Everywhere you look in Houston, there are empty buildings. Even in a crunch for real estate as a city, we’re constantly cycling tenants, primarily commercial tenants in less prosperous areas. If you’ve done any driving around the surface streets of our fair city lately, then you’ve likely noticed at least a few vacant fast-food restaurants. Chances are they’ve all been or at least mostly have been Church’s Chicken locations. The downfall of Church’s Chicken all started in 1989 when Popeye’s bought out Church’s. There was pushback from Church’s franchisees who knew this would destroy their company and filed lawsuits to try and prevent the takeover. At the time, the companies did overlap in some significant areas. The two companies also had large expansions towards different coasts. Popeye’s used this to convert hundreds of Church’s locations to Popeye’s in areas where they did not already have a presence. According to the terms of the settlement of lawsuits, a good number of Church’s Chicken locations remained, and the two companies continued to operate side by side as independent competitors. With the most valuable locations, even in Houston, plucked for Popeye’s, the company would start selling off corporate Church’s locations to franchisees. Their goal was to maintain a very thing corporate structure, maximizing their profits. The next few years would be rough for Church’s with minimal corporate structure and support. Eventually, in 2002 Popeyes would sell their Houston Church’s Chicken operations to David Davoudpour, who would then become the largest single franchisee for Church’s. Davoudpour’s company, Best American Hospitality Corp., had also purchased Church’s locations in California and Arizona, where he had first found success with the brand. The Houston stores would prove profitable and eventually help fund Davoudpour’s decision to have Best American Hospitality Corp. purchase Shoney’s. He would even briefly bring Shoney’s back to Houston in the early 2010s. However, it seems Church’s was the superior concept, replacing the single return after only a few months.
Until 2022 Church’s Chicken locations in Houston and the Golden Triangle were considered a strong, although not super highly regarded, fast food chain. All of a sudden, BAH-owned stores began closing without explanation. The stores seemed to be closed without much warning. Very little was reported on the matter, but it seems that even some employees may have been unaware of locations closing until showing up to a locked store the day of their shift. The only explanation provided has been a corporate statement from Church’s explaining that specific locations were closed because a franchisee did not meet corporate standards. Buildings were left intact and mostly untouched, and Google Maps initially listed restaurants as Temporarily Closed. Within a few weeks, a handful of locations reopened, and signs began to come off all others. Besides this, little direct information would be provided until 7 Pie suddenly emerged, a new by-the-slice pizza concept offering drive-thru service, similar to Ninfa’s mostly forgotten Bambalino’s. I visited 7 Pie only once, and my experience was less than favorable. Granted, I’m not a pizza eater (milk allergy), so I had to sample their chicken tenders and fries, which weren’t bad quality. However, I was the only person in the restaurant besides two employees. Overall, eight former Church’s locations, as listed on the 7 Pie website, were slated to be converted. However, only five would make it before the plug was pulled on the project. The locations converted include 12350 Westheimer, 6405 Telephone, Bay City, and Port Arthur. Work on Freeport, Livingston, La Marque, and Santa Fe was canceled seemingly early on. 7 Pie seems to have had mixed reviews from the few customer reviews during its brief tenure. All locations were permanently shut down by April 2023.
As of the writing of this post, I stumbled upon a lawsuit between the owners of the Church’s Brand and their former Houston franchisee based on trademark infringement. It’s unclear what the problem was; however, it could be connected somehow. As for quality issues, those seem to stem from long-time franchisees of Church’s growing accustomed to the lack of supervision. New corporate owners picked up Church’s in 2021. They seem intent on fixing up the chain’s American reputation to match better how Church’s, aka Texas Chicken, is perceived outside of the U.S. For now, though, Church’s only has about half the number of stores in Houston as they did before 2022. Eleven sites were slated to reopen under a new franchisee, but only four have. The other locations which did not reopen include the 7Pie locations. We’ll have to wait and see what comes next for the Church’s 7Pie saga.