While no one is calling Ella Boulevard north of 610 ‘restaurant row’ just yet, they can’t call it a fast food wasteland for much longer either. No offense Raising Cane’s. With the news of Gatlin’s BBQ’s move from 1221 West 19th Street to a 4,200 space in the new center at 3510 Ella Blvd. – and anticipated opening of the Berry Hill at Ella and 43rd Street by mid-January – the area has been abuzz with anticipation.
NewQuest Properties leasing agent Danny McCormack, and St. Pius graduate, said he knows that area residents are excited about Gatlin’s because he has been getting calls from them. McCormack said that he had been talking with them since last August but the deal was just finalized last week.
“They liked the location, the new construction, and the lack of restaurants in the immediate area,” said McCormack, who noted that Gatlin’s signed a five year lease.
The other half of the 8,500 square foot space is not officially spoken for yet. Although it’s not precluded from being a restaurant too, McCormack said that right now they are in talks with a retailer for the spot.
Just down the street at 1201 W. 43rd St., Park Blair is ready to finally open the doors to his second Berryhill franchise. His first is on East 11th street in the Heights. The Ella location used to be the Oak Forest Mobil station.
“We’ll be open by mid-January at the latest if we don’t run into anything else,” Blair said.
To say that it’s been a bumpy road to the opening would not be an understatement. Blair said that there were unresolved lawsuits about the property that pre-dated his purchase of the building, as well as easement issues and environmental hurdles such as the removal of the gas tanks from the under the ground that needed to be addressed.
Although he’s owned the property since 2013, Blair said he’s had his eye on it for quite a while. He lived in the area before he moved to the Heights three years ago.
“I knew the area was gentrifying and had seen the growth,” he said. “We still have a lot of friends there. The demographics are there now. It was a good location six years ago. I wish I’d gotten it then.”
Another person who is familiar with the changing demographics of the neighborhood is Dan Braun with Braun Enterprises. Braun Enterprises acquired Ella Plaza, next to the soon-to-be Gatlin’s last spring, and is getting ready to give the center a major makeover.
Braun said that construction will be complete by the end of the second quarter of 2015. NewQuest Properties is also doing the third party leasing for the new and improved plaza.
“We want to have an identity,” said Braun, who notes that they’ve turned a lot of people down in an effort to acquire tenants that the neighborhood would value.
Although a lot is still in flux, there are two restaurants that have signed leases. Longtime tenant the Golden Wok is staying, but will move to a different location within the center. They’re also rebranding a bit and will continue to offer take out as well as sushi.
Toasted, a bagel shop/breakfast restaurant owned by a family with over ten years’ experience in the bagel business in Louisiana, is also moving in which will be good news to breakfast lovers in the GOOF. Not signed, but in the works are a take-out pizza place and a “very cool” barbershop with several other locations.
The biggest news will be the tenant on the corner which will take over the spot of the Golden Wok. Braun said they are in talks with four or five different restaurants, several of whom already have an enthusiastic Houston following.
“We want to cater to the neighborhood,” said Braun.
A missing piece of the pie will be the restaurant that takes the place of the former That Pizza Place at 3322 Ella Blvd. Purchased by the Liberty Kitchen group in 2014, the owners announced at that time that construction was soon to begin on Surfing Cowboys, a restaurant and music venue. Whether the delay is permitting related, or just a result of a lot of irons in the fire – see Nibbles for more on their new partnership with The EL’s Ken Bridge – it’s pretty clear that not much is happening, yet.
“We went in that neighborhood because it’s up and coming [with all the] young families,” said owner Lee Ellis.
Of course, with all the new options on the horizon, people will have their old favorites. El Rey will still be raking it in and no one is giving up on Shipley Do-Nuts. Even the existing businesses like Houston Panini & Provisions at West 34th Street right by Ella are looking forward to the new non-fast food blood.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Garden Oaks resident and Panini & Provisions co-owner David Colby, who also told The Leader that they received their permitting this week to be certified as a full-fledged restaurant. Colby also said that they’ll soon be adding a side patio and garden on the side of their building that faces Ella.
“Anything that’s out of the ordinary – as residents, that’s what we’re all looking for.”