This failed Hartz’s Concept Restaurant has worn many hats

Howdy, folks, and welcome back to HHR! Today we’re doing a deep dive into a restaurant space on the Westside that can’t seem to keep a tenant. The space started out as the second location of El Papo, a small chain along the Northwest side of Houston. While far from being the first Tex-Mex chain in Houston, El Papo was pretty early on the Northwestside first opening in 1977 and making it up to three locations by 1985. However, around this time, bigger chains like the now-vanishing Casa Ole were taking the area by storm. El Papo would declare bankruptcy and shut down in early 1987. This location would be sold to a family that would convert it into a Chinese restaurant. It would go under a few names like Jade of China, changing hands a couple of times until a Hartz’s franchisee got their hands on the building. They would spend somewhere close to a Million Dollars to convert the restaurant from a traditional to counter service setup. According to the owner of Big Daddy’s, the location was meant to be a concept store for Hartz’s. The chain wanted to move away from its image as a low-quality drive-thru chain and set a more formal tone. With attention moved from the drive-thru, emphasis was placed on the buffet, a Hartz’s staple. The size and scope of the buffet would be increased, and the dining room would take on a more formal look and feel. Unfortunately, though, the chain’s attempt was short-lived, closing after about two years.

The location, 4992 Hwy 6, Houston, TX 77084, would be sold at a deep discount to its current tenant, Big Daddy’s BBQ. While the paint and wallpaper have been updated, much of the old Hartz’s hardware and fixtures remain. With Big Daddy’s reusing the old buffet line with some modifications made. Big Daddy’s has done well at this location for a while now, making them the longest-standing tenant by far. However, the chain seems to be somewhat struggling, recently shutting down its Westheimer location. Purely based on visiting the two remaining locations, I would guess this store does less business than it sister location, which has a drive-thru. If it does close, who knows what will replace Big Daddy’s, but chances are that most of the old restaurant will be scrapped. This location famously caught on fire in 2017, but the damage seems to have mostly been contained in the kitchen. Thankfully, the Mystery Machine Catering Vehicle also appears to still be in operation. This Big Daddy’s is an interesting curio from a failed Hartz experiment. Let’s see how much longer it’ll last.