In the fall of 2018, locals in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas will be able add a newcomer to their list of dining options – Ripe Cuisine – one of only two, all-vegan cafes in Houston. The unusual eatery will occupy 2,000 square feet of space in the mixed-use center called Heights Waterworks and currently under development at the northeast corner of 19th Street at Nicholson.
Ripe Cuisine is owned by Houstonian Stephanie Hoban who has been creating her recipes and serving her popular, healthy, all-plant-based fare from a food truck since 2014. In that time, Ripe Cuisine has developed a significant following. In fact, Hoban decided to risk the commitment to a brick and mortar location due the number of customers requesting it.
“I have been amazed and comforted by the response we’ve received after we announced our decision on Facebook. In the first two days, the page was shared something like 20,000 times. It has been thrilling,” Hoban stated.
The historic Heights Waterworks project is in the hands of Braun Enterprises, a Houston-based, commercial real estate company dedicated to adding quality to the communities in which it builds. The 2.1-acre Waterworks site currently includes a 750,000-gallon brick water reservoir building constructed in 1928 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, an Art Deco pumping station built in 1939, and a second pumping station constructed in 1949. Braun is redeveloping the existing structures and adding a 5,000-square-foot retail/restaurant building. There will also be a dedicated green space for pic-nicking and play.
Hoban is delighted with the location. “We will have big, beautiful windows,” she explained. “There will be tables, a patio, and a bar where we will serve beer and wine and a happy hour menu. In all, we will seat about 60 people. I also love the green space outside and how close we are to the bike path, and I love that we are in the Heights.”
When it comes to healthy food, this chef knows what she is doing. Hoban is a registered, licensed dietitian, holds a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics, and a MS in Nutrition. Ripe Cuisine’s recipes, all of which Hoban created, feature locally sourced and seasonally inspired plant-based ingredients. Thanks to the food truck, she had the opportunity to test recipes directly with her followers and has arrived at a full, customer-approved menu.
Salise Shuttlesworth is founder and Executive Director of Friends For Life, No-Kill Animal Shelter in the Heights. The bright, welcoming lobby at the FFL shelter hosts a 7-foot sign on the wall that says, “Every Animal Matters.” Shuttlesworth, a vegan, has been a fan of Hoban’s work since day-one.
“The menu item I cannot live without is the beet falafel,” Shuttlesworth stated, “and the Reuben is my favorite comfort food sandwich. It is big, juicy and has just the right amount of tangy sauerkraut. The aioli on it is over-the-moon wonderful. This isn’t great vegan food. It is simply great food.”
Still, does vegan dining really stand a chance in steak-and-potatoes Houston? “When I first went vegan in 2010, most people didn’t even know what the word meant, but things have changed,” explained Hoban. “After I launched the Ripe food truck, some people suggested I add options such as chicken. I would not compromise my values and I am glad I didn’t. Last year, the US retail sales of plant-based foods rose by 8.1 percent. And many of my customers are not vegan or vegetarian. They are people who enjoy eating good, healthy, tasty food with no animal products now and then. There is a rapidly growing market for it,” she stated.
The restaurant business is not for the faint-of-heart. The hours are grueling and the risk of failure is high. Hoban looks at it through a different prism.
“For me, I am rewarded when someone tries a dish made of a vegetable that they haven’t enjoyed in the past, and suddenly, they love it. It is all about leaning to enjoy tasty foods that are good for us, good for animals, and good for the planet. It’s about eating with a purpose,” Hoban concluded.