Even the guy who bought the building, who figures to make a lot of money from its future tenants, was sad to see the place close last Saturday.
Steve Radom, a prominent real estate developer whose office and signature project are located in the Heights, said he had been an occasional customer of the deli for at least six years. He got to know owner Neil Sackheim and appreciated his role in revitalizing the neighborhood, which was in disrepair when Sackheim purchased the two-story building at 375 W. 19th St. in the late 1980s.
Radom also liked Carter & Cooley’s ode to the area’s history. The deli was named after the two men credited with founding the Heights – Oscar Martin Carter and Daniel Denton Cooley – and featured old photos hanging from the wall as well as relics from the building’s inception as Ward’s Drug Store in the 1920s.
“Neil is an extension of the Heights and its history,” Radom said. “I think every time something changes, and you like it and it’s sort of an anchor of a community, you’ll be missing it.”
Those who have long frequented 19th Street likely feel their beloved, quirky, eclectic, downhome neighborhood is becoming cookie-cutter corporate. And that might be at least partly because of the presence of Radom Capital LLC, which purchased the corner property from Sackheim last October.
The company has leased to national brands in some of its other developments – namely the Heights Mercantile on 7th Street between Yale Street and Heights Boulevard – and comes across as big business compared to Sackheim’s small operation. Some of his former tenants in the Carter & Cooley building, who left amid rising rents after the ownership change, said Sackheim didn’t even make them sign leases.
That was then, though, and now is the time to remind you that evolution in the Heights has been just as constant as the quality of the muffalettas at the corner of 19th and Ashland. Residential properties have been flipping up and down the streets for more than a decade, restrictions to alcohol sales have been relaxed in recent years and, in a related development, a grocery chain now has a two-story mega-market on North Shepherd Drive.
Radom and his company embrace change and growth but also cherish history, with many of their projects featuring the repurposing of existing structures. The award-winning Heights Mercantile is a modern, urban shopping center created from a collection of historic bungalows and industrial warehouses.
In the case of the historic building that housed the Carter & Cooley deli, Radom is preserving the structure while trying to remain true to the character of 19th Street. The property has been remodeled inside and out, including a new sidewalk along Ashland, and many of the new tenants will be local businesses.
Retropolis, a locally owned vintage clothing store, is moving from another building on 19th Street into the ground-level space formerly occupied by Gen’s Antiques, just east of the former deli. Radom said the upstairs tenants will be dressmaker Kit Made, a speech therapy business called Heights Speech and Language, a Houston-based realty firm called Jane Byrd Properties International and a new energy venture between Dallas-based Pony Oil and Heights residents Cameron Wielding and Addison Buck.
The Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, which worked on the building redesign and helped design the Heights Mercantile as well as adjoining Heights restaurants La Lucha and Superica, is in the ground-level space behind the former deli. As for what will replace Carter & Cooley, Radom said he could not comment because of confidentiality agreements.
Permitting documents on the City of Houston website name Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, an Ohio-based scoop shop, as an occupant of the space.
“We’re really just trying to enhance a building we love and protect it from a wrecking ball,” Radom said. “We just think this building has so much charm and character and is such a great anchor on the corner.”
Radom said he and his small staff, many of whom live in the Heights, care about the neighborhood and want the building to remain a staple in the community. It will no longer house a beloved deli that makes satisfying sandwiches, but it can still make people happy.
The developer has proven himself to be an advocate for the Heights and its vitality. So he and his new tenants on 19th Street deserve the benefit of the doubt from the community.
The opening of the Carter & Cooley deli 30 years ago represented a change to the neighborhood, and look how that turned out.