A spotlight is shining on three future Elon Musks from the Houston area.

Forbes magazine recently unveiled its final installment of 250 entrepreneurs on the Forbes Next 1000, a list of inspiring entrepreneurs and small-business leaders “who are redefining what it means to build and run a business amid the new normal.” Among the 250 are three entrepreneurs from the Houston area.

“As we enter another pandemic year, entrepreneurs and small-business owners are finding new ways to thrive amidst ever-uncertain circumstances,” Maneet Ahuja, senior editor of Forbes, says in a news release. “The fourth and final class of Next 1000 entrepreneurial heroes is writing the playbook for not only achieving financial recovery but speeding past it. These sole proprietors, self-funded shops, and pre-revenue startups are proving that — through resolve, hard work, and solid planning — anything is possible.”

Here are the three Houston-area entrepreneurs who made the final installment of the Next 1000 list for 2021, per Forbes:

Vernee Hines, 28, co-founder, UpBrainery Technologies (Houston)
UpBrainery Technologies is a technology ecosystem that's aimed at disrupting educational and classroom norms through the use of its proprietary technology. Its marketplace provides an AI-driven software platform and research-based, results-driven curriculum to students, parents, teachers and organizations. Cofounded in 2020 by Hines and Ghazal Qureshi, UpBrainery has helped more than 5,000 students. Clients include Whataburger, Nasdaq, The Houston Rockets, The Girl Scouts of America, and Girls Inc.

Carolyn Rodz, 42, co-founder, Hello Alice (Houston)
A former investment banker with JP Morgan, Rodz channeled her funding experience into creating Hello Alice, an online platform that serves as a one-stop-shop for aspiring entrepreneurs, connecting them with funders, services and professional networks. She originally cofounded the Houston-based company with Elizabeth Gore in 2017 to serve as an accelerator for women-owned businesses. It's since grown to work with all clients, and has raised $8.5 million.

JoAnn Ajayi-Scott, 60, founder, Essence of a Lady (Missouri City)
Essence of a Lady started as a social club in 1989' Scott later reorganized it into a non-profit organization to match girls with mentors in the hope that those relationships would give them the help and support they need to graduate high school. To date, they have impacted the lives of more than 1,000 girls through the more than 400 women who have mentored them as chaperones, workshop presenters, sponsors and donors.

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Tilman Fertitta's empire joins 4 Houston firms on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies

big biz in h-town

Some Houston-area companies have some major bragging rights. Forbes has released its new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue, and five local firms land on the list. They are:

  • Car dealership group Gulf States Toyota, No. 45, $8.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Energy company Calpine, No. 48, $8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Petroleum and petrochemical products marketer Tauber Oil, No. 61, $6.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Casino, restaurant, and sports conglomerate Fertitta Entertainment, No. 166, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • BMC Software, No. 219, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio-based H-E-B ranks fifth on Forbes’ new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue. According to Forbes, the grocery chain’s annual revenue is $32.8 billion, making it the largest private company in Texas. On its website, H-E-B reports annual sales of $32 billion.

The only other San Antonio company on the Forbes list is construction engineering company Zachry Group. It ranks 225th, with annual revenue of $2 billion.

Nearly all of the other Texas companies in the Forbes ranking are based in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas. As well as the five Houston companies, 13 DFW companies companies show up on the list:

  • Grand Prairie-based alcohol and wine distributor Republic National Distributing, No. 25, $11.9 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based conglomerate Sammons Enterprises, No. 70, $5.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • McKinney-based roofing distributor SRS Distribution, No. 80, $5.4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels, No. 81, $5.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, No. 101, $4.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based electrical systems and equipment maker Consolidated Electrical Distributors, No. 103, $4.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Fort Worth-based food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith, No. 107, $4.2 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based oil and gas explorer Hunt Consolidated, No. 113, $4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Frisco-based transportation and logistics software provider Transplace, No. 127, $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Addison-based cosmetics retailer Mary Kay, No. 164, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Plano-based senior healthcare provider Golden Living, No. 178, $2.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based general contractor Austin Industries, No. 217, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based transportation and logistics company Mode Transportation, No. 220, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

One other company on the Forbes list, New Jersey-based IT company SHI International Corp., has a strong connection to Texas. Austin billionaire Thai Lee, with a net worth estimated at $4.1 billion, is co-founder, president, and CEO of SHI. The company ranks 28th on the Forbes list, with annual revenue of $11.1 billion.

Photo courtesy of © Alexander's Fine Portrait Design

Houston financial powerhouse among 6 tycoons inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame

In great company

A local business powerhouse has been recognized for his years or work and success. Houston investment manager Gerald Smith, chairman and CEO of Smith Graham & Co., an investment management firm, can now call himself a Hall of Famer.

Recently, Smith was one of six Texas businessmen inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame. He and the five other inductees were honored during a dinner at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

More on this local tycoon from his Hall of Fame bio: He’s also a board member of New York Life Insurance and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and chairman of the Texas Southern University Foundation. A graduate of Texas Southern University with a BBA in Finance, in 2012, Mr. Smith received an honorary doctorate degree from his alma mater, where he has established the Gerald B. Smith Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to help young people of color better compete in today’s business environment.

The sole person of color on this year's list, Smith has received numerous awards for his entrepreneurial achievements and community service. Recently, the City of Houston proclaimed Gerald B. Smith and Anita Webber Smith Day for their community and philanthropic giving. He and Anita, have three sons — Marcus, Jackson and Jordan, and one daughter — Joy.

Aside from Smith, this year’s inductees into the Texas Business Hall of Fame are:

  • Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban. He is owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks as well as chairman and CEO of AXS TV and one of the investors on ABC’s Shark Tank.
  • Austin billionaire John Paul DeJoria, who built his fortune through Paul Mitchell hair care products and high-end tequila. Forbes estimated John Paul Mitchell’s 2019 sales at roughly $900 million. In 1989, DeJoria co-founded Patrón, the first ultra-premium tequila. Patrón, now the world’s No. 1 ultra-premium tequila, was sold to Bacardi in 2018 for $5.1 billion.
  • Fort Worth private investor John Goff. He was co-founder, vice chairman, and CEO of Crescent Real Estate, which Morgan Stanley bought in 2007 for $6.5 billion. Two years later, he bought back the company in partnership with Barclays Capital. Today, Goff is chairman of Crescent Real Estate as well as Houston-based Contango Oil & Gas. He owns The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dallas and Fort Worth-based spa company Canyon Ranch
  • Dallas private investor Morton Meyerson. Most notably, he is former chairman and CEO of Plano-based EDS and former chief technology officer at GM.
  • Dallas executive Randall Stephenson. He is former chairman and CEO of Dallas-based tech, media, and telecom giant AT&T.
Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

Richard Kinder and 10 other Houston billionaires cash in on Forbes list of richest Americans

gushing wealth

Never one to overtly draw attention to himself, Houston pipeline magnate — and Memorial Park benefactorRichard Kinder has landed on a coveted list, as have 10 other Houstonians.

Forbes has released the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, and Kinder ranks eighth in Texas and 128th nationally with an estimated net worth of $7.1 billion.

Meanwhile, Houston hospitality king and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta ranks 11th in Texas and 158th nationally with an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion.

Houston pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams tie for 12th place in Texas and tie for 161st nationally. Each has an estimated net worth of $6.2 billion.

Software entrepreneur Robert Brockman ranks 19th in Texas and ties for 229th nationally with a net worth of $4.7 billion.

Oil mogul Jeffery Hildebrand ranks 20th in Texas and ties for 240th nationally with a net worth of $4.6 billion.

Toyota mega-dealer Dan Friedkin ranks 24th in Texas and ties for 253rd with an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion.

Houston Texans owner Janice McNair of Houston ranks 26th in Texas and ties for 269th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion.

Finally, local hedge fund honcho John Arnold ties for 30th in Texas and ties for 358th nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion.

Here’s how billionaires from other major metros in Texas fared on the Forbes 400 list.


No shocker here: Tesla and SpaceX guru Elon Musk ranks No. 2 among the richest Americans and No. 1 among the richest Texans. What is shocking, however, is how much Musk’s net worth skyrocketed from 2020 to 2021. Hint: It’s more than $100 billion.

This year, the Forbes 400 estimates his net worth stood at $190.5 billion as of September 3. To give that some context, the size of the economy in the state of Kansas exceeds $193 billion.

Last year, Musk’s estimated net worth was $68 billion. This means that from 2020 to 2021, his net worth exploded by $122.5 billion, or 180 percent.

Among the richest Americans, only Amazon’s Jeff Bezos beats Musk — but not by much. The Forbes 400 pegs Bezos’ net worth at $201 billion as of September 3, up from $179 billion at the same time last year.

Forbes lists Musk’s residence as Austin, although he has said he spends much of his time in Boca Chica. The Texas Gulf Coast community hosts Starbase, a launch site for SpaceX rockets. Regardless of precisely where he lives, Musk does spend a lot of time in the Austin area, where Tesla is building a $1.1 billion vehicle manufacturing plant. Musk relocated to Texas last year.

Before Musk arrived in the Lone Star State, Walmart heir Alice Walton of Fort Worth ranked as the richest person in Texas. She’s now in second place, with a net worth estimated at $67.9 billion. Walton ranks as the 12th richest American and richest American woman on this year’s Forbes 400.

Aside from Musk, Austin billionaires who appear on the Forbes 400 are:

  • Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies. Estimated net worth: $50.1 billion. Texas rank: No. 3. U.S. rank: No. 18.
  • Robert Smith, founder, chairman, and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners. Estimated net worth: $6.7 billion. Texas rank: No. 9. U.S. rank: No. 141.
  • Vodka titan Bert “Tito” Beveridge. Estimated net worth: $4.8 billion. Texas rank: No. 18. U.S. rank: No. 224 (tie).
  • IT entrepreneur Thai Lee. Estimated net worth: $4.1 billion. Texas rank: No. 27 (tie). U.S. rank: No. 273 (tie).
  • Software entrepreneur Joe Liemandt. Estimated net worth: $3 billion. Texas rank: No. 33 (tie). U.S. rank: No. 377 (tie).
  • Jim Bryer, founder and CEO of venture capital firm Bryer Capital. Estimated net worth: $2.9 billion. Texas rank: 35 (tie). U.S. rank: No. 389 (tie).

Dallas-Fort Worth

Banking and real estate mogul Andy Beal of Dallas holds the No. 5 spot in Texas and No. 78 nationally. His estimated net worth is $9.9 billion.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of Dallas sits at No. 7 in Texas and No. 86 nationally with an estimated net worth of $9.1 billion.

Money manager Ken Fisher of Dallas ranks 10th in Texas and 151st nationally with an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion.

Oil and real estate titan Ray Lee Hunt of Dallas ranks 16th in Texas and ties for 188th nationally with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion.

Oil and investment mogul Robert Bass of Fort Worth ranks 17th in Texas and ties for 212th nationally with an estimated net worth of $5 billion.

Private equity kingpin David Bonderman of Fort Worth ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Media magnate and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of Dallas ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Oil and gas honcho Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Hotel and investment guru Robert Rowling of Dallas ranks 25th in Texas and ties for 261st nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion.

Margot Birmingham Perot of Dallas, widow of tech and real estate entrepreneur H. Ross Perot Sr., ties for 27th in Texas and ties for 273rd nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion.

Oil and gas tycoon Kelcy Warren of Dallas ranks 29th in Texas and ties for 289th nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.

Real estate bigwig H. Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas ranks 32nd in Texas and 363rd nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion.

Homebuilder Donald Horton and family of Fort Worth tie for 35th in Texas and tie for 389th nationally with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

Oil baron W. Herbert Hunt of Dallas ties for 35th in Texas and ties for 389th nationally with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

17 Houstonians cash in on Forbes' 2021 list of world's billionaires

big money

Houston's unofficial benefactor, Richard Kinder, is officially the richest person in the Bayou City, according to Forbes 2021 list of the world’s billionaires. Sixteen other uber-wealthy Houston-area residents join Kinder on that list.

But that's not the biggest news, statewide: Eclectic entrepreneur Elon Musk has officially knocked Walmart heiress Alice Walton of Fort Worth off her longtime perch as the richest person in Texas.

On April 6, Forbes released its 2021 list. Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, landed at No. 2 globally with a net worth of $151 billion. He sat at No. 31 in last year’s ranking. Forbes lists Musk’s place of residence as Austin, although he hasn’t confirmed where in Texas he settled last year.

Now at No. 2 in Texas is Walton, whose net worth is $61.8 billion. That puts her at No. 17 on the global list.

Walton is the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton; as of December 2020, the Walton family still reigned as the richest family in the U.S., with Alice Walton's wealth accounting for a little over one-fourth of the family fortune.

The only other Texan who comes close to Musk and Walton in the Forbes ranking is Michael Dell. The chairman and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies boasts a net worth of $45.1 billion. That places him at No. 30 on the global list and No. 3 in Texas.

In all, the Forbes list features 64 Texas billionaires collectively worth $460.1 billion. (What pandemic?) Among the state’s metro areas, Dallas-Fort Worth leads with 27 billionaires, followed by Houston (17), Austin (10), and San Antonio (three).

What follows is a breakdown of Texas billionaires in other cities, including their global ranking, source of wealth, and estimated net worth.


  • Richard Kinder, pipelines, No. 369, $7 billion
  • Dannine Avara, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Robert Brockman, software, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Scott Duncan, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Milane Frantz, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Randa Duncan Williams, pipelines, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Tilman Fertitta, Houston Rockets owner/food/entertainment, No. 622, $4.6 billion
  • Dan Friedkin, Toyota dealerships, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • Janice McNair, Houston Texans owner and energy, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • John Arnold, hedge funds, No. 925, $3.3 billion
  • Jeffery Hildebrand, oil, No. 1,580, $2 billion
  • Leslie Alexander, former Houston Rockets owner, No. 1,750, $1.8 billion
  • Fayez Sarofim, money management, No. 2,035, $1.5 billion
  • Jim Crane, Houston Astros owner and logistics, No. 2,141, $1.4 billion
  • Wilbur “Ed” Bosarge Jr., high-speed trading, No. 2,674, $1 billion

Two billionaires in the Houston suburbs also show up on the list:

  • Leo Koguan of Sugar Land, information technology services, No. 1,444, $2.2 billion
  • George Bishop of The Woodlands, oil and gas, No. 1,517, $2.1 billion

Fort Worth

  • Robert Bass, oil and investments, No. 550, $5.1 billion
  • David Bonderman, private equity, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • Sid Bass, oil and investments, No. 1,064 $2.9 billion
  • Donald Horton, homebuilding, No. 1,299, $2.4 billion
  • Edward Bass, oil and investments, No. 1,444, $2.2 billion
  • Lee Bass, oil and investments, No. 1,664, $1.9 billion
  • John Goff, real estate, No. 2,263, $1.3 billion

Mark and Robyn Jones of Westlake, who derive their wealth from the insurance industry, appear at No. 1,249 on the Forbes list with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion.


  • Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner, No. 264, $8.9 billion
  • Andy Beal, banking and real estate, No. 311, $7.9 billion
  • Mark Cuban, online media and Dallas Mavericks owner, No. 655, $4.4 billion
  • Ray Lee Hunt, oil and real estate, No. 680, $4.2 billion
  • Margot Birmingham Perot, technology and real estate, No. 705, $4.1 billion
  • Trevor Rees-Jones, oil and gas, No. 727, $4 billion
  • Robert Rowling, Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym, No. 752, $3.9 billion
  • Kelcy Warren, pipelines, No. 891, $3.4 billion
  • H. Ross Perot Jr., real estate, No. 1,174, $2.7 billion
  • Gerald Ford, banking, No. 1,249, $2.5 billion
  • Ray Davis, pipelines, No. 1,517, $2.1 billion
  • W. Herbert Hunt, oil, No. 1,580, $2 billion
  • Todd Wagner, online media, No. 1,664, $1.9 billion
  • Stephen Winn, real estate services, No. 1,664, $1.9 billion
  • Kenny Troutt, telecom, No. 2,035, $1.5 billion
  • Darwin Deason, software, No. 2,141, $1.4 billion
  • Timothy Headington, oil and gas/investments, No. 2,141, $1.4 billion
  • A. Jayson Adair, car salvage business, No. 2,674, $1 billion


  • Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX, No. 2, $151 billion
  • Michael Dell, technology, No. 30, $45.1 billion
  • Robert F. Smith, private equity, No. 451, $6 billion
  • Bert “Tito” Beveridge, vodka, No. 622, $4.6 billion
  • Thai Lee, information technology, No. 956, $3.2 billion
  • Joe Liemandt, software, No. 1,008, $3 billion
  • John Paul DeJoria, hair care and tequila, No. 1,174, $2.7 billion
  • Jim Breyer, venture capital, No. 1,249, $2.5 billion
  • David Booth, mutual funds, No. 1,750, $1.8 billion
  • Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble dating app, No. 2,263, $1.3 billion

San Antonio:

  • Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, salsa and private equity, No. 1,833, $1.7 billion
  • James Leininger, medical products, No. 2,035, $1.5 billion
  • Red McCombs, real estate/oil/car dealerships/sports/radio, No. 2,035, $1.5 billion
Photo courtesy of The Post Oak Hotel

These posh Texas hotels nab prestigious top ratings in Forbes travel guide

High-end honor

Houstonians looking to hit Lone Star State destination have some shimmering choices. The Forbes Travel Guide recently revealed its covered 5-Star awards list for 2021, and a host of hot spots land on the prestigious ranking.

As CultureMap previously reported, Tilman Fertitta's Post Oak Hotel nabbed Houston's sole five-star rating. The accolade makes the Post Oak Texas’ only Double Five-Star rated hotel and spa, and Houston’s first and only Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star hotel.

“Joining this elite list of Double Five-Stars is a remarkable achievement that continues to designate The Post Oak Hotel as a world-class property and serves as a glittering beacon of Houston’s standing as an international destination,” said Steven Chou, hotel manager, in a statement.

Houston boasts two spas — The Spa at The Post Oak Hotel and Houstonian's Trellis Spa— and six hotels on the list: Four Seasons Hotel, Hotel Granduca, The Houstonian, The Inn at Dos Brisas, and The St. Regis Houston.

Meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas has earned the city's sole five-star rating. It's a repeat achievement for the Uptown Dallas luxury hotel, which also captured five stars last year.

Three Dallas-area hotels and two spas earned four stars in the 2021 Forbes list:

  • Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas
  • The Joule
  • Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek
  • The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Dallas
  • Well & Being Spa at Four Seasons Dallas at Las Colinas

Hôtel St. Germain and The Adolphus, Autograph Collection were "recommended."

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio's Mokara Hotel & Spa received four-star ratings for both its hotel and spa facilities. The buzzy Hotel Emma also received a nod, earning a recommended rating.

Austin's Archer Hotel Austin, Four Seasons Hotel Austin, and Fairmont Austin also earned four-star ratings. The Four Seasons spa also garnered four stars. One other property, Hotel Granduca Austin, received a “recommended” rating.

The Forbes Travel Guide awards five stars to its highest-rated properties.

In assessing hotels, Forbes Travel Guide inspectors stay at every property for three days and two nights, posing as regular guests and paying their own way. They judge each one on 900 standards, such as whether food and beverage choices are health-conscious, how nice the décor is, and how well the staff’s uniforms are designed.

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Houston's best holiday events make the season bright with dazzling lights, performances, markets, and more

Good cheer for all

The holidays are in full swing across Houston, with a host of activities that offer something for every taste and budget. That means plenty of holiday performances on stages around town, concerts, and some beloved classics such as The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol.

Photo courtesy of Color Factory

IG paradise Winter Colorand features a confetti ski lift for that perfect snap.

Houston gets totally lit with dazzling holiday lights all around town, plus immersive activities — such as the only Harry Potter Yule event in North American — to get you into the seasonal swing. And what would the holidays be without shopping? Here's a go-to list for all the holiday fun around town.

Staged season fun
The Houston Symphony puts audiences in the holiday mood with its annual A Very Merry Pops concert, featuring sounds of the season and performances by the orchestra and the Houston Symphony Chorus, on stage December 15 through 18.

Main Street Theater's The Wickhams: Christmas At Pemberley is a must for Jane Austen fans. It closes December 18. The company's Theater for Youth delivers a delightful Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella at the MATCH through December 23.

Houston Grand Opera's mariachi opera El Milagro del Recuerdol Milagro del Recuerdo, a story of family, faith and two cultures runs through December 18 at the Wortham Theater Center. The Wortham is also the home stage for the Houston Ballet, which offers its holiday beloved bonbon The Nutcracker through December 27.

At the Hobby Center, TUTS offers the family-friendly Mary Poppins, the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh musical about that practically perfect nanny and how she transforms the Banks household. Performances run through December 24.

Those looking to put a little rock and roll and soul into their holiday can check out the Ensemble Theatre's A Motown Christmas, running through December 24.

The Alley Theatre announced Wednesday it added six shows of What-A-Christmas to the schedule, with the show now closing on December 30. The comedy finds a drive-through worker on Christmas Eve learning a bit more about the spirit of the holiday. The new production of the Alley's holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, also bows out December 30.

For more must-see shows, check out these recommendations from our writer Tarra Gaines.

Light it up
There's nothing quite like the wonder of "silver lanes aglow." Lighting displays all over the Bayou City are sure to bring holiday delight.

Downtown transforms into Holiday Central with City Lights Downtown Holiday Magic, where visitors can find eight winter wonderlands ranging from light shows, the largest mistletoe mass in Texas, and more. Most activities are free. Check out our full roundup here.

Wander the winding paths of the Houston Botanic Garden through Lightscape, a dazzling display of illuminations set to holiday tunes. Timed entry begins daily at 5:30 pm, through January 1, 2023.

The family favorite Zoo Lights lets guests take in the Houston Zoo in a whole new way. The display runs through January 8, 2023. The saying that everything's bigger in Texas certainly applies to Magical Winter Lights at the Sam Houston Raceway, which offers a castle-themed entrance, lights, lantern display, and a circus for an extra fee. The magic sticks around through January 7, 2023.

Need more lights for the holidays? See our full list.

Shop 'til you drop

Mistletoe Market returns to Midtown's Bagby Park on December 9 at 5 pm and December 10 at 10 am. The first 50 guests receive a free Christmas ornament. Guests can enjoy shopping from a curated selection of more than 20 vendors, food, craft activities, music, and more at this pet and family-friendly market.

Heights Mercantile Holiday Market
On December 10 from 10 am to 5 pm, an array of popup shops will be open along the Mercantile promenade. It's the perfect spot to find something for everyone, while supporting local businesses and artists.

Holiday VIBE Market at Post Houston
Look for more than 150 local artists and artisans each day to turn up at this two-day event, December 10 and 11. Also on tap are a DJ and complimentary cocktails. When hunger strikes, hit up one of Post's restaurants to regain strength for further shopping.

Julep Market
The popular craft cocktail bar hosts this event on December 11, offering an array of cocktail-themed gifts and stocking stuffers, including Julep's own ready-to-drink cocktails. Show up ready to sip and shop. 4 pm to 7 pm.

Immersed for the holidays

Color Factory (3303 Kirby Dr.) presents Winter Colorland, a snowy, seasonal treat full of and Insta-worthy photo opportunities, including the favorite ski lift in a confetti snowstorm. From the entrance to each room and display, visitors can take in a pom pom wreath craft, adorable gifts, and fun around every corner. The dazzling, indoor Instagram paradise runs now through January 31, 2023. Tickets range $28-36.49.

Houston is the only city in North America to host Harry Potter: A Yule Ball Celebration, an immersive tribute to the memorable ball in the books and movie. Costumed hosts coach guess though dances, fashion shows, romps, and more. Sip on butterbeer, nosh on Potter-themed bites, and rest in a courtyard with a Potter-themed ice sculpture. The ball is located at Galleria-area venue Paraiso Maravilla (5714 Fairdale Ln.), which is now open through January 20, 2023. Tickets are available here, with parking outside around $5. Check out our sneak peek here.

Adorable new UH cougar mascot cubs leap into new era with time-honored ring-guarding tradition

coogs house

Two impossibly cute brothers are stepping into a longstanding University of Houston tradition.

Shasta VII and Louie, the rescued cougar cubs who now live at the Houston Zoo, are currently "guarding" two UH school rings. On December 1, the 11-week-old brothers officially became UH mascots by protecting the rings int their enclosure.

To keep the young little ones engaged, keepers hid meatballs amongst the hay and climbing logs near the ring boxes as the duo sniffed and examined.

UH students can view all the 2022 school rings on Friday, December 9, where the jewelry will be placed in UH-themed boxes and on display in the empty cougar habitat. Students and guests are encouraged to snap photos in front of the habitat and view the rings; current students enjoy free daytime general Zoo admission (with a valid ID) but must reserve a ticket ahead of time online before visits.

As CultureMap previously reported, Shasta and Louie were found alone in Washington state and moved to the Houston Zoo in early November. The Zoo was contacted by the Washington State Fish & Wildlife Services when a rancher found two orphaned male cubs on his property. At an estimated four weeks old when found in late October, it was unlikely the cubs would have survived on their own. Within days, the duo flew to the Lone Star State and are settling into life at the Houston Zoo.

\u200bShasta VII Louie cougar cub Houston Zoo University of Houston Shasta VII (left) and his brother Louie are adapting to their new home. Photo by Eric Berg

By all accounts, the brothers are growing and thriving in their new home; Shasta VII has emerged as the big brother/alpha leader of the two and often sleeps or rests with a paw over Louie, zoo staffers note.

For UH and zoo fans and supporters, the furry guys come as the zoo mourns the loss of both of its cougars, Shasta VI and Haley, this year. Now, the arrival of the brothers means a chance to ring in a new era for UH and the zoo.

Shasta VI UH rings Dearly departed mascot Shasta VI guarded UH rings at the zoo. Photo courtesy of Houston Zoo

Shaquille O'Neal's chicken restaurant announces big new Houston-area location

Shaq Attack

Shaquille O'Neal's chicken chain has revealed its second Houston-area location. Big Chicken will open next year in Richmond at at 3415 FM 762.

O’Neal, an NBA Hall-of-Famer and media personality, is the primary investor in Big Chicken, a rapidly growing restaurant that started in Las Vegas. It serves fried chicken sandwiches with a range of toppings such as the Big & Sloppy (mac and cheese, fried onions), the Big Aristotle (fried onions, Muenster, Memphis-style barbecue sauce), and the Shaq Attack (pepper jack, jalapeño slaw, spicy chipotle barbecue sauce). Sides include Cheez-It-crusted mac and cheese, jalapeño slaw, and fries (both potato and sweet potato). Fried chicken tenders, sliders, and milkshakes are also available.

In August, the company announced that Houston’s first location would open this fall in the Westchase District at 9660 Westheimer Rd. The Richmond location is expected to follow in mid-2023, according to a release.

As CultureMap has reported previously, O’Neal — along with local franchisees Fazil Malik, Frank Malik, and Noordin Jhaver — plan to open 50 Big Chicken locations across Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas. The Maliks operate gas stations and convenience stores via their company Northwest Petroleum, while Jhaver brings experience as a Sonic franchisee via his company Drew Real Estate Holdings.

“We’re thrilled that Fazil, Frank and Noordin will debut their second location in Texas,” Big Chicken CEO Josh Halpern said in a statement. “From the beginning, we’ve known that the trio was a fantastic match for the brand and we’ll continue to celebrate each new location alongside them as if it were the first.”