Roy de la Garza on The Broken Spoke Fire and What's Next

Categories: Restaurant News

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Roy de la Garza, current principal of Milby High School and former proprietor of The Broken Spoke Cafe.
Roy de la Garza was already having a bad month before a fire destroyed his restaurant: His partner at The Broken Spoke Cafe, Catherine Duwez, had left unexpectedly to start a rival Belgian restaurant a few months prior, and business was down.

"Cathy kind of threw us for a loop when she went over to Cafe Brussels," de la Garza said over the phone yesterday afternoon, sounding resigned but remarkably amiable about the whole thing. "She left saying that she had no intention of opening another place."

"We always had a real small customer base in the summertime, so we'd always just squeeze by in the summertime. When she opened Cafe Brussels it cut our customer base in half."

And after a fire at a neighboring duplex blazed out of control this past Monday afternoon -- smoke filling the attic space of The Broken Spoke Cafe and flames damaging the rafters so badly that the roof caved in -- that customer base has been cut down to nothing. It was so massive a fire that Washington Avenue was shut down for blocks in either direction and required "75 firefighters" with "29 units" to get the flames under control, according to the Houston Fire Department.

At the time of the fire, de la Garza says, he and his new partner -- Pierre Guitard -- were still negotiating with property owner Ralph Thomas over the rent.

"I guess we're going in a completely different direction now," de la Garza stated plainly.

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Photo by Candace Garcia
The Broken Spoke in better days.
As to what caused the blaze, the HFD hasn't yet issued a statement. But de la Garza is fairly certain that a "transient man" living in the abandoned duplex next door is responsible, perhaps inadvertently.

"We haven't found him yet to ask him, though," de la Garza admitted. However, he said: "There were no services turned on at that house -- no electricity, no water, no power -- so it had to have been a person that started the fire."

The duplex itself is a charred, vaguely house-shaped pile of rubble a few days after the fire. The Broken Spoke is intact, but the limited visible damage from the street belies the serious issues inside. With much of the ceiling partially collapsed, de la Garza says, "the entire roof would have to be rebuilt -- and it's already an old building to begin with."

De la Garza has no doubts that Thomas, the property owner, will rebuild, however. "Ralph Thomas tends to hang on to everything, so my guess is that he's going to try and find a way to make it work."

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The Broken Spoke today.
For his part, de la Garza and new partner Guitard are focusing on a new direction entirely -- a direction that was already in the works before the fire.

"We were gonna start a French steakhouse," he says. "Something like more of a lounge-type atmosphere. Pierre is from France originally, and we knew that two Belgian restaurants so close to each other would never work." But after the fire, those plans are on hold indefinitely while the two regroup and salvage as much equipment as possible from the fire-wrecked building.

In the meantime, de la Garza is quite content to keep his day job as principal of Milby High School. His tone of voice changes when he talks about the job, one he says he was working toward for years when he accepted the position in June 2011.

"It's just an absolute blast," de la Garza says, "so I'm going to concentrate on that for a while." It's not difficult to imagine him grinning broadly as he talks about Milby, for as much as he enjoyed his time at The Broken Spoke. It's an enthusiasm that translates easily across the phone lines.

"I love the [restaurant] business, so I wouldn't mind owning another restaurant or bar if the opportunity presented itself -- but right now I don't want to do anything that takes time away from the school."



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Location Info

Broken Spoke Cafe - CLOSED

1809 Washington, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cafe Brussels

1718 Houston Ave., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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8 comments
Helios
Helios

Seems like a good guy, Roy does. How he had the luck of teaming up with Catherine of Many Sly Smiles is a mystery I don't particularly care to ponder. Wish Roy and Pierre the best with plans!

chaz0717
chaz0717

@EatingOurWords oh no! I have known Roy for years. A genuinely nice guy.

SmokeyTheBear
SmokeyTheBear

Broken Spoke has been closed for at least two weeks before the fire. The growth and brush surrounding the abandoned house was being cleared on all sides for the last few weeks as well. Seems a little suspicious.

 

I guess when the fire was set, they didn't intend for the Broken Spoke to be damaged. If there was no electricity and it isn't cold out, there is reason to believe the fire was not to keep a 'transient' warm. I doubt a semi-homeless person would purposely set fire to a building that provided him with shelter and free rent. 

 

Maybe the owner didn't want the expense of demolishing the duplex. Of course, this could have been an accident, but it is a lot more fun to suspect otherwise.

 

So remember, only you can set a fire and blame it on a transient! 

Mr.Can
Mr.Can

There was a reason that the customer base was always smaller during the summer, The Spoke was always about 5 degrees too warm for the type of food and beer that they served. After 3 or 4 Kwaks and a bowl of mussels mariniere, I generally left there coated in sweat.  I loved their food and I'm going to miss them while they're gone, but it was always a more comfortable dining experience during the fall and winter.

iMidget
iMidget

Check out Justine in Austin.  Add more lounge to it and bingo!  I'm there!

bdunkel
bdunkel

 @SmokeyTheBear

 Assuming the only reason a transient would have a fire is to keep warm is ignorance on your part.  Transients also like to heat/cook food.  Don't blame Roy for this when you have no idea what you are talking about.  He lost everything and gained nothing!

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @Mr.Can I'm with you. That dining room had a tendency to get sweltering in the summer; Zelko Bistro had a similar problem when it first opened. Tough to get adequate A/C in these old buildings.

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