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One of the most iconic names in Texas barbecue has closed its Houston-area location. Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que ceased operations on Monday, November 21.

A sign posted at the door read as follows: “We are sad to inform you this location is permanently closed, and we are sorry for any inconvenience.” A call to the restaurant’s listed phone number went unanswered, and its social media pages on Instagram and Facebook are offline.

CultureMap has contacted the restaurant for comment about the closure and will update this article when it responds.

Opened in late 2019, the Katy location of Cooper’s replicated part of the experience of visiting the company’s iconic location in Llano, Texas. For example, the restaurant cooked some its proteins over direct heat, which is also known as “cowboy style.” Available meats include standard items such as brisket, pork ribs, and sausage as well as prime rib and Cooper’s signature “Big Chop,” a 2-inch thick, bone-in pork chop Diners ordered their selections by-the-pound from a serving pit before ordering sides separately.

Whether it was poor timing due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other factors, the restaurant didn’t seem to catch on with locals. It had a low 3.5-stars on Google and a disappointing 2.5-star rating on Yelp. Members of Katy/Fort Bend Foodies, a Facebook group with over 50,000 people, shared reactions that ranged from disappointment about the closure to complaints about pricing and food quality.

Opening in Katy had been part of the company’s plans to expand across Texas. Its other expansion locations in Austin, New Braunfels, Fort Worth, and College Station remain open.

Those looking for barbecue in Katy have a number of options to consider. Briargrove favorite Roegels Barbecue opened a Katy location earlier this year. Brett’s Barbecue Shop, ranked among the state’s top 50 barbecue restaurants by Texas Monthly, will soon open its new location near Katy Mills Mall.

Sizzling Montrose steakhouse scores prime spot for new casual grill in the East End

gatsby's goes east

The team behind Gatsby’s Steakhouse will soon have a more casual option for Houstonians. Called Gatsby’s Grill, it open early next year in the former Acadian Coast space on Navigation Boulevard.

Director of operations Luis Rodriguez tells CultureMap that he and Gatsby’s owner Luis Rangel always contemplated a more casual alternative to their smash hit Montrose steakhouse. He cites Eight Row Flint and Kirby Ice House as two examples of places he likes to spend his time away from Gatsby’s.

“That’s the vibe I like, an open, airy, outdoor experience. You can take your dog there, your kids. You’re not going to break the bank,” Rodriguez says. “We knew we wanted to introduce our version of a fun, approachable, family friendly, sports bar type environment.”

Gatsby’s Grill will build on the success of Gatsby’s Steakhouse, the Montrose restaurant that has built a devoted following for its luxurious atmosphere, classic steakhouse fare, and polished service. The brand will expand its reach this week with the opening of Gatsby’s Prime Seafood, a new restaurant in the former Tony Mandola’s space.

Rodriguez explains that his pre-existing relationship with Acadian Coast owner Bruce Gingrich led him to the space. After examining the layout, including its spacious bar and expansive patio, the Gatsby’s partners decided it would be the right place for a casual restaurant. Of course, it will still have certain design details to tie it to Gatsby’s Steakhouse and Gatsby’s Prime Seafood, the new restaurant the group is opening this week.

“We’re going to give it our Gatsby’s touch,” Rodriguez says. “You’ll probably see some chandeliers, some marble walls. There will be elements that let you know it’s a Gatsby’s restaurant.”

Turning to the menu, executive chef Erick Anaya will offer a wide array of comfort food. Expect a few different burgers along with chicken wings, hand-breaded chicken tenders, pastas, fresh-cut french fries, and more. Draft beer and a diverse cocktail menu will lead the beverage options. Rodriguez emphasizes they want to serve a menu that executes at a higher level than the typical chain restaurants a family on a budget might choose.

“You may have a lights out burger at some of those places. We intend to have everything hit on all cylinders,” he says.

With Acadian Coast having closed last week, renovations to turn the space into Gatsby’s Grill will begin soon. While Rodriguez acknowledges he’d like to open in December, the realities of hiring and training a staff will probably push things to January. Either way, it won’t be too long before Houstonians are eating burgers and drinking beers on the Gatsby’s Grill patio.

Courtesy photo

Iconic Houston hot dog restaurant quietly closes Galleria-area location

another coney closure

Another location of James Coney Island has served its last hot dog. The restaurant's Westheimer location in the Galleria area quietly closed last weekend. A note in the window reads as follows:

Dear JCI Customer, We made the difficult decision to permanently close this location. We are tremendously grateful for your patronage at Westheimer for many years. We are a small, local business and we hope you will continue to support us at our other Houston Area locations. In fact, our 99-year Houston tradition depends on your support. Please know that all employees from the location have been offered employment within the company.

Founded in 1923, James Coney Island is known primarily for its hot dogs, which are traditionally served with mustard, onions, cheese, and the restaurant's signature chili sauce. It operates nine Houston-area restaurants, including a Meyerland location that's approximately five miles from the shuttered Westheimer store.

The closure follows that of the company's last inner loop location at Shepherd and Richmond that shuttered in July as well as the closures of three other locations that are becoming outposts of Austin-based burrito restaurant Cabo Bob's. More locations could be closing in the future. Commercial real estate firm United Equities lists the Pasadena, east Houston (I-10 and Federal Rd.), and north Houston (I-45 and Crosstimbers) restaurants as being available for lease to new tenants.

As president Darrin Straughan told CultureMap at the time, the company has been selling off locations to reposition in smaller locations that are more suited for to-go business.

"We bought a lot of real estate 25 years ago when we started expanding Coney Island," he said in July. "They’re worth a lot of money today. The unit economics is too much to sell hot dogs out of. We made a decision to start selling off our real estate. We're going to open Coney Islands in smaller footprints with drive-thrus."

Straughan added that James Coney Island fans can expect a 100-year anniversary celebration in 2023 that honors the founding Papadakis family. Details will be announced in the months to come.

The Westheimer location won't stay empty for long. Real estate firm Littwitz Investments posted to Instagram that the property has already been sold and will be home to a new restaurant that's scheduled to open in spring 2023.

President David Littwitz told CultureMap in an email that he's "not allowed to say" who the buyer is, but rumors are quietly swirling that a prominent Midtown establishment has claimed the space. Expect more news soon.

Photo by Eric Sandler

Beloved Bellaire burger restaurant suddenly shutters despite celebrated comeback

broiler shuts down

UPDATE: The Bellaire Broiler Burger property at 5216 Bellaire Blvd. has been sold and will become a law office, Bellaire-West U Essentials magazine reports.

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A beloved Bellaire burger joint's reopening plans have been scuttled, at least for now. Bellaire Broiler Burger closed over the weekend.

In a message posted to social media, the restaurant said the closure stemmed from "circumstances beyond our control." Reached by CultureMap for comment, restaurateur Jason Scheinthal declined to specify the specifics of those unnamed circumstances.

"Needless to say, I am incredibly disappointed as this was something I was so incredibly excited about," Scheinthal writes in a text.

Formerly the owner of Upper Kirby bar Eighteen36, Scheinthal revived Bellaire Broiler Burger purchasing the restaurant's building and intellectual property from its previous owner Tom Daneman. In May, he reopened the restaurant as a food truck in the original location's parking lot while renovating its building.

By purchasing Bellaire Broiler's Burgers recipes, the new restaurant aimed to served an identical product to the original that closed in 2020. The menu included the Bellaire Special (a two patty bacon cheeseburger), as well as the signature “#1,” “#2,” and “#3” burgers, which are topped with barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, or mustard, respectively.

The decision not to reopen the original location leaves the future of Bellaire Broiler Burger in doubt, but Scheinthal isn't giving up on his plans to resurrect the restaurant.

"We are very actively pursuing a potential new location and will let you know if we find one," he adds.

Courtesy of Love Management Inc

Texas celebrity chef Tim Love pulls the plug on his 3 Houston restaurants

Smoked out

UPDATE: This article has been updated with a statement from Tim Love.

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Tim Love has bid the Bayou City farewell. The Fort Worth-based celebrity chef has closed his three restaurants in Upper Kirby's Levy Park. They were:

  • Woodshed Smokehouse: "an homage to all things wood grilled, roasted, steamed, braised and slow-cooked"
  • Love Shack: the chef's take on a classic burger joint
  • Side Dough: a double-decker bus serving coffee and pastries

The sudden shutterings end Love's presence in Houston. A notice announcing the closures is posted on both the doors at Woodshed and on the websites of all three restaurants. In response to CultureMap's request for comment about the situation, a representative provided the following statement from Tim Love.

The term of our License Agreement has expired. It’s been an honor to serve the people of the great city of Houston and we greatly appreciate your generous support of Woodshed, Love Shack, and Back Dough.

We are very grateful to the community and our team, and we look forward to the opportunity to opening another restaurant in Houston in the future.

First announced in 2017, Love's restaurants debuted with considerable fanfare, but their timing couldn't have been worse. Woodshed and its siblings opened to the public on March 12, 2020. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott closed restaurants for in-person dining on March 21. Although Woodshed boasted an expansive patio and flexible indoor-outdoor environment that suited the requirements of pandemic-era dining, it never quite seemed to achieve notoriety commensurate with Love's celebrity status.

Although Love may have exited Houston for now, he remains a dynamic presence in his hometown of Fort Worth. He recently opened Caterina's, an ode to Italian-American food that features an upscale environment and a policy forbidding the use of smartphones while dining. This fall he'll open Tannahill's Tavern & Music Hall, a bar, restaurant, and concert hall, in partnership with Live Nation.

Best known for his flagship restaurant Lonesome Dove, the acclaimed chef operates establishments in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Knoxville, TN. He's also a reality TV star known for his appearances on Iron Chef America, Top Chef Masters, and Restaurant Startup, a Shark Tank-style show he hosted with Masterchef judge Joe Bastianich.

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Teresa Gubbins contributed to this article.

Courtesy of FM Kitchen & Bar

Comfort food restaurant FM Kitchen quietly closes Montrose location

FM switches off

A Houston comfort food restaurant’s second location has quietly closed after only a year of operations. FM Kitchen & Bar’s Montrose outpost served its last meals in June, according to a representative.

The restaurant did not announce the closure on its social media, and it has not been reported until now. A sign in the window encourages diners to visit FM Kitchen’s original location on Shepherd Drive. In response to CultureMap’s request for comment about the closure, the restaurant provided a statement from operating partner Jason Mok:

We appreciate the Montrose community for supporting us over the past 12 months. We have some cool changes and new opportunities planned for the space. We’ll be taking this time to focus on FM Shepherd and PKL Social, our new outdoor patio, pickleball and sports bar concept opening later this year.

Opened in June 2021, FM Kitchen’s Montrose location offered the same comfort food menu as the Shepherd location but distinguished itself with a broader cocktail program and an all-new late night menu. Local design firm Gin Design Group created a look designed to be approachable at lunch and dinner and more "moody" later in the evening.

Montrose diners who find themselves missing FM Kitchen's signatures dishes such as its cheeseburger, wings, and chicken fried steak will be comforted that the original location is only about three miles away. It remains open and is unaffected by the Montrose location's closure.

As Mok notes, FM Kitchen’s ownership is preparing to open PKL Social next to the Shepherd location.The new concept will feature four pickleball courts, a covered deck, cabanas, and more than 10,000-square-feet of patio space. A tidy food menu will feature some of FM Kitchen's most popular dishes such as burgers, wings, the spicy fried chicken sandwich, and tater tots. Beverage options will include easy drinking cocktails such as a cherry limeade and frozen paloma as well as beers, seltzers, and non-alcoholic options. It’s expected to open this fall.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.