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

Dolce Midtown Apartments is one of the many new apartment options in the Houston area. Photo courtesy of Dolce Midtown Apartments

It's not all in your head. Those new apartments you spotted on your way to work probably did just pop up — and it's happening in big numbers in Houston and around the state, according to a new study.

RentCafe estimates 7,143 new apartments will be built in the Houston metro by the end of 2019 — the 10th highest projection nationally. Nearly half of those new units will rise within the city of Houston proper.

And these aren't vanity projects. With more than 90,000 new residents calling the Houston area home, we need all the apartments we can get.

Houston leads the region in terms of projected new apartment units at 3,163, followed by Conroe's 724 expected units and The Woodlands' 678.

Most of Texas is booming, too. No. 1 on RentCafe's list is Dallas-Fort Worth, with 22,196 new units expected by the end of the year. No. 5 Austin is expected to bring 10,783 new units to the region. Meanwhile, 3,510 new units will be built in San Antonio, a steep decline of 41 percent from the 5,993 units built there in 2018.

Nationally, Seattle makes for a distant second behind DFW with 13,682 new units expected, followed by New York City, which was No. 1 in 2018, with 13,418 units planned for this year.

Unlike the Lone Star State, the nation as a whole is seeing a slump in apartment construction. The 299,442 new apartments expected in 2019 represent an 8.2 percent drop from 2018's 326,240 new units, which also were weaker numbers than in 2017, when 331,765 new apartments were built.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.