Shoney’s Houston Experiments from Church’s Chicken to Cheap Pizza

Howdy folks, and welcome back to Houston Historic Retail. Today we’re taking a trip down a rabbit hole that starts back in the late 80s. We’ll talk about how Shoney’s presence in Texas has evolved over the years and what the future holds for a company that no longer operates any of its namesake restaurants within our state. To start, here’s a bit of history on Shoney’s. The company was started by the West Virginia franchisee of the Big Boy brand, Alex Schoenbaum. Originally named the Parkette Drive-In, the stores were renamed Shoney’s Big Boy after aligning with Big Boy. Their owner then began to subfranchise Big Boy locations across the Southeast. The company quickly grew but was limited in where it could expand due to its Big Boy Connection. To expand further, Shoney’s elected to end their contract with Big Boy in 1984. Shoney’s then began to expand into territory where other Big Boy franchisees operated, like Texas. In 1985 the first two Shoney’s locations would open in Texas. Over the next 15 years, the chain would open nearly 70 locations in Texas. Including a small but relatively successful number of hotels named Shoney’s Inn. While Shoney’s would see initial success in Texas, they would be quickly undercut by other similar chains attempting to expand around the same time. Being especially hard hit by the presence of Denny’s, which took over many remaining Kip’s locations in Dallas. In 2000 Shoney’s entered bankruptcy and began closing locations. By 2007, the company was purchased by a Church’s Chicken Franchisee.

An unknown Shoney’s location in 2009. Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

Enter David Davoudpour, CEO of Royal Capital Corp., a company that had been purchasing company-owned Church’s Chicken locations. In the 80s, Popeye’s had purchased competitor Church’s and taken on lots of debt. To help bail themselves out, Popeye’s began selling off Church’s locations to franchisees. Davoudpour purchased hundreds and, by the 2000s, was the largest single Church’s Chicken Franchisee. Royal Capital and Davoudpour already had a connection to the Houston area. In 2002, his company had purchased pretty much every company-owned Church’s location in South East Texas. After purchasing Shoney’s, the company’s new owners had a strong core business in the Southeast, and weaker expansion states, where the company had not flourished. By this point, it was apparent the Texas market was not flourishing, and around 2008, Davoudpour would shut down the final Houston Shoney’s location. However, with his success in purchasing Church’s, he seemed to have plans for the city. In 2012, during the 65th anniversary of Shoney’s, CEO David Davoudpour arrived in Houston to debut a new concept. Shoney’s “On the Go.” This new restaurant would be wildly different from a standard Shoney’s. It features a limited menu, no buffet, counter service, and a drive-thru, more resembling a fast food outlet than a Shoney’s. The location was one of two purpose-built Shoney’s On The Go locations, the other in Buford, Georgia. It also seems that the concept was added to a couple of existing Shoney’s locations, except without the drive-thru portion. In Houston, the Shoney’s would receive relatively popular reviews, with most diners enjoying their food but lamenting the lack of proper seating. The location would close after only about six months of operations.

Photo Credits: Shoney’s On the Go Grand Opening Video – YouTube

Almost as quickly as it had begun, Shoney’s On The Go had the rug pulled out from under it. In retrospect, it seems that Houston Shoney’s On the Go may have been a last-minute stunt more than anything else. The space was almost immediately flipped into a Davoudpour-owned Church’s Chicken outlet. When he had purchased the Houston chicken outlets, the agreement stated that he was to continue building locations. At this time, though, he had only managed to build a single new Church’s Chicken in Houston. Interestingly, the only Church’s Chicken he had built was also at the end of a strip center. Knowing this, it seems that from the get-go, this space may have been planned for a Church’s, and not a Shoney’s. While their attempt may have been genuine, it was ill-planned as Houstonian’s general memory of the brand was quite weak and not terribly positive, with quality really dropping at the end. Over the next few years, Shoney’s would continue to shut their remaining locations in Texas until they were down to just one, which closed in 2021. In 2022 Davoudpour’s relationship with Church’s Chicken took a dive when they began closing locations after corporate claimed the franchisee failed to meet certain standards. Rather than patching up, it seems that Davoudpour is redeveloping these locations without the help of Church’s. Instead, relying on his Shoney’s name recognition to promote a new concept named 7 Pie.  So far, only a few locations have opened, including the former Shoney’s On the Go. The concept is a cheap pizza joint in a somewhat similar vein to Little Ceasers but with a wider selection. With the first former Church’s locations flipping only recently, it remains to be seen if 7 Pie will be Shoney’s next success in Houston.

Photo Credits: Exterior Photo Google | Counter Photo Ati Contreras | Dining Room Photo Trae H.

7Pie CEO David Davoudpour is back where he stood with Shoney Bear 10 years ago. Photo Credit: Dylan McEwan