What's the Deal With Upper Kirby?

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Could someone please explain the swimming pool at Roak?
In the past few weeks, we've seen the demise of nightclub Roak, bars OTC and Hendrick's and Cafe Express, all of which will be torn down to make way for a new mixed use development on that stretch of Kirby Drive. You know, because West Ave, the other mixed use development on Kirby, is doing so well.

Earlier this week, we got news that popular brunch spot Saint Genevieve suddenly closed, and reps for the Van Delden Group who own the bar/restaurant told CultureMap "They simply decided to close Saint Genevieve so they can focus on other projects in their pipeline." Apparently they have projects in the works in Austin, and they swear they have more on the horizon for Houston in 2014 and 2015, though two of their other local concepts have closed in the past year.

On the heels of Saint Genevieve's shuttering came news that Brio Tuscan Grill had also closed, shocking no one who's had the overpriced Italian food from the chain restaurant. Based on TABC reports that CultureMap linked to in their story about Brio's closing, it looks like many restaurants and bars in the area just aren't doing enough sales to keep up with the astronomical rent costs. Like others, we don't think these will be the last businesses to exit Kirby--and West Ave--in the near future.

Not that we're particularly sad to see Brio or Roak or Saint Genevieve go, but the turnover rate on the block is worrisome. CultureMap predicts that outsiders with money may come in and establish restaurants in some of the now-empty spaces on Kirby, but does that really enhance the local dining scene? Do we need more chains a la Eddie V's and Del Frisco's dominating the neighborhood? It clearly didn't work with Brio.

It's true that all neighborhoods go through transformations. Drive through Midtown and you'll likely see just as many empty spaces and lots as occupied ones. It's the rate with which things are turning over in Upper Kirby that's alarming. And with the projected rent increases, we're left to wonder what kind of businesses can last in the increasingly swanky 'hood.

What do you see for the future of Upper Kirby?

Location Info

Carrabba's Italian Grill

3115 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

West Ave Leasing and Marketing Center

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: General

Whole Foods

2955 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: General

Pico's Mex-Mex

3601 Kirby Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Luna Pizzeria

3435 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Grace's

3111 Kirby Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Trenza - CLOSED

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Local Foods

2555 Kirby, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pondicheri

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
26 comments
insideout098
insideout098

As a home owner in Upper Kirby, I can pretty much tell you which places will make it and which won't. After you live here a while, you get a sixth sense about these things. First, everyone knew the bars on Kirby were a fleeting virus. No parking, sleazy clientele, wrong zip code. As for Brio, are you kidding me? On the heels of Pesce? That was the dumbest move I think I've ever witnessed in this neighborhood. They just as soon put a Red Lobster there. It was an eye sore, not to mention everything else that was wrong with it. As for Trenza, what a joke! The place is the size of the Reliant Center and doesn't even have a storefront! Are you kidding me? Too much is happening too quickly in Upper Kirby. The yuppie crowd is not affluent enough, or numerous enough, to float these establishments, and the River Oaks crowd is staying in their neighborhood, particularly the middle-aged rich who will continue to call Brasserie 19 home. This is the crowd everyone wants, but you have to be an insider to figure out how to nail them down. They don't like kids, can't stand suburbanites in for the weekend, get hives around ghetto, and want everyone to kiss their butts. No wonder Brasserie 19 does so well.

Michael
Michael

Check out City Centre. Greed has captured the developers. They are pouring concrete like there is no tomorrow, but they can't grasp that parking is a nightmare. I've quit going to City Centre as I do not need the hassle of looking for a parking space or risk being towed away (which they do a lot in that area) when I go out to enjoy an evening out. Host fortunately has lots of places to go, and I have better choices to go to than City Centre.

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

I agree with Moses. It's yuppie trash. Pandering. Way too snooty. Taco Milagro was a delightful staple of the 'hood.

katsola1
katsola1

Mixed use might work in Houston if it wasn't exclusively being built to attract upper income clients only. I think Pondicheri is a good example of that why this is true.


Pondicheri is a locally owned, wonderful place that serves well priced food, has consistent quality, interesting menu, with great friendly service and a casual atmosphere that welcomes a broader range of clientele, with creative  and thoughtful design. Unlike other restaurants and bars nearby they are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. During the day you order from counter, awesome for people on the go in the morning or on a business lunch break. They change it up for dinner and have table service; which feels nicer for a meal you want to enjoy without worry of time. They also offer treats, baked goods and a small amount of retail goods to take home. And it doesn't hurt that they have managed to make their Indika fans happy with a more casual offering and create new fans in the area, with good word of mouth. Since I live close enough to walk, in an old apartment complex a block away, I have eaten there at various times of day. I often times see professionals, River Oaks moms and daughters on a shopping break, small business owners that I know and a bartender or barista who served me a delicious latte at another hot spot the day before. 


And now developers are slated to essentially make some of the same mistakes on the other end of Kirby, and almost every corner of Upper Kirby, Montrose and the Heights, all while scratching their heads wondering why mixed use isn't working or if they will get their luxury apartment complex up before the other guy and before they run out of people with the required income to rent them or they current tenants start a family and want a house. Maybe the problem isn't Houston or Houstonians, maybe it is time for developers to rethink, design smart, mix the demographic and income and be invested in the community a little longer than 5 years when they sell the property and get out. I am not expert, just my opinion, based on what I see that has succeeded.

gossamersixteen
gossamersixteen topcommenter

The property developers need to take the hit, the gross over speculation and sky high rents should be their ultimate downfall. The restaurants run on razor thin margins, and it's sad how many good restaurants have been forced out of business due to developers/property owners greed cough cough (farrago).

FRL713
FRL713

Traffic and parking are a challenge causing a lot of people just avoid the area completely.  The design of the West Ave center in particular is confusing and unapproachable.  I love Kata Robata for lunch, but there is not enough parking in that lot and very little street parking anywhere in the area, so I go less than I would like.


Hawthorn (which I liked) is another upscale spot in the area that bit the dust.

vanegal
vanegal

Big mistakes the developers of West Ave. made:  Built focusing only on car traffic and not pedestrian.  They did not construct store fronts facing Kirby, did not leave parking spots on Kirby (like Bagby in Midtwon, University Drive in Rice Village). When are they going to learn that if you build thinking about walkability, people will eventually embrace it.  It has happened in Houston - Look at Rice Village, Uptwon Park, Babgy St.  

Jimi Austin
Jimi Austin

It'll be interesting to see all those "luxury" apartments eventually turn into slums.

Eherlihy
Eherlihy

" CultureMap predicts that outsiders with money..."

Ahem, Culture Map repeats stuff, sometimes reports stuff, but never do they predict stuff. This was a prediction from an 'industry insider" too lilly-livered to go on record.

Montego
Montego

How does a restaurant owner make any real money by renting a space, especially a place with ridiculously high rents like West Ave or that Post Oak center where Philippe was/Table is? 

Do they look at a spreadsheet, run the numbers and decide, yeah, I can not only make my nut but also put a good bit aside in profit?

To me, restaurant success comes from the real-estate play. You buy the places, and income from food and drink pay your mortgage and you win later when you sell the property.

paval
paval topcommenter

The cake only has so many pieces. Opening new places is not making the cake any bigger. 

But businesses opening and closing is just how business runs. Some will get it right, some will not. 

Houston's hip (dinks, urban, yuppies, etc.) population is quite volatile (negative way of saying flexible) and when one area is hot, people all go there, once its not they migrate somewhere else. Midtown, Washington, Upper Kirby, Montrose, Midtown, has been the sequence I have observed in seven years in Houston. 

The problem with the "flex" areas is that investors will put in a lot of money to hype up a hip area and once it is not hip they migrate as well with their money to the next investment. 

As for the Van Delden group they must have made millions with their places, Sawyer Park, Wonderbar, Red Door and St. Gen. But more and more complaints about their places from patrons (racism, urbanism (term i never heard till yesterday in Culturmap), doucheiness, etc) must have told them that the downfall is not far. So better pull out the money, move it to Austin, multiply it many many times again, wait out the heat against you in Houston to go down and come back with something new, while you keep telling your fans that you will come back with something huge and great. Start cycle again. 


negramaro
negramaro

There are simply too many high-end restaurants chasing too few dollars. 

Middle class incomes have stagnated or decreased during the past 30 years, while education costs have flamed up, which means fewer visits to these type places. 

And although this section of the city is relatively wealthy and upwardly mobile, newly degreed graduates and new professionals often have debt overhangs that prohibit them from being West Ave lunch and dinner dandies.

CR250
CR250

Big mixed use projects with big capital costs need big rents to make them work.  Hence, almost the only thing that works in these projects is multi-unit chains that can afford lower margins per unit due to the multiples of having  many units.  Single site local tenants cant make it work with rents that usually run twice the rate in a traditional center.Also, that West Ave. was built with the storefronts turning inward away from Kirby does not help.  It seems like a fortress and not worth driving into the garage to go there. 

  Look at Highland Village, with a few local exceptions, its almost all national retailers.  Galleria, ditto, the new projcet at Westcreek and Westheimer, ditto.  Now on Brio, this neighborhood or inside the loop west of downtown in general has never seen big chain nationlal restaurants make it.  The kirby dining crowd just wont support them, the landscape is littered with them. Flemings, high end steakhouses an exception. 

Montego
Montego

@paval you mean to say 'fickle' rather than flexible

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@negramaro I'm one of those "newly degreed graduates and new professionals" with debt. I eat at Fat Bao a lot...

vonBingen
vonBingen

@negramaro
"West Ave lunch and dinner dandies"...I like that!

But trenza doesn't even open for lunch. Are they trying to go out of business?

rogerscorpion
rogerscorpion

@Montego @paval They're trading off steady business for quick bucks. They're thinking more like nightclub moguls than restauranteurs. 

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