Portofino Shopping Center

The idea of being a “fan of retail” has gained a good deal of traction in the last couple of years. With the prevalence of Facebook groups, YouTube Channels, Discord Servers interest in retail is growing. My interest in retail began with the discovery of some of the earliest retail blogs. As retail has become more mainstream it has started to develop an “aesthetic”, based mostly around nostalgia. This aesthetic extends to an interest in abandoned things and Vaporwave. Fun stuff, but it’s not what really got me started with retail. What really got me started, all the way back in the days of dial-up, was an interest in unique design.

The Sam’s Club is the only original tenant to receive any major updates while keeping the original theming. The updates includes the new paint, added pickup canopy, and additional/updated signage.

Today we’ll be talking about The Portofino Shopping Center. Located off of I-45 in Shenandoah, Texas, Portofino is closer to The Woodlands, than Houston City limits. Although it does fall inside of the Houston Metro Area. My first encounter with this shopping center must have been around the about 2000. It would have been with my grandfather on to his home town of Groesbeck, a tiny berg East of Waco. The drive required us to take I-45, which was at the time a small two lane highway. Driving through what was mostly pine forest, I noticed something in the distance a massive shopping center. The trees mostly obstructed the view, but you could tell that this was a MAJOR project for what was at the time a mostly rural area.

In my opinion, Sam’s did an excellent job of updating the gas station. Especially as the new colors are in line with their new pallet.

Speeding down the highway chauffeured by my grandfather in his ’88 Ramcharger. The height of the car helped to make up for the somewhat obstructed view. The further along we followed the shopping center the thinner the tree line became. With more and more of the brilliant architecture peeking through the green curtain. At this point most of the buildings had yet to be painted. Although a primer coat had been applied making all the unopened shops shine brilliantly white. The huge spires, and detailed plaster work burned an image of the unfinished leviathan into my brain. One that I would be sure to look for on our next trip to Groesbeck.

The TJ-Maxx was originally a Conn’s while Petsmart is one of the original tenants.

After my first glance at the Portofino Shopping Center, every trip North gave me a chance to check out at the developing complex. My grandfather who was also intrigued by the center kept me updated with the occasional newspaper articles he would encounter as an avid Chronicle reader. On one of our trips we took the exit and attempted to drive up to the view the shopping center. Unfortunately at the time I-45 was undergoing a huge expansion, which meant access to the store was quite difficult. We ended up getting back on the highway and I never again had occasion to actually stop and visit Portofino again until this summer.


I think this is Petsmart’s approximation of a Roman Priest.
Which would make this a Pur-iestess? I’m not sure…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


My fiancee and I were on my way to a get together, we made plans to buy shoes meaning I only had a short amount of time from the parking lot. Some eagle eyed readers may notice that I had to leave some stores out. Some like Old Navy, have been redesigned and no longer resemble their original Italian inspired design. Others like Stein Mart, I was just not able to get a good shot of due to the weather and time limits. After taking these photos I did some research into the background of the shopping center. I had remembered some of the story from my grandfather’s Chronicle Article updates, those memories had mostly faded.

This centerpiece of the shopping center, this section was the first to open. Unfortunately the trees seemed to cause an issue with my phone’s panorama mode. This portion of the architecture is inspired by Doge’s Palace.

What I found on the Portofino Shopping Center turned out to be quite an interesting story. The brainchild of Jim Fisher, a developer who was inspired to build this after a trip to Italy. Some of the special features included a bell tower, fountain, actual imported limestone; all of which are located in the central shopping center shown above. The shopping center also had 8 Gondolas imported from Italy soon after the grand opening. This is something I actually remembered from my grandfather’s updates. My grandfather was quite interested in trying out the Gondola ride, until seeing the price of $10/ticket.

Michaels and DSW both look much nicer than their normal counterparts.

The Portofino Shopping Center held its grand opening celebration on August 26, 2000. Some of the major opening day tenants included Bucca Di Beppo, Famous Footwear, Men’s Wearhouse, and Stein Mart. This first wave of stores would quickly be followed by a secondary set of stores. In the original section stores were divided into two generations. Those which took part in the grand opening and those that did not. All of these stores were designed to the original shopping center specifications in terms of decor and design. For the most part many spaces seemed to be leased prior to the grand opening.

PGA Tour Superstore was most recently a Sports Authority which was converted from an Oshman’s. This was likely one of the last Oshman’s built. This represents a “second generation” store.

Stores such as Michael’s were “first generation” stores. While, Oshaman’s (Now PGA Tour Superstore) is an example of a second generation store. It is difficult to tell first and second generation stores apart, generally the only difference being the opening date. According to newspaper articles the majority of the budget was spent constructing the original section. This is also apparent when visiting the shopping center. The smaller tenants, which were added on to the second generation stores, were not nearly as elaborate earlier designs.

Although slightly nicer compared to most shopping centers, the ends do not match the center.

With staggered openings, and a blown budget the developers began to tone down their designs. This is more apparent when you realize that the arches are not even finished on the right side of Buffalo Wild Wings in the photo above! Although built on a smaller budget, the unique aspect is still kept with this design. The arches and bell towers, all add to a unique beauty not really seen in modern shopping centers. Influenced by classic design and architecture, Portofino does not seem to simulate the Italian Shopping experience, but rather to create an experience.

These buildings are closer to I-45, they were part of the original opening of stores.

Overall my first visit to Portofino was a positive one. I enjoyed getting to see all of the stores up close. Although as far as I could tell the Gondolas had not been run in quite some time. The Portofino Shopping Center lives on as a monument to unique, high budget retail architecture. I should be back soon, with a Halloween Post (Time Permitting) in the meantime check out Houston Historic Retail’s Facebook for more occasional updates.

At the Old Ball Game

The Astrodome served as the first home for Houston’s one and only MLB team from 1965 to 1999. As far as baseball stadiums went, it was incredible at the time. The Astrodome was fully enclosed, air conditioned, and provided a ton of food options for hungry stadium goers. At the time of construction, the Astrodome helped set the standards for modern baseball stadiums.

In 2000 The Astros made the decision to move from the Astrodome to the newly built Enron Field. Just as the Astrodome had nearly 50 years earlier, Enron Field was full of innovation, including a retractable roof, outdoor A/C, and increased retail opportunities.

I recently had occasion to catch an Astros game. While I’ve been to Minute Maid Park a few times before, most of my memories the Astros are in the Astrodome. Making the trip up to our nosebleed seats provided many opportunities for surprise. As I learned that retail operations in baseball stadiums had changed from the simple Hot Dog, and Beer Stands I remembered as a child.

One of my first surprises was Shake Shack! A newcomer to the Houston area, the New York based chain has been beloved by many. Growing from a single Galleria location in 2016 to four by 2018. Constantly compared to In-N-Out Burger, who has yet begin any construction in Houston as of May 2019. The menu has most of the normal Shake Shack offerings, but is not complete.

Directly across from Shake Shack was a Pluckers. An Austin transplant, both Pluckers and Shake Shack are extremely popular with younger crowds. While the overall attendance at Minute Maid is mixed in age, the customers in this area skewed to the younger demographics. Pluckers was extremely busy which made it difficult to see the menu.

Located above Shake Shack and Pluckers was Torchys. While the sign might look incomplete the “T” on the left was so bright, that I couldn’t fully frame it in the photo. Located in a small corner the area is dark, this along with the bright signage help to match a typical Torchys.

I was able to catch a picture of the menu at Torchy’s. Showing that the menu is somewhat limited compared to the selections at a normal location. Although since it is a Torchy’s one has to wonder if they have any secret menu items.

 

One of the things I wasn’t expecting was the numerous carts around the stadium. I mostly remembered carts as selling only alcohol for those who didn’t want to wait in a food line. This is no longer the case, and in addition to selling alcohol many carts now sold food that was exclusive to the carts.

A great example is, Bahama Buck’s a familiar sight to anyone from Lubbock has been expanding their presence in the Houston area over the past five years. They had multiple stands around Minute Maid. All of which shaved their own ice. While the selection of flavors is limited compared to a normal Bahama Bucks, they have more than you’d expect!

Box Frites, Box Frites! Your parents cut you off!

This house brand sold fries, and for those like me who can only afford nosebleed seats, it’s one of your only options for fries on the top level. The name did remind me of Red Cow Entertainment’s BoxMac.

This was a big surprise to me. The La Michoacana Meat Market chain of stores, began in Houston. While they’re relatively well know for as a grocery store, I was unaware that they sold ready made food. This stand was located on the Concourse of the former Union Station.

Now with all the options available to a retail connoisseur such as myself, you might be surprised to learn that what I really wanted to eat was just a normal hot dog and some popcorn. Part of this is due to the enormous up charge all of these chain establishments take on when entering any kind of closed venue. Part of this was also nostalgia for Dome Dogs, which are not served at Minute Maid.

While some standard concession stands exist in the park, many have been updated. With half of the stalls being replaced by Order Kiosks and the other half a pickup stand. As far as I could tell there was little to no consistency between locations. Some of the hot dogs were Nolan Ryan Beef, some weren’t. It was just luck of the draw wherever you ended up.

One of the stands even used H-E-B Bake Shop Hot Dog Buns. I wasn’t expecting this and chose to buy my hot dog from this stand. Figuring that a store brand bun would be slightly better than whatever the default offering was. Unfortunately, my hot dog did not stand up to a Dome Dog. It could have been rose tinted glasses ruining my hot dog, but I’m guessing the quality just wasn’t that great.

 

Overall this proved to be a fun time, even though the ‘Stros lost, and the hot dog sucked. Going to a baseball game is fun because of the people you’re around. Not the food you eat! If you’ve liked my Facebook Page you had some idea that this post was coming. If you haven’t liked it, consider doing so. My Facebook page gets some extra content.

Memories of Highway 6

Growing up on the West Side of town meant when you wanted to go shopping you generally had to drive a bit. Around the time I entered Middle School my family moved from rural Richmond, to a suburb near Clodine. Driving in East on 1093, meant we would usually end up in one of the many shopping centers around Highway 6 and Westheimer. My family moved again shortly after I started college giving me little reason to visit the area. I took some time to visit the area, and see how things are going.

Originally an Eckerd later a CVS, the prime location helped attract a new tenant quickly.

 

This was one of the first Stripes locations in Houston. At one point Stripe’s owned the Ice Box brand as well. Notice the original atm sign.

 

Most of the decor in the store remains unchanged from this store’s days as a Stripes.

 

The former Laredo Taco Co. remains mostly unchanged although they now go by the name “Jack’s Taqueria”

Due to living in the city now, my journey began heading Westbound. I noticed the former Eckerd turned CVS at Westheimer and Eldridge has closed, and is in the process of being converted to La Michocana. I also got a chance to stop at what was one of the first Stripe’s locations I ever saw. It has since been converted into an Ice Box location, but still mostly resembles Stripes.

Once a Big Kmart, after a decent vacancy Burlington moved in. They closed in early 2019 moving to Eldridge.

 

The Builder’s Square was subdivided with Floor and Decor predating the Trampoline Park by at least 5 years.

 

These buildings were an Office Depot on the left, and a Service Merchandise on the right. The S.M. later became a Conn’s which moved across the street when Academy expanded.

Making it to Highway 6, we begin with the shopping center at the South East corner. This shopping center has seen major changes with no original anchor tenants from it’s late 90’s opening surviving past the mid-2000s. The three restaurants, and some smaller tenants are original. However, they recently lost Party City and Burlington to the newer center on Eldridge. With the Burlington replacing a Gander Mountain.

The label scar from Circuit City still remains to this day.

 

Across the street the Sears Auto Center sits abandoned.

 

This started life as a Pier One, later Goodwill moved in. They would stay here until Office Depot vacated.

Moving down Highway 6 a bit, vacant commercial space is abundant. Strangely for the most part the vacant spaces shown here are newer. Vacancy at most of these shopping centers hit its peak in the early 2000s. While it’s not at the level it was back then, things are noticeably light.

I spent many evenings at this Joe’s Crab Shack. It was a fun place for my parents to get cheap drinks, and feed us essentially for free.

 

The former James Coney Island, was recently vacated. Some time in late 2018.

The Northern side of these shopping centers has always been very food focused. With the exception of Chili’s, pretty much every food choice on the North side has changed. It was fun to go back and visit somewhere I had spent so much time at during my youth. Some aspects haven’t changed, but many have. For the most part the changes mark the changes in the neighborhood.

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Resolving to have a Resolution

When the new year rolls around, it invites a certain amount of reflection. Unfortunately I’m a procrastinator. Which means I didn’t really think of a New Years resolution until the end of January.

This reflection led me to realize that this blog is no longer and un-monitored sub project of mine. Rather, I have at least a couple of regular readers linked via click-throughs from other blogs. So I wanted to extend a thanks to everyone who not only reads my blog, but especially to those who return to check for updates. I know they are somewhat sporadic, but I do can only work on this website as my schedule allows. If you’re looking for a slightly more modern way to check for updates, I ask that you give Houston Historic Retail a like on Facebook. I’m going to resolve to have more regular updates on Facebook to make up for the occasional downtime here.

In the mean time, please enjoy another addition of Random Retail!

Over Christmas, I was invited by a friend to visit Mobile, AL. I happened upon this Golden Arches McDonald’s by accident, while trying to visit a “Dirt Cheap” location across the street.

Most of the photos I took, were spur of the moment. Anything I hadn’t seen before that caught my attention. I’m not sure if the McDonalds was an original Golden Arches that was remodeled, but the building had the long layout most modern stores have.

Near our hotel was a Winn Dixie. While they never made it to Houston proper they maintained a few locations South of town.

I can’t ever recall having stepped foot inside a Winn Dixie. They had a measurable Texas presence, albeit focused more towards Dallas. This location was very near our Hotel, in a suburb of Mobile known as Tillman’s Corner. The area is quite low income. This particular store features a “Dollar Shop” Which was just an extremely wide aisle, with shelving removed selling this at a Dollar price point. Honestly, if I wasn’t in dire need of some ibuprofen I likely would not have bought anything there. Despite their location, and obvious target demographic with the Dollar Shop, most items were extremely expensive.

This Rite Aid was recently closed, due to the failed merger of Walgreens and Rite Aid.

Rite Aid is another chain that I have never been to. As far as I know, they never made it into Texas. There were many former Rite Aid locations in Mobile. I believe that all were purchased by Walgreens after their failed merger. Many locations are in the process of being remodeled. However, Walgreens already had a presence in Mobile. Meaning there were some duplicate locations which were closed.

Despite it’s updated Walgreens signage, this still looks very much like a Rite-Aid.

 

This staggered checkout, looks almost like a Walgreens out of the late 70’s or Early 80’s.

 

I do miss Krystal, they have been in and out of Houston a few times. Never really catching on here.

You better believe, I did stop and get some delicious steamed hams, pardon me steamed sliders. This proved to be a more difficult endeavor then you would think. Requiring a trip to a second location, as this one had run out of buns. Then arriving at the second location, only to find it highly understaffed to handle the rush caused by the bun shortage.

There are many former Stuckey’s locations throughout the South. They can be identified by their distinct architecture.

Trying to fit in a stop by Frostop on the way to Mobile meant that I wasn’t able to really make nay other retail based stops on the drive-in. On the way back, I decided I wanted to try and seek out a Stuckey’s I hadn’t been to before. I had the perfect spot in mind. A newly opened location, converted from an independent C-Store with Exxon gasoline. A while back I had a discussion of, What makes a Stuckey’s a Stuckey’s with my friend Zap Actiondowser. We found that new Stuckey’s locations were being built. I had noticed a billboard in Louisiana touting this location as Stuckey’s return to the state.

In reality this store was just an Exxon, which sold some Stuckey’s branded merchandise, hot “food”, and trashy souvenirs.

 

Gator Heads are common at places that sell souvenirs in Louisiana. The only other Stuckey’s I have a memory of going to was in East Texas, and they had them too.

 

For the most part the prepackaged Snacks looked like normal gas station fare. Not everything was Stuckey’s brand though.

 

I was tempted to buy a Stuckey’s Mug. I was split between the old fashioned one, and the billboard one. In the end my indecisiveness led me to not buying one.

 

Located in an unassuming strip center, the original Raising Cane’s is easy to miss.

One other stop I made we made was the original Raising Cane’s location. It’s located in a small strip center just outside the North Entrance to Louisiana State University. Reflecting its LSU heritage the outside of the building is adorned in Gold and Purple, and the interior features luxurious tiger skin seating.

I really liked this Chicken Fingers sign. I’m not much of a drinker, so I would totally hang this in a man cave as opposed to a Budweiser sign. Not pictured was a modern “Open” neon sign.

 

The old Wolf Bakery Sign sits out in the open. This is featured in modern Cane’s locations via a Cane’s mural in the same theme, and a small plaque explaining the inspiration.
To round it all out I wanted to include a picture of the North Main Sears from while it’s still around.

The Unusual History of the Brazos River Bridges

I was recently able to collaborate with Youtuber Scott Dailey who has made some interesting and unique videos around the Houston area. We made a trip out to Simonton where an old San Antonio and Aranssas Pass bridge still stands, providing a connection to a railroad which was abandoned nearly 20 years ago. I was able to provide some history, and got some footage using my drone.

The bridge, and rail line were purchased in 1992 by Metro with plans for commuter rail.

My take on a “Broken Chain”

And Now For Something Completely Different

To kick off the new year, let’s try something new. We’re going to take a look at a Broken Chain. I was inspired to do this by my friend Zap Actiondowser who runs the blog Broken Chains, which I highly recommend all my readers go check out. A while back he featured a blog post on the Frostop Root Beer chain of restaurants. Admittedly I had never heard of the chain prior to Zap’s post. After reading his description of their root beer I was immediately hooked on the idea of getting my hands on some. I was able to try and love the bottled version sold at Rocket Fizz, I knew I had to get some from a fountain.

The Frostop in Baton Rouge

As luck would have it, my fiancee and I were invited to Mobile, Alabama to visit some friends over Christmas. The drive to Mobile required us to drive through Louisiana, and thus a stop at Frostop was in order! Checking Google Maps I found that there was Frostop was right off of I-10, in Baton Rouge. This would bode well as we had a deadline to meet for hotel check in. Approaching the building, I noticed that this particular location was still sporting their original mug sign. You could tell that the place had seen better days. While scouting out the location, pictures from earlier this year indicate the signage was in better shape earlier this year.

Maybe a bad storm dented the cup?

Making my way towards the building, I noticed something peculiar. Rather than an exact date the signage sports a “Since The 1950’s”. Frostop Root Beer has a history on its own website tracing the company back to 1926. While I understand that this location may have originated in the 50s, I still found it odd. Looking around the building, exterior features had been updated in a patch work fashion. Only giving attention to the spots that truly needed it. This would make it easy to believe to the casual passer by that Frostop was not a chain, but rather a single restaurant.

We made it to Frostop at around 4:30 PM. The inside was pretty quiet, with only a few diners. The menu features some curious additions to suit local tastes, namely the Po-Boys and Fried Fish dinners. Which I doubt showed up at the original Springfield, OH location. To keep things simple, I ordered a Chili Dog and my fiancee order a Chili Cheese Dog, we split an order of fries, and a large root beer. The order was taken and put into a modern POS system. Which printed a receipt at the grill for the cook to start. Despite the luddite-esque exterior the interior was jammed pack with technology, including multiple tablets for Uber Eats and the like. We were given our root beer told to have a seat, and that our number would be called shortly.

For Decoration Only

I tasted the root beer, which despite the photo above, was served out of a modern Coca-Cola Fountain. The root beer was served from a mostly unlabeled dispenser, which someone had cut a Barqs tag for leaving only “Root Beer” behind. I was immediately concerned about not being served the authentic Frostop Root Beer. There was something different about it from the bottled root beer. The flavor was still the same. However, it did not come across quite as strong as the bottled. I’m guessing this is down to someone not properly setting the syrup to carbonated water ratio.  After waiting for a few minutes, I got antsy and in the interest of time decided to take some quick pictures of the dining room, rather than waiting until after the meal.

This is called Terazzo flooring, and, I had to look the name up.

With plenty of time to wait, I found bits and pieces of the old restaurant starting to show through. There were many decorative root beer barrels, one of which was pictured above. However, none were original Frostop barrels. The laminate tiles were worn down in places like the front of the counter, and near the doorways. The seating was tired and torn up. Being just a few blocks North of LSU you would think that this was a popular college destination. However, for the most part we only saw small families or single diners throughout our time here. After about 20 minutes, a family who had ordered after us, received their food. Upon going to the front counter to find out where our two chili dogs were, I was told they had “completely forgotten about that”, and they’d get it out ASAP.

Well ten minutes later, our food finally emerged. Spending 30 minutes at Frostop was definitely something we did not plan for. Meaning I had to wolf this chili dog down. The Hot Dog, and the bun were delicious. The Hot Dog tasted like it may have been a full beef dog, and the bun was toasted on the griddle. The Chili however was another story. It tasted basically identical to any other fast food chili you could imagine. The closest analogue would be the hot dog chili served at fellow root beer based competitor A&W.  We ended up taking the fries to go, they were just standard kind of chunky fries. They could have absolutely used some salt.

Sitting in our booth in the back corner of the restaurant gave me some time to admire the view. The parking lot of Frostop literally backs up to these two houses. I also noticed that this location may have been possibly converted from a drive-in into a diner. My reasoning behind this is the distinctive slanted roof that Frostop used on their other drive-ins, and although I didn’t get a picture of it the bathrooms were very obviously originally outdoors as evident by the windows, and heavy doors.

Sadly the sign no longer rotates, although considering how often we get hurricanes in the Gulf Coast it’s surprising it’s still standing.

All in all, I enjoyed my experience chronicling a broken chain, and while I wouldn’t necessarily make a trip out to Baton Rouge, just for Frostop. I could see myself stopping to get some root beer. Once again, I would like to give a shout out to Zap Actiondowser and his blog Broken Chains. I really recommend checking it out, along with his Facebook page.

December Update

Greetings loyal reader, I’m glad you’re back! It’s been too long since I’ve written an update for the blog section of Houston Historic Retail. Fear not, as more blog updates should be on the way soon. However, that isn’t to say that updated have not been made to Houston Historic Retail. Most of the updates made were located in the pages section. You can access them through the menu above.

The updated include, a new database system that allows you to search locations of various chains, updates to information on certain pages like Rice Epicurean, Incredible Universe.  The creation of three new pages, Souper Salad  Kip’s Big Boy, and H-E-B Pantry Foods. Along with numerous updates to the back-end software which runs the site.

Go ahead, and have a look around. These are not the only updates made, but are the most major. If you have something you’d like to see featured on Houston Historic Retail, or just want to pass on some words of encouragement I always appreciate a comment or two! Also keep an eye out for what’s coming up next.

A Haunted H-E-B

I recently had the chance to stop by an H-E-B that I had heard from a friend might be, haunted. I’m not the biggest believer in ghost, ghouls, or goblins. However, I thought it would be fun to stop and take a look. This is the Royal Oaks location 11815 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77077. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything, but boy was I wrong.

I stopped by on a chilly night in late October. From the outside the store seemed pretty normal, if a bit dark. The store had obviously been there a while, you could by the huge trees which fill the parking lot.

Getting up to the doors, I noticed something strange. The entrances were blocked off! It was like someone was trying to keep me out of H-E-B. Someone or… something.

When I finally managed to make it into the store, I found a pretty normal looking H-E-B. It was a little dated, but it seemed nice for the most part.

I could tell that something was off though. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but knew I hadn’t ever seen a fresh cut fruit sign like this before.

Then I noticed something… the store was trying to communicate with me. At first the messages didn’t make any sense… “Fired Up Slice” of what?!

Suddenly it gave me a phrase which made sense, but I couldn’t figure out the context. Did it want me to contact Zack and Cody??

All of the sudden, the messages got really playful! It was lost on me though, I didn’t bring a deck of cards to the store.

“Nobody Does it Fresher” was this some kind of threat against me? I wasn’t sure, and I was about to run out of this H-E-B.

Until finally, I noticed this sign. The store wasn’t evil.. it was just hungry! Happy Halloween everyone! Normal serious posts will return soon.

Checking out a former Cici’s Pizza in the shell of an old Burger King.

First off, welcome back loyal reader(s)! I’m sure there’s gotta be at least two of you. Sorry for the delay in updates, but I’ve been extremely busy lately. During my recent hiatus I continued to take photos, and I’m only now working through the backlog.

One of these photo sets was taken during a visit down S. Post Oak. I’m always interested in this part of town due to the history of the canceled Bay City Freeway. One of Houston’s few canceled freeways. On this trip, I found a former Cici’s Pizza which was obviously a reused fast food restaurant.

The Cici’s lineage was especially easy to make out thanks to the lablelscar at the top of the building. While, I could tell that something had been there before, I had trouble figured out what it was, mainly due to the addition of what looks like space for an indoor playground. Generally I can tell from something like a sign, but this sign proved to further the mystery.

Although a bit difficult to make out in the photo, the interior space was obviously part of the entire dining room by the point Cici’s vacated. They likely demolished the playground, and separating wall.

The next thing I noticed, was these half covered doors. The doors had obviously been welded shut, but the hinges were left on. Making this a bit harder to remove in the future.

The Drive-thru looked like it had possibly remained in service. This wouldn’t be the first Cici’s I know of to utilize a Drive-thru window for a pickup service.

From this angle, you can finally make out what restaurant used to be here. It was very obviously a 70s a Burger King. The single Drive-thru window with a canopy, the short mansard roof with the red ring, and what would have been the side entrance.

Houston’s vegetarian friendly restaurants from 1995

Well after an impromptu hiatus I am glad to say I’m back. The post I’m bringing you this time is not picture based, but rather text based. Sometimes when researching things, you go off on a tangent. Most of the time this leads to two half written articles. However, this list what too interesting not to post. I found the following list, heavily heavily buried, while looking for On the Border Grill and Cantina’s original locations. I have decided to repost it, to help preserve it. The list looks to have been originated on Usenet, which was a group newsgroup which predates the modern internet. The full list can be viewed here. I have made some edits and additions to the content, which are represented in bold font.

Houston
——-

Vegetarian Restaurants:

Wonderful Vegetarian Restaurant, 7549 Westheimer (at Hillcroft),977-3137
– Vegan. Chinese Buddhist. Kosher. Very highly recommended. The only vegetarian restaurant in town. Many of the dishes may be too meat-like for some.
– Under new management in Summer of 1994. Menu is supposed to be revamped with an emphasis on healthier food.
-Closed some time after 1996

Anand Bhavan, 6662 SW Frwy, 977-0150
– Indian vegan. North and South Indian foods. Open 10am-9pm.
-Renamed “Shiv Sagar” in the 2000s

Quan Yin Vegetarian Restaurant, 10804-E Bellaire Blvd, 498-7890
– Lacto-vegetarian. Vegan-friendly. Run by a religious organization, The International Supreme Master Ching Hai Meditation Association.
-Still open as of 2018, not sure about the religious connection however.

Vegetarian Friendly Restaurants:

The Hobbit Hole Cafe was originally located at 1715 S Shepherd Dr
Photo Source: Keith Christensen YouTube Video

Hobbit Hole Cafe
– Rumored to be once all-vegetarian. Many dishes are lacto-vegetarian that can be easily made vegan. Also several vegan dishes. The black bean nachos are incredible. Special bonus is the Tolkien-related decor and recipe names.
-Still open, confirmed that the first 10 years of operation were with a completely vegetarian menu.

A Moveable Feast, 3827 Dunlavy (2202 W. Alabama?), 528-3585
– Macrobiotic restaurant. Casual, upscale. Innovative cuisine. Brunch on weekends.
-Was known as more of a Health Food Store, according to this article.
-Located at 2002 W. Alabama from 1989 until company’s bankruptcy in 2001. Was located at 3287 Dunlavy (now demolished former Weingartens) prior to that.
-Another location at 9341 Katy Fwy is still open as of 2018.

Whole Foods Market, 2 locations:
2900 S. Shepherd, 520-1937
11145 Westheimer Road, 784-7776
– Natural food store with small restaurant attached. Vegan friendly. Great salads and entrees. Highly recommended.
-2900 S. Shepherd was the first Houston Whole Foods, and the first outside of Austin. It was located here from 1984-2001, when it moved to its present location of 2955 Kirby.
-11145 Westheimer was the second Houston location to open, it operated from 1991 until 2016 at 11145.
-In 2016 the store moved across Wilcrest taking over the former Randalls at 11401 Westheimer.

Baba Yega
– Kinda like the Hobbit Hole but less veg. Serves a veggie burger.
-Still operating at the same location has continuously been in business since 1975.

Hungry‘s International, 2356 Rice Blvd, 523-8652
-Opened in 1975 as Hungry’s International Sandwhich Shop, has since renamed themselves to simply “Hungry’s”.
-The first location was in the Montrose Area, with the Rice Blvd. location opening sometime before 1995.
-Another location is open at 14714 Memorial Drive

The original hallway which Souper Salad replaced at Montclair Mall
Photo Source: Briscoe Center for American History

Souper Salad, 5460 Weslayan, 660-8950
-This chain slowly left the Houston City Limits, with only 2 left in the Metro area as of 2018.
-This location closed in the early 2000s.
-It filled in a what was originally a walkway in the Weslayan Plaza/Montclair Shopping Center

Star Pizza, 2111 Norfolk, 523-0800
– Have veggie pizzas.
-Still open (and popular) at the same location!

Macrobiotic Center, 2815 Garrott, 523-0171
– Not a restaurant, but caters vegetarian food.
-No longer in business, no details available online
-Was possibly run out of an apartment?

Seekers Natural Foods and Vitamins, 4004 Bellaire, 665-2595
– Natural foods store with 90-item salad bar. Includes organic produce. Vegan options on menu. *VRG
-Seekers went bankrupt in 1999.
-Location was purchased by and still operates as a Whole Foods.

On the Border, 2 locations:
9705 Westheimer, 977-9955
4608 Westheimer, 961-4494
– Mexican. Grilled vegetable fajitas. *VRG’;
-Both locations closed in the early 90’s. The company would try Houston again in the early 2000s.
– The 4608 location operated as Sullivan’s Steakhouse for a few years, and was demolished in 2018.
-The 9705 location was succeeded by Churrascos

Bombay Palace, 3901 Westheimer, 960-8472
– Indian. Daily buffet has vegetarian options. [Is it vegan-friendly?]
Open daily for lunch and dinner. *VRG
-Moved in 2000 when lot was cleared for Central Market.
-Relocated right across the railroad to 4100 Westheimer.
-Eventually closing in 2005, being replaced by Kiran’s.

Empress of China, 5419 A FM 1960, 583-8021
– Chinese. Vegan-friendly. Exquisite. It doubles as a routine Chinese restaurant for lunch and at night transforms to one of Houston’s most elegant, word of mouth, high cuisine restaurants with extensive wine selection. Scott and Mae Chen provide wonderful atmosphere. Mr. Wong’s kitchen staff are versatile and it’s far, far cleaner than my compulsive pathologist wife and I can keep our kitchen at home. Call in advance and arrange business meetings or banquets. Can match the appearance of continental east meets west flavored and decorated dishes so you can take non veggie guests for a gentle introduction to veggie food in a wonderful setting. Truly culinary ART! Does exquisite vegetarian banquets on request. I’ve studied Chinese food for 20 years and I can’t begin to touch the art of preparation I’ve seen this kitchen routinely turn out for the past two years. Open Mon-Fri from lunch to 10pm, Sat dinner. Closed Sun.
– I have an inkling this place may not have been as good as the original author claimed. It was out of business prior to any modern internet listings.

Red Pepper Restaurant, 5626 Westheimer, 622-7800
– Chinese. Many unusual vegetarian (vegan?) options. Open daily. *VRG
-Still open, still serving many vegetarian options.

Asian Restaurant, 3701 Weslayan, 850-0450
– Chinese/Vietnamese. Separate vegetarian menu. Vegan options. *VRG
-Can’t find any info on this one.

Guilin Chinese Cafe, 4005 H Bellaire, 661-1963
– Chinese. Some vegan options. Counter service. *VRG
-Can’t find much info online, other than the fact that it closed.

Thai Pepper, 2049 W. Alabama, 520-8225
– Thai. “Best Thai food in Houston.” Accommodating staff. *VRG
-Still there and highly regarded!

Paddy Thai, on Westheimer
– ‘Vegetarian’ in Thai means ‘substitute tofu for flesh’. Be sure to insist on no fish sauce or other animal products.
– Closed sometime between 2005 and 2009.

Health Food Express, Bayou Park Club, 4400 Memorial Drive, 861-2800
– Natural foods. Food delivery business supplies a week’s worth of food. Lunches at cafe itself Mon-Fri. *VRG
– So far as I can tell they changed names to Epicurean Lite and discontinued cafe service.

Natural Foods Stores:

Whole Foods Market
– An excellent chain of grocery stores. Not entirely vegetarian, but lots of good stuff veggies look for. Excellent selection of organic produce.

Seekers Natural Foods and Vitamins, 4004 Bellaire, 665-2595
– Natural foods store with 90-item salad bar. Includes organic produce. Vegan options on menu. *VRG