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Courtesy of Niko Niko's

A beloved Houston restaurant is bringing its gyros and spanakopitas to The Woodlands. Niko Niko’s will open its fourth Houston-area location at the former Luby’s at 922 Lake Front Cir.

Owner Dimitri Fetokakis first shared the news via social media. He tells CultureMap that two of his cousins purchased the property to help him grow Niko Niko’s. Fetokakis estimates the new restaurant will open in 10 to 12 months, putting it on track for fall 2023.

“I trust them. They’re good people,” Fetokakis says about his new business partners. “They’re not in it for the money. They’re in it to help people.”

Adding a fourth location allows Fetokakis to provide some of his long time employees with advancement opportunities. He wants to reward them for the years — or even decades — helping Niko Niko’s grow.

“We have such good people who have been with us for a long time,” he says. “We’ll pull some from each location to make it happen.”

Open since 1977, diners can expect the menu will be mostly similar to both the Montrose and Memorial-area locations. That means all of the Niko Niko’s favorites will be present: gyros, kebabs, chicken avgolemono soup, honey balls, and dozens of other items. Fetokakis says he’s planning to add a second rotisserie that will allow him to serve lamb as well as the Memorial location’s weekend roast pork special. He has a couple other design ideas in mind as well.

“We might do a little but more rotisserie, more action stations,” he says. “Right now the honey balls are kind of hidden, the gyro machine is hidden. If we lay it out right, we’ll have more visibility.”

Also new at the Woodlands location will be a drive-thru window. Customers will be able to pick up to-go orders from it instead of parking and coming inside. He’s also planning a more limited drive-thru menu of dishes that can be executed quickly to satisfy more spontaneous cravings.

“That’s the future,” Fetokakis says. “I do it at my own restaurants. I get curbside.”

As for the future of Niko Niko’s, Fetokakis acknowledges he and his cousins have discussed bringing the restaurant to other parts of Houston and Texas. How quickly they grow remains to be seen.

“We’re going to see what happens. We’ll do one and see if we like each other and go from there,” he says.

“I’m 50 years old. I don’t know how much longer I got. Thankfully, I’ve got good people around me where I don’t have to work like I used to behind the counter 15, 18 hours a day.”

Photo by Michael Anthony

Favorite Houston watering hole opens 'longest bar in Texas' in bustling Woodlands locale

The Ice House Cometh

One of Houston's most popular patio bars has opened its third location. Kirby Ice House has arrived in The Woodlands.

First announced last year, the new Kirby Ice House occupies a prime location at 1700 Lake Robbins Dr. that's near The Woodlands Mall, Market Street, and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. With 10,000-square-feet of interior space and an 18,000-square-foot patio, the massive bar has room for 700 people.

Photo by Michael Anthony

Kirby Ice House has opened in The Woodlands.

The interior features a 141-foot-long bar, which dwarfs the 120-foot bar at the Memorial/Spring Branch location and is touted as the longest bar in Texas. Follow all the games on 61 HDTVs or a 300-inch jumbo screen. Interior details include Kirby Ice House signatures like vintage posters of actors and actresses and Texas signage. A 30-foot tall live oak tree provides shade on the patio.

Drink options start with 51 rotating beer taps along with wines by-the-glass and bottle. Cocktails include a cucumber-lime Moscow Mule, blood orange paloma, and lemonade Old Fashioned. Food trucks — including Satellite Pizza, Lupe Tortilla, Hearsay on the Go, Mr.Sizzles, and Boot Shooters BBQ — will be on-site daily.

"We’re so excited to finally be a part of the vibrant Woodlands community,” partners Danny Evans and Russ Morgan said in a statement. “This is a prime location with incredible proximity to residences, businesses, hotels, and attractions, and the casual indoor/outdoor format is a perfect match for the relaxed vibe of the area. We look forward to being a central, neighborhood-centric place to gather — whether it’s for an office happy hour, birthday, sporting event, pre-gaming for a concert, or just hanging out with friends.”

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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.