Courtesy of Houston Chuckwagon

Houston chefs and restaurateurs are once again teaming up to feed people affected by Hurricane Delta. Steve Sharma (El Big Bad) and Ben McPherson (BOH Pizza & Pasta) originally formed Houston Chuckwagon after Hurricane Laura ravaged the Louisiana coast. Now, they're loading up again to feed people in the path of the oncoming storm.

“When Houston was spared, we were relieved but immediately knew we had to do something to help our neighbors," Sharma said in a statement. "These are the same people who helped Houston during Hurricane Harvey three years ago."

Working with first responders and the Cajun Navy, Houston Chuckwagon delivered 4,000 individually packaged, ready-to-eat meals to Lake Charles residents after Hurricane Laura. They're asking Houstonians to donate $5 per meal via Facebook to help them do it again.

"Our wheelhouse is cooking for people, and the least we can do is provide nourishment in the midst of angst," McPherson said in a statement. "We want to put our specialties and what we do best toward this bigger purpose, and we’ll deliver the help as quickly as possible.”

In addition to their two establishments, McPherson recruited support from some of the other restaurants in Bravery Chef Hall, including Cherry Block Craft Butcher & Kitchen, Andes Café, and Margaux’s Oyster Bar. Chef Martin Weaver (Watever Fresh) and Lake Charles native Hailey Hester helped provide transportation and logistical support.

Houston Chuckwagon plans to become a 501(c)3 tax-exempt, non-profit organization. Anyone interesting partnering, volunteering, or sponsoring its efforts may reach them via email: houstonchuckwagon@gmail.com.

Houston First Courtesy Photo

Houston's Wortham Center triumphantly reopens after devastating Harvey damage

welcome back, wortham

It took a year to heal and restore, but the Wortham Center has now opened its doors once more to artists and audiences, welcoming Houston back to its performing arts home.

When 270 million gallons of water from Hurricane Harvey flooded the underground garages and tunnel connected to the Wortham and then pushed its way into the building — rising 12 feet in the basement — that might have been the end to one of the city’s most iconic performing arts venue, but Houstonians pull together and rebuild.

The mammoth undertaking to restore and return the space to its former glory, while taking measures for flood mitigation in the future, cost an estimate $100 million. Pumping out all the water and preserving the integrity of building was only the first step in those initial recovery months in 2017.

With one-third of 60 air-handling units damaged, and extensive destruction to much of the basement levels mechanical equipment, electrical and plumbing systems, the replacement and reconstruction took time.

Now, with the majority of the repairs complete — including the rebuilding of the Brown Theater stage — the Wortham will once again become a beacon for the performing arts in Houston.

But before audiences pour into the theaters, Houston First Corporation, which manages and operates the Wortham Center, recently threw a homecoming reception of appreciation in the Cullen Theater to congratulate the many people responsible for the Wortham’s reemergence as a vital part of the Theater District and downtown.

Attended by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, city officials and representatives of many of the major performing arts organizations that call the Wortham home, the event gave those most familiar with the inner workings of the venue a chance to celebrate.

“Not getting back for this season, simply was not an option,” says Mayor Turner. “We knew we would be back and be ready for this season because that’s just who we are. We believe in one another.”

Mayor Turner’s remarks made clear that the Wortham Center’s restoration can represent the city’s perseverance and resilience.

“What happens on this stage is just a small piece of what takes place within the 640 square miles of the city of Houston,” Turner says. “Everyday the show goes on. People perform and everyday some child in our city sees us all do our best. The art that exists in our city is a reflection of who we are.”

As an illustration the Wortham’s impact on so many Houstonian’s lives and how many people it takes ensure the show goes on, Brenda Bazan, Houston First, president and CEO called upon the stage representatives of the many people who call the space home, the dancers, singers, ushers, box office staff, administrators, caterers, maintenance crews, costume and set designers. Together they’ll ensure the performing arts will once again flourish within the Wortham.

As the stage lights go up this week, they’ll first illuminate one of the world’s greatest opera singers, Plácido Domingo, for a special concert with Houston Grand Opera on September 26, but that’s just the beginning of all triumphant returns to the Cullen and Brown stages from HGO, Society for the Performing Arts, Mercury, DaCamera, and of course the Houston Ballet bringing the beloved Nutcracker back to its snow-dusted home in November.

“Through these performances,” says Turner, “it infuses hope, aspiration, and inspiration into the people of the city of Houston.”

The restored Brown Theater.

Houston First Courtesy Photo
The restored Brown Theater.
Courtesy image

Harvey-ravaged Italian restaurant finds new home, and new name, in Spring Branch

Enter the Warehouse

A flood-ravaged Houston restaurant will rise again in a new location. The owners of Spaghetti Warehouse, the downtown restaurant that shuttered after Hurricane Harvey flooded it with several feet of water, are bringing a new concept to Spring Branch.

Warehouse 72 (named for the year the restaurant opened its first location in Dallas) will update the familiar concept for a new generation. Slated to debut in late 2018 or early 2019, the new restaurant will occupy approximately 8,600 square feet in the Marq*E Entertainment Center. As the renderings above show, the space will feature exposed brick, high ceilings, and an open kitchen.

“Exactly one year ago, Spaghetti Warehouse faced a turbulent and uncertain future after the catastrophic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey – including the destruction of the longtime Spaghetti Warehouse home in downtown Houston,” Michael Kim, president of Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurants, said in a statement. He added, “It has been a very difficult circumstance in the months that ensued, but we really wanted to come back despite the many challenges associated. Spaghetti Warehouse leadership made a firm commitment that we would return to Houston; Warehouse 72 not only represents that promised homecoming but also an opportunity to re-engage loyal Spaghetti customers while attracting a new generation of fans to the re-imagined concept in the process.”

Executive chef Don Flores' new menu will mix Spaghetti Warehouse classics with a range of new dishes. Flores, who brings experience from several restaurants in New York as well as the Los Angeles location of acclaimed Japanese restaurant Katsuya, will preserve familiar dishes like the 15-layer lasagna and spinach and mozzarella ravioli while also introducing new tastes like porchetta, Gulf shrimp, and short ribs. To drink, expect an all-new cocktail menu, a focus on Italian wines, and an expanded beer selection.

Diners who miss the restaurant have the opportunity to get a taste on Monday, August 27. Flores and his crew will host a pop-up at Evelyn's Park in Bellaire starting from 4 pm to 8 pm; for $15, patrons can order a combination plate with one Warehouse 72 entree and one Spaghetti Warehouse entree. Kids (10 and under) portions will be available for $8. The restaurant will donate 15-percent of sales to Evelyn's Park Conservancy.

Spaghetti Warehouse is coming to the Marq*E Entertainment Center.

Courtesy image
Spaghetti Warehouse is coming to the Marq*E Entertainment Center.
Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

J.J. Watt reveals how $41.6 million of Harvey donation money to his foundation is being spent

watt a guy

Houston Texans megastar J.J. Watt simply wanted to help. As Harvey was decimating his beloved city, the NFL and pop culture phenom released a video, enlisting fans and followers for support. He challenged them to raise $200,000 for his Justin J. Watt Foundation via a YouCaring drive, “because I know these recovery efforts are going to be massive,” he told viewers.

Watt couldn’t have expected the overwhelming response. In less than two hours, he met his goal; in 24 hours, he surpassed $500,000. Soon he was announcing increases almost daily — the Tennessee Titans, sending love to their former home, sent $1 million to Watt’s campaign alone.

The final number: a staggering $41.6 million — the largest crowdsourced fundraiser in world history, according to the foundation.

Soon, Watt was receiving global praise, and was bestowed with the NFL’s Walter Payton Award, which recognizes the player who best demonstrates a charitable and community spirit. As SportsMap editor Fred Faour noted, the award was a no-brainer.

But, questions quickly arose as to where the funds were being appropriated; Watt even publicly responded to one dubious fan.

Finally, there are answers. On August 27, Watt’s foundation released a statement outlining the progress of the contributions made to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund started by Watt “following the destruction left by Hurricane Harvey 12 months ago.”

All funds have been distributed to eight nonprofits: All Hands and Hearts, Americares, Boys & Girls Clubs, Baker Ripley, Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, Save the Children, and SBP, according to the statement released by the foundation and the Houston Texans.

Additionally, the monies have so far been used on:

  • The cleanup, repair and rebuilding of over 600 homes.
  • The recovery and rebuilding of over 420 childcare centers and after-school programs, serving over 16,000 children.
  • The distribution of over 26,000,000 meals to those affected.
  • Physical and mental health services to over 6,500 individuals.
  • Distribution of medicine to over 10,000 patients.

The statement also outlines a 12-month plan, stating “the work continues.”

  • Home restoration and disaster case management, including assistance with temporary housing, furniture, appliances, transportation and more with Baker Ripley.
  • Continued assistance with both physical and mental health services, including the distribution of medicine and implementation of mobile medical clinics with Americares.
  • Additional support to handle the massive increase in demand following Harvey, covering 48 counties through the Houston Food Bank, Coastal Bend Food Bank, Food Bank of the Golden Crescent and Southeast Texas Food Bank with Feeding America.
  • Rebuilding Harvey-damaged homes, while also focusing on providing resiliency for future storms in Rockport, Aransas County, Refugio County and San Patricio County with All Hands & Hearts.
  • Rebuilding and restoring damaged Boys & Girls Clubs centers in Harvey-affected areas, serving over 5,000 youth.
  • Repairing and rebuilding Harvey-damaged homes with Habitat for Humanity.

In addition to details of the disbursement, Watt released a lengthy letter to fans and supporters of his cause.

“As I reflect on the events of Hurricane Harvey one year ago, the memories of destruction and devastation remain, but they are accompanied by memories of hope, selflessness and the beauty of the human spirit. The actions of professional first responders and everyday citizens alike were an inspiration to the world and a shining example of the inherent good that lies within us all. Those actions locally were then supported by the actions of hundreds of thousands from around the world showing their support and donating their money in order to help out in any way they could.

I was fortunate enough to witness that generosity first hand, as the fundraiser that I started with a simple goal of $200,000 turned into an unbelievable outpouring of support from people all around the globe.

When it was all said and done, after the late donations and checks that came in after the deadline were counted, the total amount that was donated and is now hard at work in the community was $41.6 million. In the past year, those funds have been used to repair and rebuild houses, allowing people to finally return and once again have a place to call ‘home’. Those funds have restored and rebuilt childcare centers so that parents can once again have a place to take their children where they know they will be safe, so that they can return to work and resume a sense of normalcy. Those funds have provided millions and millions of meals to people who weren’t sure where their next meal might be coming from after being devastated by the storm.

And those funds provided physical and mental health care to those who suffered from the events of that awful weekend one year ago. While a great deal has been accomplished in the past 12 months, there is still much work to be done. Moving forward, there will be more of the same, as we continue to work with our incredible nonprofit partners to provide as much help and support as we possibly can for those affected by Harvey. I cannot thank everyone enough for your support and generosity.

You have truly provided an unbelievable example of what the human spirit is capable of accomplishing. Every time that I am fortunate enough to witness someone step back into their home for the first time or a child run around on the playground again, I am reminded of the generosity of strangers that helped make it all possible. Thank you and never stop spreading the positivity! #HoustonStrong”

Photo by Eric Sandler

West Houston neighborhood restaurant finally reopens following Harvey shutter

Cafe Benedicte is back

As Houston approaches the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, parts of the city are still recovering from the storm’s massive floodwaters. That’s particularly true in west Houston, where the decision to release water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs kept people out of their homes and businesses for two weeks or more.

Despite the challenges, Houstonians are determined to come back from these challenges, as one restaurant demonstrates.

Cafe Benedicte, a Mediterranean restaurant on Memorial Drive west of Eldridge, had almost four feet of water in it for 18 days. Closed since the storm, it quietly reopened on August 6.

“As I got here, I started to see and smell the disaster,” owner Vahid Navissi tells CultureMap. “The next morning, we got a demolition crew in here. My family and my friends were all here. We were in awe as to the extent of the damage. By the time we got done, you could see all the way to the other end of the shopping center.”

Due to an oversight, Navissi had neglected to pay a $639 premium on his flood insurance policy. As a result, all of his claims on the damage had been denied. Although the restaurant’s landlord, local real estate developer Braun Enterprises, offered to help, Navissi simply didn’t have the $250,000 or so it would take to rebuild the restaurant. He thought he was done.

Thankfully, the relationships with his customers that Navissi had spent almost 15 years building paid off. “One of my old, longtime customers and friends, who had always said he wanted to open a restaurant with me, he sought me out and said why aren’t you back yet,” Navissi says. “I said, ‘I can’t get the credit line.’ He said, ‘I’ll build it. You run it.’”

With money in hand, Navissi started rebuilding in May. He even did a little light remodeling by extending the bar from nine seats to 22, converting a private dining room into a lounge, and adding a draft system for craft beer.

For the first two or three weeks, Cafe Benedicte is running a limited menu so that Navissi can get his kitchen crew trained and up to speed. After only a week of service, he’s already seeing a mix of returning regulars and some new faces.

As always, the restaurant will earn its customers’ business by going above and beyond. Navissi says he’s never been shy about making something off the menu — everything from fried chicken to kibbe — if he gets a little advance warning and has the ingredients on hand.

“I was fortunate to put a team together that cooks and serves with love and focus,” Navissi says. “Those are the things that are important to me. To have the honor of being people’s second kitchen, it puts the pressure on to do it right.”

Navissi may be feeling the pressure, but for regulars who can’t wait for that first bite of Cafe Benedicte’s signature lasagna or to linger over the popular brunch, just having the restaurant back may be enough.


Another Harvey hit: Once-popular pub closes 2 north Houston spots

More Harvey Shutters

Two locations of a once-popular bar chain are closed as of this week. As has become the norm recently, the establishment cited Hurricane Harvey as one of the causes.

Baker Street Pub & Grill announced on Facebook that both its Willowbrook and Cypress locations closed on Monday. Two location in Fort Worth also closed, CultureMap Fort Worth reports. A sister concept in Austin, Sherlock's Baker St. Pub and Grill, has also closed, but — wait for it — the Houston location of Sherlock's on Westheimer remains open. All of the shuttered bars posted essentially identical messages to Facebook that read in part:

"Although the timing of this may be difficult for everyone, we want to assure you that we will provide opportunities for every eligible employee to be placed at another location. We’ve made a lot of friends and we hope that your memories here will last a lifetime. This chapter closes, but another will open soon."

Of course, as many of the comments on the posts pointed out, Harvey worst affects didn't reach Cypress or Willowbrook — never mind Austin or Fort Worth. The decisions to shutter seems even more abrupt given that both the Austin and Willowbrook locations posted a full month's worth of band bookings on December 1.

The closures are only the latest setbacks for owner HUSA Management Inc. Earlier this year, the company closed the Local Pour in River Oaks to make way for a 30-story luxury high rise. Baker St. Pub's Rice Village location closed in 2016 when the property owner elected not to renew its lease; that location ultimately became Houston's second Hopdoddy Burger Bar.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Austin blues club brings the show to fans with new indie livestreaming platform

Live on Live

If legendary Austin blues club Antone’s is your vibe, but the drive to Capital City isn't, you’re in luck. Antone’s Nightclub launched a new service for livestreaming its shows in November.

Kicking off with New Orleans-based funk and jam band Dumpstaphunk, for their special “Phunksgiving” show last month with Michael Hale Trio, the full lineup is delineated on the Antone’s website. Specifics were still loose before the launch, allowing the famous blues club to call the shots. The partner agency that created the streaming service, 3rd + Lamar, created the system to give Antone’s as much freedom as possible.

"Partnering with Antone's to build their livestreaming platform and produce each of their shows is an incredible opportunity for 3rd + Lamar," said the agency’s co-founder Nick Schenck in a press release. "The amazing talent that performs at Antone's – and their fans worldwide – deserve best-in-class live production quality, and we're thrilled to play a part in this operation."

Not that Antone’s needed to stand out more in the music industry (the nearly 50-year-old venue has always been one of the best places to see both local and national talent), but this achievement places it among relatively few venues across the country, especially those that operate their system independently.

The intimate Antone's shows are filmed by four Blackmagic 4K cinema cameras on tracks overhead, which ensure that the whole space is easily visible without having camera operators amid the audience.

“We did over 430 individually ticketed shows in 2019 and we felt like we were bursting at the seams,” said Antone’s owner Will Bridges. “Then when livestreams became more prominent during the pandemic we realized, this is our opportunity to take Antone’s outside of our four walls. … [W]e see people in the comment threads all the time saying ‘If I could only be teleported to Antone’s!’ Well now they can.”

The release emphasizes that the system means Antone’s “fully retain[s] ownership of their content, which can then be utilized at their discretion.” It also calls the service “an add-on option for all artists performing at Antone’s,” positioning the service as not just an audience luxury but a performer’s low-cost marketing tool. Suddenly, artists playing at Antone’s are afforded a choice without needing to be invited to record or pay an independent video team, while reaching even more viewers with no extra time spent advertising.

“Our ultimate goal is to make these amazing musical experiences accessible to everyone. Life is busy, but we want to give everyone the opportunity to participate no matter where they are or what they have going on,” said Bridges. “We want to make livestreams from Antone’s totally commonplace. When we announce our upcoming shows, fans have two options: watch it at the club our watch it at home.”

Livestreams are at antonesnightclub.com, and links also appear with each applicable event across the site. Prices are listed on the website, and livestreams start 10-20 minutes before each show.

Alt-rock legends Red Hot Chili Peppers heading to Houston for 2023 North American tour

one hot minute

One of alternative rock's most pioneering and enduring acts is headed to Houston to close out a highly anticipated North American tour next year. Red Hot Chili Peppers will play Minute Maid Park on Thursday, May 25, 2023 as part of a North American trek that kicks off in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 29.

Houston lands the honor of the closeout city for the North American tour (the band will also play a slew of dates in Europe). Effortlessly hip, celeb-fave modern rock band The Strokes will support the Chili Peppers, along with the talented bassist-vocalist Thundercat.

Tickets go on sale this week at 10 am Friday, December 9 online.

Houston fans who can't get enough can also catch the Chili Peppers when they hit The Alamodome in San Antonio on Wednesday, May 17 — the only other Texas date.

Aside from The Strokes and Thundercat, supporting acts along the way include Iggy Pop, The Roots, The Mars Volta, St. Vincent, City and Colour, and King Princess.

Touring in support of their two No. 1 studio albums released in 2022, Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen, the Chili Peppers have been played sold-out shows in London, Paris, Los Angeles, and more with major names such as Notable artists such as A$AP Rocky, Anderson.Paak, Beck, and HAIM.

The first rock band in 17 years to score two No. 1 albums in one year, the band has been red hot on the Billboard charts and at the MTV Video Music Awards, where they received the Global Icon Award and brought the house down with a performance of the No. 1 single “Black Summer,'' which also won the award for Best Rock Video.

Fronted by the impossibly chiseled and ageless (he's 60!) Anthony Kiedis, the Chili Peppers formed in 1983. Unabashedly proud of their LA roots, the band burst onto the scene with early singles such as "Higher Ground" and "Give It Away," both showcases of bassist Flea's slappin', funk-fueled basslines.

Throughout the peak of alternative music in the '90s, the band saw tragedy, personnel changes at guitar, and reinventions — Kiedes' rap-singing, Flea's bass grooves, and singalong choruses all constants over the decades.

While many '90s alt-rock acts fizzled, the Chili Peppers stayed relevant; the band boasts two anthemic singles with more than 1 billion streams — "Californication" and "Under the Bridge" — and more than 25 million followers on Spotify.

Expect this show to be packed with Gen Xers and new fans for what promises to be one hot minute.

Red Hot Chili Peppers 2023 tour dates:

  • Wednesday, March 29 – Vancouver – BC Place
  • Saturday, April 1 – Las Vegas – Allegiant Stadium
  • Thursday, April 6 – Fargo, North Dakota – FargoDome
  • Saturday, April 8 – Minneapolis – US Bank Stadium
  • Friday, April 14 – Syracuse, New York – JMA Wireless Dome
  • Friday, May 12 – San Diego – Snap Dragon Stadium
  • Sunday, May 14 – Phoenix – State Farm Stadium
  • Wednesday, May 17 – San Antonio – Alamodome
  • Friday, May 19 – Gulf Shores, Alabama – Hangout Music Festival
  • Thursday, May 25 – Houston – Minute Maid Park

Fan-favorite, wood-fired Houston pizzeria quietly opens in the Heights

enough (pizza) to love

A popular Houston pizzeria has opened its second location in the Heights. The Gypsy Poet has begun a quiet soft opening in the former Fegen’s space at 1050 Studewood St.

Since its 2019 debut in Midtown, the Gypsy Poet has earned a devoted following for its wood-fired pizzas. The restaurant’s personal-sized, 13-inch pizzas exist somewhere on the spectrum between traditional Neapolitan and classic New York — too crispy for the Italians but not quite foldable like an East Coast slice. Options include a classic Margherita and the signature Fancy Backpacker, which is topped with prosciutto, truffle oil, and arugula.

Part of the restaurant’s appeal stems from its friendly service and easy going atmosphere. It regularly hosts informal musical performances and other artistic happenings.

Taken together, Gypsy Poet has earned legions on fans. Yelp users ranked it as Texas’s second best restaurant in 2021. More recently, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy awarded it a high 7.8 rating during a pizza review.

The restaurant opens at a time of transition for pizzerias in the Heights. Dallas-based Neapolitan restaurant Cane Rosso closed last year, and suburban favorite Crust Pizza Co. opened this summer in the former Mellow Mushroom space at N. Shepherd and 20th.

The Heights location of Gypsy Poet will be open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9 pm; Friday from 12-2 pm and 5-10 pm; Saturday 2-10 pm; and Sunday 2-9 pm.