Chef incubator

Former restaurant reemerges as showcase for up-and-coming Houston chefs

Vinegar Hill will be divided into a restaurant and a bar. Courtesy of Vinegar Hill

A new concept aims to give chefs on the rise a space to get their feet wet. Vinegar Hill Houston will serve three distinct roles when it opens in November: A co-working space by day, a bar by night, and an incubator for the next generation of culinary talent by design.

Axelrad owner Adam Brackman and chef Monica Pope have taken over the original location of Beaver's and are turning it into the new concept. Vinegar Hill's name is taken from a nickname for the area now known as the Old Sixth Ward. The co-working aspect will provide people who have been working at coffee shops with a more comfortable environment that better suits their needs. Design changes to the space will separate the restaurant from the bar. General manager Shawn Busch will work with the space's bar manager to maintain Beaver's reputation for innovative cocktails, but it's the incubator that's the most intriguing aspect.

Described as a chefs-in-residency program, the incubator will provide chefs with the opportunity to refine their concepts before committing to a brick and mortar. Pope will offer participants mentorship based on her experience operating restaurants such as t'afia and Sparrow Bar + Cookshop.

"I'm passionate about working with entrepreneurs," Brackman tells CultureMap. "At Axelrad we have regular pop-ups. It's been neat to see these entrepreneurs go from ideas to buying food trucks, seeing these people grow and flourish. It's kind of the next step in that process."

Chefs will create two menus during this residency. The first is a dinner menu for a 30-seat area within the space that will require reservations. In addition, the chef will offer a menu of casual bar bites designed to be served in the bar area and on the patio. Residencies will typically last for three months, but Brackman also sees the potential for chefs from out of town to use Vinegar Hill for a week or two as a way to market themselves to Houstonians prior to opening here.

At a time when chefs might be considering a stand in one of Houston's new food halls, Brackman sees the setup at Vinegar Hill as an alternative for the person who wants a less permanent arrangement.

"This will be more of their own private restaurant within a bar that will give them a full kitchen to work with and be creative with their own menu and have more of a captive audience," he says. "They can do things like have wine and beer pairings. It's going to be more intimate than a food hall experience."

Evelyn Garcia, a one-time Chopped champion who has earned a devoted following for her Southeast Asian-inspired pop-ups, will take the first turn in Vinegar Hill's kitchen. "The opportunity to take my craft from a tent and portable stoves into a full kitchen and dining room to showcase what I am capable of is a thrilling opportunity," said Garcia in a statement.

"We would like to seek out the next person. We have a couple in mind," Brackman says. "The perfect candidate is someone who wants their next move to be opening a brick and mortar. We want to help them through a bit of mentorship and even crowd funding."

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

this one's for the ladies

Texas named a top state for women-led startups

A new report finds that the Lone Star State is ideal for female entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Who runs the world? According to Merchant Maverick's inaugural Best States for "Women-Led Startups'' study, Texas is a great place for women to be in charge.

The Lone Star state cracked the top 10 on the list, earning a No. 6 spot according to the small business reviews and financial services company, which based the study on eight key statistics about this growing segment of the economy. Colorado (at No. 1), Washington, Virginia, Florida, and Montana were the only states to beat out Texas on the rankings—leading the Merchant Maverick team to conclude that "the part of the country that lies west of the Mississippi is great for startups led by women entrepreneurs."

Women-led startups in Texas received $365 billion in VC funding in the last five years, the report found. This is the seventh largest total among U.S. states. Too, about 20 percent of Texans are employed at woman-led firms, which is the fifth highest percentage among states. Roughly 35 percent of employers in Texas are led by women.

A few other key findings that work in female founders' favor: The startup survival rate in Texas is nearly 80 percent. And a lack of state income tax "doesn't hurt either," the report says.

Still there are shortcomings. On a per capita basis, only 1.27 percent of Texas women run their own business. The average income for self-employed women is also relatively low ranking among states, coming in around $55,907 and landing at 31st among others.

This is not the first time Texas has been lauded as a land of opportunity for women entrepreneurs. A 2019 study named it the best state for business opportunities for women. Houston too has proven to support success for the demographic. The Bayou City was named in separate studies a best city for female entrepreneurs to start a business and to see it grow.

Still, as many findings have concluded, the realities of the pandemic loom for all startups and small business owners. The Merchant Maverick study was careful to add: "The pandemic has changed the economic landscape over the past year, and often for the worse.

"This means that not every metric may be able to accurately gauge how a state might fare amidst the pandemic," the report continues. "To help factor in COVID's impact, we included some metrics that take 2020 into account, but it will be a while until we get a full picture of the pandemic's devastation.""

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