benefit of our Buc-ee’s partnership with our Members, at a time when they need it most,” Isaac Johnson, president and CEO of TDECU, says in a news release. “Buc-ee’s travel centers have become their own must-see destinations, and we are excited to give our Members another reason to stop along their financial journeys.”

TDECU members with other Mastercard or Visa credit cards will continue to receive a 10-cents-a-gallon discount on fuel pumped at Buc-ee’s stores.

Both Buc-ee’s and TDECU are based in Lake Jackson.

Buc-ee’s operates 35 stores in Texas and locations in seven other states. Its stores are known for their massive size, spotless restrooms, and Beaver Nuggets snacks.

TDECU (Texas Dow Employees Credit Union) is the largest credit union in the Houston area. It operates 37 branches in the region.

Photo by Alex Montoya

Houston hip-hop legend Bun B named grand marshal of Art Car Parade

trillest parade ever

Houston rap legend Bun B is having the best month ever.

He just made history with his epic H-Town Takeover at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo as the first Black male headliner from Houston (read our review of the big night here) that featured a who’s-who of Houston hip-hop. Speaking of the rodeo, Bun debuted his fan favorite Trillburgers there. This weekend, he is performing an intimate Rock the Bells show Sunday, March 27.

Now, Houston’s Unofficial Mayor will head up the city’s official tribute to all things auto and audacious. Bun B will serve as the grand marshal of the 35th Annual Art Car Parade, the organization announced. The beloved parade rolls out downtown on Saturday, April 9, the centerpiece event of the annual Art Car Weekend (April 7-10).

“It’s a great time to be Bun B in Houston,” the local icon noted with a laugh at innovation and community hub The Ion, where the announcement ceremony took place. “It’s a great thing for families, and we haven’t had a lot of opportunities in Houston to really have a great event where everyone and their family could come out and enjoy it, but the Art Car Parade is going to provide us that and I’m so proud and honored to be the 2022 grand marshal.”

Other luminaries and celebs who have marshaled the iconic parade include Dan Aykroyd, J.J. Watt, Cheech Marin, The Art Guys, Annise Parker, Kinky Friedman, Lynn Wyatt, and George Clinton.

To that end, Bun B (born Bernard Freeman in Port Arthur, Texas) is more than deserving of the title. The pioneering rhymesmith fostered the Southern and Texas rap movement as the founding member of the seminal dup Underground Kingz with his fellow emcee, the late Pimp C. He has sold millions of albums and become an pop culture phenom, sharing his keen wisdom and insight on music, politics, film, dining, car culture, sneaker culture, academia, and social justice (witness his work at the downtown George Floyd march).

“I can’t think of a better person to serve as Grand Marshal for the 2022 Art Car Parade,” emphasized Mark Sullivan, co-Chair of The 35th Annual Art Car Parade Weekend. “Both Bun B and the Orange Show are united in collectively speaking to Houston’s singular spirit, which is one that celebrates diversity, individuality and artistic expression. I can’t think of anyone more on brand for Houston’s most treasured parade than our most beloved global ambassador, and I can’t wait to see him rolling through downtown in a bright slab car with top down, rims spinning, and music slow, low, and bangin.”

Fittingly for a trill, Bun-marshaled parade, this year’s event will feature more than 250 artfully crafted cars and a large contingent of “slow, loud, and bangin” slab cars — much like the ones Bun B rolled out onto rodeo dirt during his Takeover show.

Other new attractions include more than 100 new and never-before-seen Art Cars from around the country such as Riders, bike and skater groups, wheeled contraptions, bejeweled roadsters and custom-crafted classics along with the fur-covered, metal-modified, fire-breathing varieties, according to a press release. The event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

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RodeoHouston announces ticket sale dates for  Lauren Daigle, The Chainsmokers, and Cody Jinks

rodeo tickets on sale

The time has come to start making plans to attend the 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Tickets for three concerts go on sale this Thursday, December 8 at 10 am (online waiting room opens at 9:30 am) via rodeohouston.com.

They are:

  • Christian country star Lauren Daigle on March 2
  • Electronic DJs and production duo The Chainsmokers on March 10
  • Texas country singer Cody Jinks on March 13.

Ticket prices start at $25, plus a $4 per ticket convenience fee. The other prices are:

  • Upper Level: $25 – $30
  • Loge Level: $40
  • Club Level: $50 – $55
  • Field Level: $44
  • Chairman’s Club: $150 (includes food and hosted bar)
  • Action Seats: $155 (includes hearty hors d’oeuvres and cash bar)
The Rodeo notes that those who enter the online waiting room between 9:30 and 9:59 will be randomly selected to purchase tickets when they go on sale at 10 am. Furthermore, being in the online waiting room does not guarantee that a person will be able to purchase tickets.

All tickets will be delivered electronically. To access their tickets, concertgoers will need to download the AXS Ticketing mobile app and login with the email address they used to purchase the tickets.

In September, the Rodeo announced that Conroe-born country star Parker McCollum would be the opening night performer. More acts will be announced as next year's event draws near. The 2023 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and all RodeoHouston performances are scheduled for February 28–March 19, 2023 at NRG Park.

Lauren Daigle/Facebook

Lauren Daigle will make her RodeoHouston debut.

University of Houston powers up smart robot food server in on-site restaurant

tip your robot

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings. “Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

Only one burning question remains: Just how does one tip a robot waitstaffer?

Photo courtesy of University of Houston

Servi bots are now delivering food at UH's Eric's Restaurant.

Acclaimed Hill Country winery pours onto list of the world's 100 best for 2022

Wine List

One Texas winery just landed on one of the most exclusive wine lists of them all. At an event held in Argentina's wine capital, Mendoza, the World’s Best Vineyards organization revealed this year’s top wine destinations for 2022. Texas' own William Chris Vineyards came in at No. 56, the only Texas vineyard on the list and one of only seven wineries from the U.S.

Founded in 2008 by Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon in Hye, Texas, the vineyard started out in the historic 1905 Dieke Farmhouse and has been rapidly expanding ever since. Now, the company partners with local farms to source the highest quality Texas fruit, utilizing a hands-off, low-intervention approach to allow the fruit's characteristics to shine through in the final product.

“It is such an honor to be included on the prestigious list of World’s Best Vineyards, especially as the first and only Texas winery,” said Brundrett in a release. “We’ve worked tirelessly to show the world that Texas has a place among the great wine destinations of the world, and we see this as a victory not just for William Chris Vineyards, but for the Texas wine industry as a whole. We’re excited to celebrate this with our partners and peers.”

Released annually, the World’s Best Vineyards list highlights the top must-visit vineyards globally, aiming to promote wine tourism around the world. 500 leading wine experts, sommeliers, and travel experts comprise the group's voting academy, submitting their nominations based on a wide range of criteria — from quality of overall experience to cuisine, value for money, and more. Submissions are voted on, and the collated results become the coveted World’s Best Vineyards list.

For a full list of 2022 winners, visit worldsbestvineyards.com.