Dine-out only

Rising star chef delivers new  'virtual restaurant' concept to Houston

This restaurant concept will have no dining-in option for guests and will act as an incubator for restaurant ideas. Photo by www.jillianekristine.com

Gabe Medina is back. The chef, who earned raves for his work at restaurants such as Kata Robata, Soma, and Aqui, will launch a new project this week in partnership with beverage expert Steven Salazar (The Kirby Group).

Under the banner of Click Robot Run, Medina will open five restaurants in a commercial kitchen in Rice Military (4901 Rose St.). Rather than traditional sit down establishments, they're "virtual restaurants" that will only serve diners via pick-up, to-go, or delivery apps such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. They are:

  • A&J Provisions (opens Wednesday, June 26): a comfort food restaurant that offers both an array of grilled meats as well as vegan and vegetarian dishes.
  • Bowling Club (opens August 2019): a Japanese rice bowl restaurant inspired by Medina's time working at Narisawa in Tokyo, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world.
  • Sandwich Legend (opens November 2019): meatball subs, cold cuts, sandwiches inspired by Houston's immigrant cuisines, and more will be on the menu at this restaurant.
  • 7000 Islands (opens January 2020): Medina will explore Filipino cuisine its various forms at this restaurant, which is inspired by both his heritage and trips to the island nation.
  • Fifth concept: TBD. Salazar says that he and Medina will develop the fifth restaurant in collaboration with the chefs the hire to run the other four.

While one media account stated the concepts will open in sequence in a style similar to Chris Shepherd's One Fifth, that's not correct, according to Salazar. Instead, the five concepts will operate simultaneously — making it more like a food hall where each restaurant could someday be spun off into its own brick and mortar space.

"It's important to remember there's two aspects of this," Salazar says. "We like the idea of being able to utilize multiple concepts out of the same facility, that's one rent, one labor force.

"The second thing to remember is this is an incubator for us. It's about testing multiple menus for multiple concepts. It's about getting data from multiple sources: Favor, DoorDash, even our neighbors stopping by."

Operating as a "virtual restaurant" without a dining room means that one set of cooks can do the work, which reduces costs. It also means only paying rent for one location while they use the sales data to determine which concepts to promote.

While Medina is the chef who will develop the menus, train the cooks, etc, Salazar says his role is to serve as a sounding board and provide logistical support; he will also maintain his current role as the operating partner of The Kirby Group (Wooster's Garden, Heights Bier Garten, Holman Draft Hal, etc). The two friends have a history that goes back to the two years they spent working together at Kata Robata.

"Gabe is like one of my brothers, and I want to be part of his success," Salazar says. "I said, 'please, can I help you? Let me be involved if you'll let me.' I just have so much respect for him as a chef."

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Gabe Medina is the culinary mind behind Click Robot Run. Photo by Eric Sandler

Aaryan Patel, an incoming senior at The Village School, has been running his business since he was a freshman. Photo via tidemedia.tech

By the time 17-year-old Aaryan Patel, who will be a senior this fall at The Village School, won first place at The University of Houston Bauer College of Business' annual Think Tank competition this year, he'd already had his business on solid footing for a couple of years. Patel founded Tide Media in 2016, and he's been growing his company ever since.

The business offers consulting and installation for smart home devices, working with customers one-on-one to determine their needs and interests and doing everything from purchasing equipment for buyers all the way to full installation and integration of the technology within a home's existing devices.

"I started in the ninth grade," says Patel. That's when his dad started buying multiple smart home devices to control their lights and thermostat. "I saw how convenient it was, and how it makes for a more connected experience. It feels really futuristic."

Patel's father works in IT, so he understood how to troubleshoot when devices didn't work as planned. That got Patel to thinking how someone with less tech know-how would cope with the same situation.

"Not everyone has the competency [to troubleshoot]," he explains. "Maybe they don't have the time to learn, or they just don't know enough about technology. A lot of people come from fields where there isn't a focus on computers."

Patel, like his father, has an interest in computer technology — in fact, he's doing an internship this summer at Stanford University looking at the business applications of wearable technology for medical students — and he realized there was an opportunity to be had. But he saw it much more as a community service than a business at first. He asked his uncle in Katy to post his services to the Next Door app, and the business took off. Within two months, he'd worked with 14 clients on upgrading their homes with technology.

"I knew I didn't want to do any ads," says Patel. "So, all of my business has been word of mouth."

By July of 2017, he says he posted between $10,000 and $14,000 in profits. He credits the success of the business to his approach to clients. He wants each experience to be not only personal, but personalized. When he meets with a client, he has a questionnaire that gauges what they want to get from their technology. Some might want to properly install a Nest thermostat. Others may want to network Amazon Echo or iHome products to do everything from turning on lights to playing music.

"Or, maybe they want to open the garage door from their cellphones as they are coming in the driveway after work," he says.

Patel says he has worked with clients to tell them what they need and the clients purchase the equipment and products themselves. But he also provides more concierge service, where he will take a client's list of items, purchase them and then install them.

He says he tends to work more in the summers and on school breaks than he does during the school year, since he's studying the challenging International Baccalaureate curriculum at school. He's also trained some of his friends on doing installations, as well as mentoring them about how to talk to clients, how to respond to questions and otherwise provide high level service — things he says he learned over the course of launching his business.

"The biggest thing I've learned is that is you want to do anything, you have to have passion and drive," he says. "And my biggest challenge has been managing my clients along with my school work."

In college, he plans to study the Internet of Things, likely via a computer engineering program. Since his win at Think Tank, he's invested back into his business and plans to expand as much as he can; he's thinking of offering his services citywide, branching out from his Sugar Land and Katy coverage areas.

But even as he's continuing his studies and building a business, he keeps his own priority for Tide Media top of mind: he wants it to be a service for the community to help others be more connected.

"A lot of this is still new technology," he says. "And I want to help people see how technology can help society."