Converting a former Gerland’s grocery store in GOOF into a restaurant seems a fitting transformation for a property keeping its uses on the food chain.
Carl Eaves, one of the partners in FEED TX’s new Liberty Kitchen that opened earlier this month on Alba Street, says the challenge of the renovation project was to maintain the old building’s vibe while making it into a functional restaurant and neighborhood hangout.
He has done this sort of thing before, many times, and says, “You have to weave your way without destroying the structure.”
Guests will find the remains of an original walk-in fridge have been repurposed as the chilled wine cellar. Within it, vintage ship lathe and stenciled panels indicate the former air compressor’s route.
Wainscot of beadboard salvaged from Heights-area porch ceilings add time-worn shades of beachy blues, greens, grays and tans. Above it are sections of the company’s signature damask-style wallpaper. At first, it looks like traditional pub décor, but the pattern cleverly compresses a number of Texas icons into the pattern — dubbed “Yee-Haw” by the company (in New Jersey, go figure) that produces and sells it.
The interior finishes left the trusses exposed to boost the airiness, Eaves says. Original plans had called for the finished ceiling.
As completed, the space reads a bit like a Cape Cod coastal roost, though one with Texas-grade air conditioning and spiffed up décor.
Eaves, a transplant from England, says the design also draws a bit from the “Sunday best” front rooms found in English homes of any class, and always decorated nicely. The one in his childhood home, for example, held “a mishmash” of furnishings and collections.
A similar eclectic approach reveals itself at the restaurant. The lighting, for example, includes chandeliers, industrial-style hanging pendant lights and glass globes.
Unique to this project is a frieze by The Art Guys that’s comprised of yardsticks bearing printed prose, poetry and witticisms. Among them is a Jonathan Swift’s quote, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster;” and a joke reading, “Two guys walked into a hardware store…The second one should have seen it coming.”
The quirky messages are interesting to discover as you sit and see what’s around you, Eaves explains.
About 80 percent of the building is original, Eaves estimates. As previously reported in The Leader, the landlord, Garden Oaks native and builder Miguel Facundo, had started to renovate the property for his own purpose and changed his mind, which Eaves says triggered an opportunity for FEED TX to develop another of its concepts in this area’s fast-growing community.
The conversion required a serious retooling of the “innards” because what a grocery store needs vs. a restaurant differs greatly in terms of HVAC, grease traps, gas, and electrical systems, Eaves explains. The challenge was to respect the integrity of the building’s structure while still bringing in all the modern (infrastructure).
While Liberty Kitchen locations reflect their environs, from swank to quirky, this location is the partnership’s first “in the heart of a neighborhood,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to be especially family-friendly.” The property includes bike racks, for example, and has arranged for overflow parking in a field across the street behind the American Legion Hall.
Eaves, who came to Houston in the mid-90s, has an affinity for older properties. He apprenticed with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Older properties reflect the building traditions, technologies and tools of their time,” he says. “There’s a pride and integrity by those who built them because they took so long to build…Lose that pride and you lose the respect of the building.”
Prior to his affiliation with FEED TX, a name derived from the initials of the partners, Eaves’ projects (which have since been shuttered) included such endeavors as The Daily Review Cafe, located in a former court reporting press building and The Social, located in a former 1940s gas station on Washington Avenue early in that corridor’s eats-and-entertainment reboot.
The Liberty Kitchen partnership, meanwhile, has other locations in Houston Heights, Rice Village and Uptown Houston. It has a spinoff called The Treehouse in the works in Memorial and is expanding into the Austin market. The group also renovated a property in Montrose as a co-working space.
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