You can search Houston's top BBQ spots by a wide range of criteria. Courtesy of Houston BBQ Guide

Anew website wants to help Houstonians eat better barbecue. Created by the founders of the Houston BBQ Festival, the Houston BBQ Guide offers readers the ability to search for restaurants based on a wide range of criteria, including location, parking, and whether a restaurant is likely to sell out of food.

The editors of the guide, led by Houston Chronicle barbecue columnist J.C. Reid, have selected the 28 initial entries with an eye on small, family-run businesses that aim "to provide a quality product and experience on a consistent basis." Entries include both historic barbecue joints like Lenox Bar-B-Q and Pizzitola's Bar-B-Que as well as spots that have earned recognition on Texas Monthly's list of the state's 50 best such as CorkScrew BBQ and The Pit Room.

Each entry includes details about a restaurant's ownership and pitmaster, noteworthy dishes, and a brief video tour. The website also includes essays about the history of Houston's barbecue restaurants and other relevant topics.

As an "about the guide" section notes, people who want to eat barbecue may not know where to find it. By breaking things does geographically, the guide offers diners the opportunity to discover new places or be prompted to visit old favorites that aren't necessarily included in media-generated lists of the "best" barbecue restaurants.

"I like to think of it as a guide for everyday barbecue fans," Reid said in a statement.

The guide also offers an alternative to crowd-sourced review websites as well as the responses one gets on social media when a request for a restaurant near Sugar Land might be met with a suggestion to drive to Tomball — well-intentioned, surely, but not very helpful.

The guide will add new entries in time. For example, Feges BBQ's original Greenway Plaza location is listed but its newly opened Spring Branch outpost isn't (yet). A separate guide to barbecue pop-ups is already in the works, and the editors also tout the possibility of expanding to other Texas cities.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Kids can know their grandparents and great-grandparents a little better. Keeping Families Connected/Facebook

Sweet new Texas-based website lets you record a final goodbye for loved ones

FAMILY LEGACIES

Anew North Texas startup helps soothe the sting of losing loved ones by allowing them to leave behind an entirely different kind of heirloom. A Sweet Goodbye is a new online service that lets people record messages that can be accessed and enjoyed by family and friends after they're gone.

Fort Worth-based founder Rich Hollander, who worked for Radio Shack/Tandy Corporation in the area for more than 25 years, got the idea about a year ago during a reflective moment.

"I was sitting in synagogue, a quiet time when you contemplate things," he says. "During those times, I talk to my parents — who are both gone — and my late brother, and about 15 other people who have passed away. On this particular morning, I was talking to my mom. I knew what she was telling me, but I couldn't hear her voice. I thought, 'I wish I could just push a button and hear her voice,' but there's nothing I could do about that."

While it's too late for Hollander to hear his mother's voice, he says, he wanted to provide such a service for other people. He also says he wanted to make the process as simple and as painless as possible.

"You go to our website and click on a button that says, 'I want to make a recording.' Before that you prepare a little bit. You figure out what you want to say, and you figure out who you want to send the message to. You get their email address, and we ask you to give us two trusted advisers so they can tell us when you passed away, and then you just record your message, and that's it."

The message customers record is hosted on the cloud, and it's all audio based. Your loved one will hear it after you die, as many times as they would like. There is no video option, and messages can last a maximum of five minutes long. According to Hollander, this is by design rather than due to technical limitations.

"We thought about our target customers; Baby Boomers and their parents don't want to see themselves," he says. "They don't like the idea of recording a video. And people don't want to listen for more than five minutes. You can say a lot in that amount of time."

Some people choose to pass down secret family recipes or record tales from their youth, the company says.

Realizing that people can also use phones and other home devices to make recordings, Hollander made A Sweet Goodbye inexpensive, accessible, and convenient. He says there are other options for similar services on the market, but they are "much more complex" and "much more expensive," costing up to $8 per month, compared to his company's one-time fee.

"You can listen to it a thousand times from your computer or your phone," he says. "You can have your children listen to it. They can listen to their great grandma's voice. For $25, it's a bargain."

Hollander himself uses the service.

"I have two adult daughters in their 40s," he says. "One lives here, one lives in New Zealand. My message to them is something like, 'If you pushed this button, you are probably having a bad day, and just need my voice of reassurance. So, understand that I'm up here in heaven, and I'm looking after you guys, and tomorrow will be a better day than today.' They can push that button and hear that message whenever and wherever they want."

While A Sweet Goodbye is simple to use, there is an emotional hurdle in getting started.

"The hard part is making the first message," Hollander says. "Because it's coming to grips with the fact that you are not going to be around forever, and neither is your mom. But it is cathartic. For me, the second message was extremely easy to make."

The site has just launched and is now available for anyone to access. On Veterans Day (November 11), A Sweet Goodbye will provide one free service for active duty members in the United States military. Later, they will do another giveaway for nurses and first responders. Follow their Facebook page for updates.

"It's our way of doing something nice for the world," Hollander says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.

Booming Houston suburb, other Texas towns among the fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2023

by the numbers

One Houston suburb experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts in the country last year: Fulshear, whose population grew by 25.6 percent, more than 51 times that of the nation’s growth rate of 0.5 percent. The city's population was 42,616 as of July 1, 2023.

According to U.S. Census Bureau's Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, released Thursday, May 16, Fulshear — which lies west of Katy in northwest Fort Bend County - ranked No. 2 on the list of fastest-growing cities with a population of 20,000 or more. It's no wonder iconic Houston restaurants like Molina's Cantina see opportunities there.

The South still dominates the nation's growth, even as America’s Northeast and Midwest cities are rebounding slightly from years of population drops. The census estimates showed 13 of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. were in the South — eight in Texas alone.

The Texas cities joining Fulshear on the fastest-growing-cities list are:

  • Celina (No. 1) with 26.6 percent growth (42,616 total population)
  • Princeton (No. 3) with 22.3 percent growth (28,027 total population)
  • Anna (No. 4) with 16.9 percent growth (27,501 total population)
  • Georgetown (No. 8) with 10.6 percent growth (96,312 total population)
  • Prosper (No. 9) with 10.5 percent growth (41,660 total population)
  • Forney (No. 10) with 10.4 percent growth (35,470 total population)
  • Kyle (No. 11) with 9 percent growth (62,548 total population)

Texas trends
San Antonio saw the biggest growth spurt in the United States last year, numbers-wise. The Alamo City added about 22,000 residents. San Antonio now has nearly 1.5 million people, making it the the seventh largest city in the U.S. and second largest in Texas.

Its population boom was followed by those of other Southern cities, including Fort Worth; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Fast-growing Fort Worth (978,000) surpassed San Jose, California (970,000) to become the 12th most populous city in the country.

Meanwhile, population slowed in the Austin area. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000), outpaced Austin (980,000), pushing the Texas capital to 11th largest city in the U.S. (barely ahead of Fort Worth).

Population growth in Georgetown, outside Austin, slowed by more than one-fourth its population growth in 2022, the report says, from 14.4 percent to 10.6 percent. It's the same story in the Central Texas city of Kyle, whose population growth decreased by nearly 2 percent to 9 percent in 2023.

Most populated cities
New York City with nearly 8.3 million people remained the nation's largest city in population as of July 1, 2023. Los Angeles was second at close to 4 million residents, while Chicago was third at 2.7 million and Houston was fourth at 2.3 million residents.

The 15 populous U.S. cities in 2023 were:

  1. New York, New York (8.3 million)
  2. Los Angeles, California (4 million)
  3. Chicago, Illinois (2.7 million)
  4. Houston, Texas (2.3 million)
  5. Phoenix, Arizona (1.7 million)
  6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1.6 million)
  7. San Antonio (1.5 million)
  8. San Diego, California (1.4 million)
  9. Dallas (1.3 million)
  10. Jacksonville, Florida (986,000)
  11. Austin (980,000)
  12. Fort Worth (978,000)
  13. San Jose (970,000)
  14. Columbus, Ohio (913,000)
  15. Charlotte, North Carolina (911,000)

Modest reversals of population declines were seen last year in large cities in the nation's Northeast and Midwest. Detroit, for example, which grew for the first time in decades, had seen an exodus of people since the 1950s. Yet the estimates released Thursday show the population of Michigan’s largest city rose by just 1,852 people from 631,366 in 2022 to 633,218 last year.

It's a milestone for Detroit, which had 1.8 million residents in the 1950s only to see its population dwindle and then plummet through suburban white flight, a 1967 race riot, the migration to the suburbs by many of the Black middle class and the national economic downturn that foreshadowed the city's 2013 bankruptcy filing.

Three of the largest cities in the U.S. that had been bleeding residents this decade staunched those departures somewhat. New York City, which has lost almost 550,000 residents this decade so far, saw a drop of only 77,000 residents last year, about three-fifths the numbers from the previous year.

Los Angeles lost only 1,800 people last year, following a decline in the 2020s of almost 78,000 residents. Chicago, which has lost almost 82,000 people this decade, only had a population drop of 8,200 residents last year.

And San Francisco, which has lost a greater share of residents this decade than any other big city — almost 7.5 percent — actually grew by more than 1,200 residents last year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How this Houston clean energy entrepreneur is navigating geothermal's hype to 100x business growth

houston innovators podcast Episode 237

Geothermal energy has been growing in recognition as a major player in the clean energy mix, and while many might think of it as a new climatetech solution, Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo Energy, knows better.

"Every overnight success is a decade in the making, and I think Fervo, fortunately — and geothermal as a whole — has become much more high profile recently as people realize that it can be a tremendous solution to the challenges that our energy sector and climate are facing," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

In fact, Latimer has been bullish on geothermal as a clean energy source since he quit his job as a drilling engineer in oil and gas to pursue a dual degree program — MBA and master's in earth sciences — at Stanford University. He had decided that, with the reluctance of incumbent energy companies to try new technologies, he was going to figure out how to start his own company. Through the Stanford program and Activate, a nonprofit hardtech program that funded two years of Fervo's research and development, Latimer did just that.

And the bet has more than paid off. Since officially launching in 2017, Fervo Energy has raised over $430 million — most recently collecting a $244 million series D round. Even more impressive to Latimer — his idea for drilling horizontal wells works. The company celebrated a successful pilot program last summer by achieving continuous carbon-free geothermal energy production with Project Red, a northern Nevada site made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Next up for Fervo is growing and scaling at around a 100x pace. While Project Red included three wells, Project Cape, a Southwest Utah site, will include around 100 wells with significantly reduced drilling cost and an estimated 2026 delivery. Latimer says there are a dozen other projects like Project Cape that are in the works.

"It's a huge ramp up in our drilling, construction, and powerplant programs from our pilot project, but we've already had tremendous success there," Latimer says of Project Cape. "We think our technology has a really bright future."

While Latimer looks ahead to the rapid growth of Fervo Energy, he says it's all due to the foundation he put in place for the company, which has a culture built on the motto, "Build things that last."

“You’re not going to get somewhere that really changes the world by cutting corners and taking short steps. And, if you want to move the needle on something as complicated as the global energy system that has been built up over hundreds of years with trillions of dollars of capital invested in it – you’re not going to do it overnight," he says on the show. "We’re all in this for the long haul together."