Showing posts with label 2010s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2010s. Show all posts

Monday, September 19, 2016

Goodbye to 711 University, So Long to the BB&T...

Since I didn't get a picture of the bank before it became a big hole in the ground, we'll have to do with this.

I love punny titles, and what better way to do that would be to mention the demolition of the old University Bank Building?

This was (going past tense here) a rather large and rather old bank that was a Citibank until very recently when it changed to BB&T. Before the page was removed, Brazos CAD says it was built in 1961 and from what I confirm that is absolutely true. Besides the many transactions at the bank itself, here are the major transactions in terms of name changes and all.

1962: College Station Bank relocates to this building from a previous location.
1963: The name is changed to University National Bank.
1990: After a long run as University National Bank, it is acquired by Don Adam to become First American Bank (officially acquired that year)
2005: Citigroup acquires the bank chain, rebranded to Citibank
2014: BB&T purchases 41 Citibank branches including this one and rebrands them.
2016: BB&T relocates to The Rise at Northgate; building torn down, thus beginning and ending its life with relocation.

That being said, there are two more things I want to hit:

The bank property also included an adjacent space, which was 707 University, BCAD link here which was a two-story office building with a small footprint. My records show this was used for non-bank space as early as 1974 (with the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Co.) and my 1989 phone book mentions "The Personal Computer Store" (with the ad mentioning it was "since 1984"). This became MicroAge by 1993, and starting in 1999 moved out to their current home (now known as Avinext) on East University Drive. I don't think anything has occupied the space since.

711 University was also where food trucks congregated (or near the now-defunct Notes-N-Quotes next door). Since I graduated a few years ago, I can't list all the more recent food trucks and trailers there, though here are a few I remember:

Wafology - Seen spring 2014, this was a waffle food truck which had chicken and waffles and a few others. The waffles weren't great, they were more of the standard "using pancake batter in a waffle iron" that I've seen everywhere except for home cooking. I think it returned for fall 2014. It is now known as MESS Waffles, but it doesn't even involve a food truck anymore, they opened a permanent location at Century Square.

Vittles - This was seen summer 2014. It was a trailer operated by Gumby's serving sno-cones, pizza rolls, and chicken legs (the latter two obviously prepared off-site).

Chef Tai's Mobile Bistro - Moved inside campus due to a contract.

Southern Comfort Road Trip - The old Village Foods food truck which in fall 2013, was the new home of Hebert's Cajun Food dishes. Their already-borderline prices had gone up, but it still felt like it was putting the universe one step closer to being back in balance.

Mr. Chinese Burger - I wanted to like it, but the burgers I had needed reheating...and they were shut down by the health department at least once. Still, I was amused by the (possibly deliberate?) broken English menu ("One Chinese Burger", "Two Chinese Burger", etc.), they sold pulled pork on chewy steamed buns.

Today, of course, it's yet another student housing residential tower, known as Aspire College Station with 16 stories (including parking levels) and 800 beds. BB&T actually moved back in, and it looks like Aspire will be getting a Fajita Pete's as well.

UPDATE 2/25/19: Removed BCAD link, added links for MESS Waffles and Gumby's, and replaced the last paragraph with the new building.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Leaning Tower Pizza / Primo Pizza / My Daily Bread Bakery

Primo Pizza in better days, September 2013

Originally I was going to rewrite my old Eastgate page, but then I figured I could easily rewrite it into several posts, not to mention it was several years since I did anything with it.

109 Walton, from my records, seems to have been food related for most of its life. "Wing Zone" was here in the early part of the 2000s, records indicate, and during the 1990s it was home to Partners Food Delivery. My personal experiences deal with the current tenant and the two before it. First, there was Leaning Tower Pizza, which if I recall was here since the mid-2000s. It was an interesting place, with a particularly greasy pie with a unique cheese pizza. It was also very grimy for a College Station restaurant, but I didn't mind because that's why you have enough to kill any dubious bacteria. It had some garden furniture for an "eat-in" area and had "free delivery" that had a significant discount if you picked it up in store, which means it wasn't actually free at all.

Well, for whatever reason, Leaning Tower closed in spring (May) 2013. Luckily, it was said on MyBCS that Charles Stover, fresh from creating Flip & Peel at Post Oak Mall, had bought the store and recipes and would reopen with a new name and theme. Well, that didn't quite happen, and instead in late summer 2013, Primo Pizza & Rolls opened with an entirely new concept of gourmet takeout pizza, which included pesto on every slice (this opened in late summer 2013). Unfortunately, gourmet takeout pizza without an eat-in area wasn't something the market could handle (especially located in a neighborhood that was populated by college students and minorities) and Primo shut down in February 2014 due to underperformance, but the way it was worded indicated that the closure could be temporary. After all, the sign remained up. But in May 2014, new pictures revealed that the restaurant was gutted. (One more thing regarding Primo: Primo Pizza's webpage, archived in PNG form)

While an Eastgate pizza place was no more than a memory, it did have one more tenant afterwards that opened by fall. This is still open today...My Daily Bread Bakery. This was one of my favorite places in my neighborhood when I lived on Eastgate, cinnamon rolls for breakfast if I was running late for school, decent coffee and espresso, and even (though I don't know about it today), a selection of used video games (from her husband) for sale, where I bought Pikmin and I believe Metroid Prime. I haven't made much progress in either, or you would see it in Carbon-izer GAMES, my "game review" page.

Here are a few other pictures that I took in May 2014 after the restaurant was gutted.

Gutted PP, May 2014
Gutted PP, May 2014. This is where the counter and menu were. The kitchen was behind that wall. This configuration was intact for both LTP and PP&R.

UPDATE: In 2017, the bakery was renamed "La Gabriella Coffeeshop & Pastries". I still never did make much progress in the games...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Handy Burger / The Onion Ring / The Deluxe / Chimy's Cerveceria

Chimy's sign looks kind of cool at night, but no picture of that, sorry (December 2015)

This restaurant, best known to me as the Deluxe Diner, always had a bit of a special place in my heart, even if I never went there. It was the first thing I saw besides the late Dulie Bell Building if we were going down the ramp from Wellborn, plus it was always featured in a little "menu booklet" that the George Bush Library had in their early days. It started as a hamburger restaurant called the Handy Burger, which was the first place in town to have a microwave for food use. Eventually, this became a restaurant called "The Onion Ring" (which picked up a well-known nickname probably more common than the REAL name of the restaurant).

Later, the restaurant was remodeled and became "The Deluxe Burger Bar" (renamed The Deluxe Diner sometime later).

Deluxe Diner menu from better days (c. 1998), note that this is not the full menu

The shuttered Deluxe Diner, Google Street View (c. 2007)

The Deluxe Diner closed in 2006 (that I know for sure) but by that time was in a state of huge decline (food was terrible, management was even worse). Despite having some period diner pieces inside (though the exterior had been modified since the Handy Burger days), the building started to rot and mold until 2012 when most of the restaurant was demolished save for a few walls and was rebuilt into Chimy's Cerveceria, which opened in January 2013. I've never eaten there, based on reports of overpriced food and what I've seen myself (long, cafeteria-like tables). That was disappointing, as I'd been wanting some decent Tex-Mex in Northgate, not a bar. Rest assured, though, with the opening of Torchy's Tacos when I lived at Eastgate, I no longer thought of Chimy's as a wasted opportunity.

So there you go. The tale of one of College Station's oldest restaurant sites in one post. Sorry for the absence as of late...I'll be wrapping up several more of the posts here with one more for the memories.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Loupot's Building

Loupot's in 1995. (PH)

Prior to when College Main was closed off (June 19th 2012, a day that will live in infamy), it was the only block which was resembled a dense city in College Station. And sitting on the corner of this block was Loupot's (335 University Drive), which closed the same year (in March). One of the oldest establishments on Northgate and once the "official" bookstore on campus, Loupot's had been around for years, though from what I've read, it wasn't always in the building, and when it was, it wasn't in both levels.

From what I've found, it wasn't bought by Loupot until 1979, and in the past, Loupot's was named "Loupot's Trading Post" and "Loupot's Books & Britches". The upper level was added in the 1980s not too long after the building was bought, as that had been the previous home of an X-rated bookstore (The Adult Library, though I read an ad that mentioned it being the home of "Sun Theater", same business, different name). Some ads I had found (but sadly don't have a copy right now) mentioned that they had shows for a quarter (and escorted ladies were free), which was around in the 1970s and 1980s. This had an address of 333 University. The adult theater was upstairs at 333 University, with Loupot's downstairs. At some point, they eventually closed and Loupot's ultimately would expand upstairs.

Anyway, Loupot's managed to expand to a few different locations, namely a location in Southgate (now home to TexAgs) and in a location at Holleman and Texas Avenue (now Salata). These closed shortly after the Northgate location. A fourth location was planned (according to a sign) to the grassy area just north of Blinn College on Villa Maria (where Blinn later added more parking). Loupot's continued to maintain its large store on Northgate, which later upgraded to electronic signage and made Internet history with its "reverse-boarded up windows" in 2005 (around the time of Hurricane Rita). However, in 2010, the family sold to Nebraska Book Company (Neebo), which already owned the Traditions bookstores (formerly Rother's), and then they started closing stores. The Loupot's-branded stores went away in 2012, but eventually, their other stores (Southgate, University Square, and one closer to Blinn at Briarcrest and Villa Maria) closed as well.

One of their last messages on the message board was "HOLY CRAP!!! TEXTBOOK RENTAL SALE!!!", which always felt a bit tasteless due to the mild swearing but that distracted from the fact that if they're selling rental textbooks, they're probably going under.

The former Loupot's in 2013.

It would be great to see the Loupot's on Northgate resurrected as The Loupot's Building and maybe get something decent or two in there, and not a bar: maybe dividing it into restaurants and shops, except the landlord is too stingy to do so. It was to become a place called Z Bar & Bistro, which made me hope it was something better than The Corner across the street (sticky chairs and tables, smells like old beer constantly, poor service), though it eventually fell through.

As of early 2016, there appears to be some work going on at Loupot's. It will probably be a bar, but it's better than an empty building, right?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Barbecue, Catering, and Tires at 2319 Texas Avenue

Picture from Yelp Review

Built in 1984 as "Pop's Barbecue" ([Maybe. See comment.]), this building is now a shiny modern tire store.

Around 1997-1998 it became Epicures Catering, which existed in the 1980s but somewhere else (unfortunately, the phone books don't list the address of where it is).

Over time, Epicures lost popularity and fell into disrepair until closing (actually, Epicures didn't close, they just ended up moving). The original green overhang was replaced with a gold one in the mid-2000s after the old one was too tattered. The 2011 conversion to Tiremax cleaned up the building and parking lot quite a bit, but the franchise went bust a year later and it had to change its name to "BCS Tires & Lifts", so the sign didn't look quite as good after that. You could actually see in Google Earth where Tiremax even added a bit to the building. I don't have any pictures of BCS Tires & Lifts (that you can see anytime), but there is a Pop's Barbecue ad which you can see here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

H-E-B Pantry / Gattitown / DSW

The store today (picture mine). The facade just keeps getting bigger and bigger...

H-E-B built its first store in College Station in 1991 (according to InSite Magazine), a time when they were expanding like wildfire across East Texas and Houston area with "H-E-B Pantry Foods". Unlike the full line H-E-B stores, the Pantry stores were small even by early 1990s standards (averaging 20k to 30k square feet) and lacked departments that other stores had, only with a meat counter, produce, and a very small collection (maybe one aisle) of non-food items like HBA (health & beauty aids) and pet items.

It had a facade that looked very similar to the picture below (this is from a shopping center in Houston, but as of spring 2013, the facade was repainted and replaced with a traditional H-E-B logo--I'm sure that the Pantry name has been totally extinct for the last five years or so now)

Unfortunately, since I have no pictures or even directories (I actually had two at one time, but I don't know what happened to them...if I find them, I'll tell you), I'll have to describe it. Instead of parking spaces in front of it like the other stores in the center, it had a large ramp in front of it for shoppers. Inside, it had mid-rising drop ceilings with a few random "Texas" graphics, such as a picture of a bunch of haybales scattered through a field. The produce was in the right side, there were ten check-out stands (with one being an express lane, 10 items or less), a photo developing kiosk, a "bakery" that didn't seem to make anything that fresh (fare was mostly limited to some tasteless bagels, the stuff that would be sold in the bread aisle today).

The three H-E-B Pantry stores in town (this one, and the two Bryan locations--were somewhat unusual, as at least from my knowledge, they didn't move into old stores, as in the Houston area, they were known to inhabit old stores like Safeway.

In 2002, this store closed and was replaced with the massive and modern store across Holleman.

That wasn't the end for the space, though in summer 2003, Gattiland closed its Bryan location and moved into the old Pantry Foods store within the month. Although I was getting too old to be part of the Gattitown demographic by the time it opened, I visited anyway, because it was new, and it was to be the latest in the technology. Gattitown totally rebuilt the facade (the Texas part remained visible from the back, but unless you lived in one of the apartments behind the complex, you could not see it) and removed the ramp in the parking lot, making it smooth. You also had to enter through the sides.

“When we built [the Bryan location] it was the second GattiLand we built,” Moffett said. “This is the latest generation, and it’s going to be more comfortable and fun for every age. From here on out, they’re all going to be GattiTowns.”

This is the sixth restaurant to open under the GattiTown name and “eatertainment” theme, and each is decorated to reflect its community, Moffett said. At the College Station restaurant, an Aggieland Dining Room will be lined with reproductions of Benjamin Knox paintings. The drink station is positioned beneath a mock water tower, and other rooms include a city hall and a mock movie theater.

The game room will occupy the entire back section of the restaurant, but Moffett said adults can find quiet dining areas in a corner cafe and the Library, which will have high-speed Internet connections and five iMac computers for customer use.

Moffett said he plans to hire a full-time marketing employee to promote the restaurant’s meeting space, which is free to use once customers buy a meal. There also are two meeting rooms set apart from the customer traffic flow, and some of the dining rooms have sliding walls that can divide them into smaller spaces.

The "mock water tower" was modeled after by-then defunct old water tower at the corner of Park Place and Texas Avenue, and as for the "Library", I never did find (employees didn't seem to know where it was, a sign of bad things to come), but it apparently did exist and was soon converted into another theater room. The midway area wasn't all that better than Gattiland, if anything, it seemed smaller. There wasn't even room for a playground. The old style tokens that Gattiland used was replaced by a card system.

Well, initially Gattitown was a huge success and the parking lot stayed packed every Friday and Saturday night. But as the years wore on, Gattitown started to get competition in the form of Chuck E. Cheese which opened at Post Oak Mall in 2005, and at Grand Central Station, which happened soon after. Chuck E. Cheese did the most damage to Gattitown, with Gattitown's knockoff formula competing with the original, and just like that, Gattitown slid downhill just like its predecessor. It was pretty much exclusively for kids (no classic arcades, or even alcohol) for that matter, and even then stayed pretty empty except for the "Kids Eat Free" nights. In July 2012, Gattitown closed. The pizza was now abysmal (not even fully cooked) and Mr. Gatti's left the area for good after nearly 40 years of jumping around town.

It wasn't the end of the space, though: in fall of 2013, it reopened as DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse). Despite the fact that the facade of the old Gattitown/Pantry was completely covered up, the design restored the appearance of a retail store, so if you go inside and close your eyes you can almost remember how the Pantry used to be laid out.

2026 S. Texas Avenue

Editor's Note: Updated as of August 2015, Feb. 2016 update to correct date

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Torchy's Tacos and the Story Behind 1037 Texas Avenue

Once again, my phone's camera interprets red neon as having a harsh orange effect. (September 2014)

Reading this post brings back a lot of memories for me, namely fall 2014 when Torchy's opened and I was living in Eastgate at the time. When I first wrote this post back in January 2014, this post was not on Torchy's (at that point, it being a Torchy's was a rumor), but rather the recently-closed Sully's Sports Bar & Grill, which was the rebranded Fowl Digits. The post URL (Something Fowl at 1037 Texas Avenue) and comments refer to this. At the time it was considered a "cursed" location for all the restaurants that had struggled there over the years, and at the time, Eastgate wasn't doing so hot either: there was no nightlife and pretty much your choices were Layne's as far as eating went.

Later on, I updated the post around September. This is why the picture on the top of the post is still early evening and no crowds, at that point, Torchy's had put up all signage but not yet open. After it opened (and yes, I did attend the public pre-opening party, and enjoyed free tacos and alcohol), it was pretty much impossible to take a daytime picture without crowds and cars blocking it.

The building itself is interesting and dates back decades, long before Fowl Digits and the parade of restaurants that followed. Here's a bit from The Eagle from its 1962 groundbreaking as Coach Norton's Pancake House, the first restaurant in the spot.

Coach Homer Norton, coach of the 1939 Texas Aggie national football champions, and his wife expect to break ground Monday or Tuesday for a $200,000 restaurant on Highway 6 in College Station. Norton, 56, was in the city Wednesday and today, making final arrangements for the ground breaking of the establishment to be known as "Coach Norton’s Pancake House." The approximately 200 - capacity edifice will be constructed on the corner of Highway 6 and Kyle Street in College Station. The former Aggie coach has a similar business in Rosenberg—-gathering place for members of the ’39 champs when A&M is playing football in Houston. Norton officially announced the new B-CS restaurant, which is to be completed in about four months, today. R. B. Butler is general contractor for the restaurant. "I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time," Norton stated. "Actually I feel like I’m coming home. We have many close, dear friends in College Station, Bryan and throughout the state. So many of them travel in and out of College Station it’s going be a great chance to visit. Actually I dreamed of this long before I quit coaching,” the white-haired Aggie mentor said. “I always wanted to do two things; own a motel and a real high class eating place.” After a 14-year tenure as head coach at A&M, Norton resigned the post in 1947 and opened his motel business in Rosenberg, "This place will be my big prize," he added, "and I imagine it will be the largest and finest of its kind between Dallas and Houston." The 200-seat restaurant will feature 25 varieties of Norton’s nationally famous pancakes as well as steak, shrimp, chicken and other foods. Completely carpeted throughout, the pancake house will provide the finest of kitchen equipment and fixtures, according to Norton, with all-around parking and an eight-foot covered walkway on the sides and front. Norton indicated a manager would be in charge of the establishment, as in Rosenberg, and that he would commute from Rosenberg. Coach Norton stated he would probably spend most of his time in College Station, however. The building was to be lined off today and set on the lot for construction to get under way immediately.

Sadly, Norton would not see his new restaurant for very long, as Homer Norton would pass away in 1965, but his legacy still stood (the motel in Rosenberg still exists as the Homer Norton Motel, though its existence is in question today). The Pancake House in College Station continued for a years afterward but closed in 1970 (by references we have now), but the building stood and changed hands many times.

One of the first restaurants to reoccupy was Fontana's Italian-Mexican Restaurant. This actually had no relation to the Fontana's that would later occupy it. The first reference to Fontana's appeared in 1970, not long at all after the demise of the Pancake House. Like the later incarnation, Fontana's would specialize primarily in Italian and newspaper references to Fontana's would continue into the late 1970s.

As time went on, the space saw many eateries come and go in a relatively short timespan, earning it a reputation of a "cursed location", intensifying the intrigue of what would be a lowly building that long would've met the bulldozers years ago.

The next location to occupy was Mama's Pizza. Mama's relocated from 807 Texas Avenue South, by 1986, Pinon's Restaurant (possibly actually Piñon's) was in the old spot and Mama's had taken over at the Pancake House location.

Their old location was the old Oakridge Steakhouse (leading to confusion like how Oakridge Steakhouse was at this location). At that location, Mama's even gave out little paper moustaches to promote their restaurant.
From the Project HOLD collection

Mama's was gone by the late 1980s (moved to 1601 Texas Avenue South, later home to Bullwinkle's)

A 1993 directory (but not a 1993 phone book) lists "Shanghai Chinese Restaurant" as well as a 1996 directory, however, TexAgs claims that it was open for a "week or two", which seems to be a gross exaggeration.

It's plausible that Porky's Hamburgers, another spot, was actually open for "six weeks" (after all, Front Porch Grill didn't last a long time either). Additionally, Rockyano's Pizza was there as well, according to the thread.

Either way, a 1996 phone book lists "Shen Zhen Chinese Restaurant" (sushi restaurant mentioned in TexAgs, maybe?), and in February 1997, Snuffer's opened as per ribbon cutting information from the Chamber of Commerce. This is also a point of contention of when it existed: the College Station location was apparently closed in October 1997 due to the widening of Texas Avenue (you could say that the restaurant was "snuffed out" by the construction), but the date was wrong (widening was in 1998, and multiple other sources back Snuffers being in '98, not '97). It's possible that 1997 was correct but I wasn't around for the spectacle. After Snuffer's was El Arroyo (late 1990s/early 2000s), and then later Cazadores Mexican Restaurant (may have skipped another restaurant in there), and finally Fontana's Authentic Italian Food from 2009 to 2011.

From Fontana's Facebook page, which itself was from, which has since taken down this image

Note that this is a time when the sign wasn't triangular: this can be seen here.

It's unknown why they changed the sign, but Fowl Digits restored it to its original 1960s appearance.

In late 2011, some new owners bought the building and gave it a substantial remodeling, adding a semi-covered patio and making it appear like a modern building (with stucco) and less like a 1960s building with new paint. Fowl Digits opened in early 2012 (50 years since Coach Norton started out), but despite some flashy advertising, it had a number of problems from the beginning. The name wasn't especially attractive, as it's easy to aim for "quirky" and hit "turn-off".

The second problem was that it tried to go for the wrong market. At the very beginning, they were promoting the line of their restaurant, Raising Cane's, and Layne's as "Chicken Strip Row", but Fowl Digits wasn't aiming for the $6 meal of chicken fingers, Texas Toast, and fries: they were a sports bar (indeed, a drink coozie I have states that it's a "sports bar disguised as a chicken finger place") and had prices to match. It also had a bunch of TVs (literally dozens). The portion sizes weren't working out, either. I felt rather unhappy and still pretty hungry after spending $6 (that's without a drink, at the time $6.50 for a full meal was standard) for the "Chicken and Wawfuls", which was just that. No sides or anything save for some syrup. After a few months (by October), the owners of Fowl Digits decided that the "disguised restaurant" wasn't working and rebranded themselves as Sully's Sports Grill & Bar. That seemed to do better for them (even if the name switch seemed pretty desperate) as the menu expanded to add things like hamburgers. It still wasn't enough to gain a following (and reviews were mixed), and the slightly awkward location has caused the restaurant to not reopen after December 2013, living up to the "restaurant curse" label, which is a bit of a shame since the owners of Fowl Digits/Sully's seemed like nice people, not like the owner of Dragon One in Bryan.

As for why Sully's closed, I don't think it was the location at all, just a manner of confused marketing. The initial attempt was trying to pretend they were competition to Layne's and Raising Cane's when they really weren't, then when that failed, they switched to a fairly generic "sports bar" type joint with overpriced bar food and a bunch of TVs. There weren't any pool tables and they couldn't even have glass glasses for beer. Any nonsense you heard on MyBCS like "People don't like $8-9 meals" is only partially true--$8-9 for a small plate of mediocre food won't cut it anywhere.

After the rumor of Torchy's was confirmed in early 2014, in summer, the demolition of Sully's commenced. It wasn't a total demolition (nor was it the "everything but a few walls" demolition that happened to the Deluxe Diner or Egg Roll House) but did strip off nearly every element that the Fowl Digits/Sully's owners added on, including exposing the Fontana metal siding before replacing that too. It also dismantled the 1960s era triangular sign for the purposes of more outdoor seating, instead opting to have a large sign facing Texas Avenue with a huge colorful neon sign with the "baby devil" logo.

Here are a few more pictures I got of the building, in both its post-Sully's days and pre-Torchy's Tacos days.

The Fowl Digits/Sully's patio shortly after it closed in late 2013.
Side view.
Torchy's September 2014. Almost the exact same view of the Sully's side view above. Compare and contrast!
Looking in
A closer look at the red and white. These are road reflectors!

It opened October 16th but I got into the building early and took a few pictures of the soda fountain and menu, though oddly the menu boards were replaced before opening.

1037 Texas Avenue South

Feel free to leave comments. Updated September 2014 with new title, photos, and substantial information. Updated July 2015 with further integration, and finally some updates in August 2016 to officially add to new list.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Rise at Northgate

Not there yet...this view may be impossible in a few years when the apartments replacing BB&T get built.

I can still remember sitting on the "porch" of the A+ Tutoring and Fat Burger building (profiled here in this post, which is undergoing changes, but that's okay), looking out at the abandoned building that once held a BBVA Compass Bank (formerly Guaranty Bank until they were bought out) and United Realty. United Realty is now on Graham, and BBVA Compass moved out as well. I don't know when or where they took off too, but I'm pretty sure that BBVA Compass disappeared in 2010 or so.

They were to be torn down for a huge building known as 717 University. This was spring 2012. At first, I couldn't really comprehend a building being there. After all, the Plaza was coming down, and the Plaza occupied a much bigger footprint. I wondered if they would close off Church Avenue for additional space. Turns out they didn't. When they filed something in regards to the airport ordinance, I knew it could be good.

Initially, there was talk of a gourmet grocer (Whole Foods was the rumored choice, and supposedly they even signed a letter of intent), but that eventually fell through as the building was renamed The Rise at Northgate and ultimately CVS/pharmacy would take the place of the lower level tenant, which was just as well.

Early concept. It looks substantially different in real life. (snagged from local news site)

Over the fall semester, I watched from the Evans Library them build the large structure, adding a new floor every week or so before it was visible on the skyline.

Anyway, the bank was home Community Savings & Loan Association which surprisingly lasted from the 1970s until 1989. Later, it became Guaranty Bank and United Realty (sharing the bank), the former becoming BBVA Compass and moving out. By 2011, it was boarded up and vacant.

I know I had once parked my bike in the lot in the overgrown grass there, but didn't get any good ground pictures at the time.

Not too long before, this is what was there.

I don't live in the Rise, but a friend and I checked out the CVS and explored around. It's smaller than a real CVS...there's a selection of food that's generally better than a convenience store, and of course a full HBA (Health & Beauty Aids) department, something convenience stores don't have. The best thing, at least to Rise residents, is a little hallway in the back that links the elevator to the complex (and the parking garage) with the CVS, so in theory, you could make a midnight run for snacks...or at least, it would be midnight, if they didn't close at 12 (that might change in the future).

It's a bit of a bummer that they don't carry any fresh fruits or vegetables, as that would round out the neighborhood nicely. After all, just literally outside used to be the old Albertsons which did have not only a pharmacy since the early 1970s but all manners of produce as well. 24 hours, too. A sad day when it finally closed, as for the next 31 semesters, Northgate lacked a pharmacy (that's spring 1998 to spring 2013, for those keeping count).

A few more pictures that I took...

Due to the orientation of perhaps the parking garage ramps above, the CVS isn't flush with ground level, requiring going up a several steps or using a (rather narrow looking) ramp. Still, the potential is great: a huge (at least by College Station standards) apartment building, and streetside retail in a pedestrian area (something the Lofts lacked).

Around spring 2014, they replaced their bike racks with bike racks designed for the MaroonBikes rental bikes, requiring people to hook their bikes to trees or other things (way to screw over your main audience) but you could still hook it on a bench or a tree. As of 2016, they've posted signs not to park bikes in the vicinity but rather put them in bike racks in the upper levels of the parking garage, which makes the CVS and its other tenants definitely less accessible.

Surprisingly, as of 2016, the tenants of the Rise are fully filled out.

The first tenant here was CVS/pharmacy (Ste. 101), the largest store, which opened September 29, 2013. It faces University and while it is a smaller CVS than most of its more suburban counterparts, it is merchandised to the neighborhood by having a mix of at least 50% food, though only has a very abbreviated mix consisting of a few dry foods, frozen foods, and a few other items, all priced higher than grocery stores. The best thing, at least to Rise residents, is a little hallway in the back that links the elevator to the complex (and the parking garage) with the CVS, so in theory, you could make a midnight run for snacks...or at least, it would be midnight, if they didn't close at midnight.

The second tenant is "YAKU Japanese Eatery" (Ste. 171), which replaced Great Wraps. Great Wraps opened in spring 2014 but didn't match up with its Houston counterparts. My quest for a good chicken caesar wrap on or near campus was foiled when the wrap was stuffed with croutons, and that was enough to put me off forever. By the end of 2014 it was gone, with YAKU taking its place next year. By the time YAKU opened, I was out of college, and while I was dubious of the sign offering chicken fingers and ramen (having put off by Happy Yogurt and their store-bought garbage), it has lasted until now (September 2016) with mixed reviews.

The third tenant, located at the end, is the BB&T (Ste. 181), which opened August 2016. It has an ATM outside of it. The BB&T moved here after their old location was demolished.

July 27 2014 - Updated.
October 09 2016 - Updated a second time.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Westgate Center

Westgate Center: A Relic of the 1980s (from the lease plan below)

Westgate Center has long been a topic I considered before finally publishing it in October 2013. In the light of the more interesting and exciting things I was doing (at least to me), it just seemed boring, and was kind of hard of research. There's Holick's, which was forced to leave Northgate (heresy for sure), and a few other places, including a Pizza Hut take-out (check out the PDF). To make this integrate better with the city directory I'm building on my other site, this will be a directory of sorts...

4201 - Sunny Food Mart as of 2012, but closed as of January 2014. The 2013 PDF said it was "Oaks Food Mart"
4207 - Pizza Hut (carry out/delivery only?) since at least 1998
4223 - DCI Biologicals has been traditionally here at least since 2010, though I've heard reports it moved or changed names
4243 - Tiki Tan (hasn't changed since I wrote this post)
4245 - official offices for the shopping center

4309 - vacant
4315 - Holick's (moved here in the early 2000s)

4337 - See below

We take a break to explore 4337, a store that at least in the Eatology days was besides itself (all the spaces to the north were vacant, I'd have to make a return trip to see if that's changed). The reason we're talking about it here is it held a legacy of several places, and it was convenient to me since I could disassemble another Tales of Defunct Restaurants as well as re-activate part of the Stover story all in one.

Picture from Yelp

Our story goes back to 2007 when Blimpie was there, but sometime around that time Blimpie "deflated" and the store closed. At the time, Stover Boys, a new burger eatery at the Exxon at FM 1179 and Boonville, was over capacity. Despite a rustic "menu on a chalkboard" theme, it needed space to expand (the parking lot would fill up and people couldn't get to either the restaurant nor the gas station). Stover Boys then opened in 2008 and would be the home base for a growing chain of successful burger joints, and it would be all local. Things were looking good.

A location at the intersection of Graham Road and Highway 6 was discussed, but was scuttled due to a complex and expensive side-mechanism that was due to some draconian CoCS ordinance about having no visible HVAC systems. Instead he went for Square One, which ended up wiping him out (see link below).

Here are some photos (not by me), from Yelp.

This was the best picture of the Stover Boys Burgers I could find. Wellborn location. I can read most of the items, but not ALL of them. (If anyone has a better picture, don't hesitate to tell me)

The original Stover Boys also featured a wall of comic book stuff. Daily Ruckus over at Northgate had a similar concept, but this was far more well-done...and they did it first. Debt occurred from an expensive renovation of Square One eventually caused Stover Boys to close in late 2010.

Soon after the demise of Stover Boys, "Burger Boy Café" moved into the spot. Burger Boy (no "Café" at that point), had been on Church Avenue for the last past 12-13 years (which had previously moved from 301 Patricia), and was sold from George & Tara Sopasakis (long time owners) to Ken Simmons of the "local daycare industry" (in early 2010). In or around October 2010 (about the time Stover Boys shuttered--but don't quote me on that), Burger Boy moved there and became "Burger Boy Café". Of course, this didn't last long, and Simmons closed Burger Boy forever in January 2013, after more than two decades and five different locations. Note that neither Stover Boys nor Burger Boy repainted the old Blimpie parking lot spaces. I wonder if they're still there.

After that, it became home to Eatology Paleo-Zone (though I don't think the "Paleo-Zone" was part of the name initially), which made meals that cater to the "Paleo" diet. Originally, back in 2013, I made a quip about how "we'll see what happens when the paleo diet goes out of fashion" after a pretentious quote on the website by the owner (something about paleo not being a diet but a lifestyle, or some such). Well, not sure if paleo's gone out of fashion, but as of August 2015, Eatology had its letters gone and locked up!

4351 - currently "Wes-Gate Hair Salon"
4345 - was a location of Texas Burger was there, but it closed down in the late 1990s or early 2000s. (Texas Burger is pretty rare--there was one in Madisonville, but it disconnected and became TX Burger). Later home to Home's Haven Catering
4353 - Current tenant is Knight Club. Circa 2015 it was Swamp Tails, a Cajun restaurant that sadly couldn't stay in business. Names that I can recall or otherwise researched included Barracuda Bar, Salty Dog, and X-Treme

Updated 2019 with some new tenants

Friday, August 2, 2013

Post Oak Mall, Part 2 - The Food Court

This post is super out of date and has been completely outmoded by the newer Post Oak Mall page on, and even that's a bit out of date. As such, this has been removed from the main index of the website.

A continuation on our newly rewritten Post Oak Mall coverage that we did not long ago, this is about the food court. I first wrote this back in maybe early 2011 or late 2010 (I'm not sure) but I took it down when the "Superpost" was released. It saddens me that Chick-fil-A (charter tenant) is no longer in business, for instance. Little Tokyo is also gone now with no replacement. There's still life left though. Read on.

The food court was much more grandiose than today, featuring eateries on both sides and called "The Gourmet Court". Charter food court tenants included Chick-fil-A, Corn Dog 7, Funnel Cakery, The Great Hot Dog Experience, Giovanni's, Ken Martin's Chicken Fried Steak, Peanut Shack, Pepe's, Potatoes Etc., Salad Bartique, Sesame Hut, and Seafood Shoppe. Orange Julius opened soon after (it was leased but did not open with the mall, apparently), and Taste of the Tropics and McDonald's opened later. I know for a fact that Taste of the Tropics opened a few years after '82, and also Subway opened in 1984 (after the Parkway Square location). Because the food court had been reconfigured at one time (the corridor to the restrooms was different), it's hard to tell what became what.

To make this easier, I'll try to cover the food court starting at what is now the boarded up restaurant (and moving clockwise): this was most recently Little Tokyo, which lasted from circa 2008-2009 to January 2012. It wasn't so bad at first. The sushi was good and very reasonably priced. I even got a menu and scanned it. That old link is from a defunct blog I used to run back in early 2010. Unfortunately, the prices went up soon enough, and they seemed to run out of things on a consistent basis: I tried green tea ice cream here, but toward the end, they never had it. Until circa 2006 (and going back to the earliest days of the mall), this was Corn Dog 7. I wished I had gone there, because I enjoy corn dogs, it is a chain, and I think I would enjoy a foot-long corn dog.

Since Little Tokyo closed, there's been nothing to replace it and it remains with green cardboard walling off the counter. How depressing. With the rent so high there, it's unlikely anything will replace it soon. Ideally, I'd love to see some tasty local option there.

EDIT 10/11: ...and I'm right! Carrera and Stover (see below) will be opening "Salad Sculptors" there, serving gourmet salads and gyros!

Directly next to Little Tokyo/Corn Dog 7 used to be Chick-fil-A, which also was a charter tenant and closed on December 24, 2011 to (you guessed it) high rents. There were other issues too, like the mall not doing renovations (by the time they did, it was too late). It was a bit unique in that it had a small dine-in area with some Aggie memorabilia on the wall, and was a full-featured Chick-fil-A. It was also the first in town, long before the one at Briarcrest was built, or before the campus CFA Express locations. It was replaced with Raising Cane's, which lacked the walk-up area. Now, I have nothing against Raising Cane's: it tastes good and is reasonably priced, but it's no replacement to Chick-fil-A, and I'm sure many agree.

To the right of that is Manchu Wok. Manchu Wok used to be good and also reasonably-priced, but I haven't been in a while. I've heard that the food quality has deteriorated somewhat, but just to be safe, I haven't eaten there yet: best keep my good memories intact. Originally, this spot was "Emilio's" (unknown to what it served).

Moving onto Roman Delight Pizza, which despite its horribly dated appearance (I don't believe that menu board has changed since the early '90s) is reasonably priced and decent (or so I've heard: I haven't actually eaten there). Up until the early '90s, in fact, it was Sesame Hut: so the menu board (sans prices, of course) hasn't changed since then.

Taste of the Tropics has been here since about 2005, it replaced a Subway that lasted up until 2003-2004. Of course, Taste of the Tropics has been here for far longer, but it moved to consolidate the food court more. It's a locally owned smoothie shop. In the early 1980s, this was "The Great Hot Dog Experience".

Speaking of locally owned, we now focus on what started out as a McDonald's, which opened sometime soon after the mall opened. It lasted up until 2002 when it was replaced with a Sonic. The Sonic, which lacked a drive-in for obvious reasons, closed in 2012 (apparently it under-performed horribly). While Sonic is never known for having good food (average at best, I'd say), I enjoyed their drinks and "Happy Hour" specials. After that, it was replaced by Charles Stover's Flip & Peel Burgers & Fries.

We'll go a bit longer on this subject because I have mixed feelings on Flip & Peel. "This Is Not a Fast Food Chain, Because YOU Deserve Better", the menu proclaims. The burgers run in the range of $6-$8 for the hamburger alone. Since opening, they changed the menu, taking out a few tasty burgers and replacing them with "healthier" turkey burgers.

Some of the casualties were the Deluxe Diner Burger (named after a certain defunct Northgate eatery), which had cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, mayo, and mustard (a classic tasty hamburger), plus I dislike American cheese. It retailed for $5.99. There was also a smaller "Jr. Diner Burger" that retailed for $3.99.

Another casualty was the $7 "Hawaiian Burger": beef, ham, grilled pineapple, provolone, sriracha mayo, and pineapple sauce. Two salads (both $5, add chicken for $2), the Legacy Salad ("artisan greens", red onion. pineapple, Craisins, sunflower seeds) and Rio Grande Salad (artisan greens, guacamole, pico, cheddar) were discontinued (better than turkey burgers, in my opinion). Finally, two fries also sadly departed.

There was the "S'mores Fries" ($6) that had sweet potato fries, chocolate sauce, marshmallow sauce, graham crackers, and chocolate chunks. Confusingly, "Nutella Crunchberries Fries" ($7, now $4 like other fries) still survives, which has sweet potato fries, Nutella sauce, raspberry sauce, powdered sugar, and Crunchberries (Cap'n Crunch's Crunchberries). This I actually did try and I disliked it. It wasn't because the sugar overload (I can eat an entire bowl of said cereal and feel fine) but the flavors completely clashed.

Finally, there was the "Canadian Fries" (poutine, rhymes with "routine") which had provolone and mushrooms in addition to the classic cheese curds and brown gravy. These were discontinued due to the fact that you can't find cheese curds in the area. I think I remember Stover telling me about he had to import them from a family member in Canada, though I strongly believe it can be found in Houston somewhere.

The burgers are pretty tasty: I'm not too sure about the buns used, the Flip Sauce tastes a little strange to me for some reason, and the price still seems on the high end...but I still wish Charles Stover and Sergio Carrera the best in their venture nonetheless. I also did enjoy Primo Pizza, even though they somehow managed to skip the sauce, and am willing to come back.

It's worth noting that McDonald's was not the original tenant (possibly coming in during 1992, which makes sense from ads over the years). It was, instead, a branch of Pepe's Mexican Food.

At some point the food court was re-configured in terms of where the entrance to the restrooms were. This was a spin-off of Ken Martin's Steakhouse: "Ken Martin's Chicken Fried Steak". You can see Pepe's, Ken Martin's, and others below:

Photo from "rcj0618" on the HAIF, though it's an image from the first issue of InSite Magazine, mirror flipped

Orange Julius was absorbed into Time Out Family Amusement (now American Eagle Outfitters). This probably happened in the early 1990s. Next to it was Taste of the Tropics, which survived into the 2000s before moving to the place it is now (it's now non-food shops, but can't recall what's there currently).

Peanut Shack survived into the late 1980s as well (possibly early 1990s). It was more of a snack shack than a food court place. Some years ago the folks at Labelscar snapped a pic of a Peanut Shack at a small-town Oklahoma mall. It was obviously closed for the evening, but that's what it was.

Smoothies Ice Cream & Yogurt was the actual name of the restaurant and served pretty much what it's name was, including gyros. Ice cream served was Blue Bell. It became "Nestlé Toll House by Chip" circa 2009-2010, and was originally a Swensen's, which like its Culpepper Plaza relative (which also lasted a whole lot longer), served food (hot dogs, burgers) and ice cream.

Giovanni's Pizza was on the north side, later to be Villa Italian Specialties by the 1990s, and eventually, turned into part of Afterthoughts, which became Icing by Claire's, and then Claire's when the two switched places. Where Gymboree's "wall" is today was "Potatoes Etc.". Then, next to it was "The Wagon Wheel Pit BBQ" (now Lids, formerly Hat World). Next to that was one of the first Subway locations in the state and first mall Subway in Texas. It's now Sunglass Hut.

Other food court stores like Salad Bartique, Funnel Cakery, and Seafood Shoppe would replace a few listed above, and even a real Cinnabon once graced the food court in the mid-1990s, albeit briefly. There may be others that I've inevitably missed.

Picture I took in 2008

A more recent picture

As you may have noticed, the food court isn't nearly as large as it was. At least they got rid of the kid's play area (which was built circa 2004?) recently. You can see some directories here. The mall itself as well isn't what was then. Although it still has a dominant on the hold on local clothing stores, it mostly serves as a place to congregate when the weather's unpleasant, which happens often.

I wish the food court would grow again. Gymboree doesn't open to the food court side. I wish Gymboree would move out (after all, there are other "nice" shopping centers that would happily accept it, and at a lower rent, too). That space, the one where Potatoes Etc. was, could become another food court space. A mix of local tenants and "first to the market" spaces could fill the remainder. How about another Taco Bueno? Maybe a Ninfa's Express? A barbecue place? The mind boggles with the possibilities.

Anyway, here are a few updates.

- Our post on the former A&M Consolidated High School / A&M Consolidated Junior High has been updated.
- A comment at the Citgo on Northgate clarifies a bit about the Thirsty Turtle.

Finally, I implore you: I've worked on this a good deal, so if there's anything wrong, anything you want to add, or say: please write in the comments! I've removed moderation for the recent posts, so have at it!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Holiday Inn College Station / Four Points by Sheraton

To replace the stock picture that used to be here, here's one from 2015 taken from the Jack in the Box across the street.

1503 S. Texas Avenue

Originally I posted this back in fall 2011 (based on the wording of the 2011 post), and that was a point when I was still trying to figure out how to make the blog like I wanted it. Even after 2013, it still had much of the 2011 wording in there.

The Holiday Inn Express of College Station is and to my knowledge has always been on University, near Spring Loop. This is not what this post is about. Nor is it about the Bryan Holiday Inn, which somehow managed to get a Travelodge license after operating for years as a no-name motel since the late 1980s. The Travelodge name disappeared soon after a prostitution bust, so it's back to being a no-name motel again.

The hotel that is now Four Points by Sheraton was a Holiday Inn, opened circa 1973 (it was under construction in 1972). Why Holiday Inn didn't build new on the highway, as that was their modus operandi, was because even though the bypass did exist at that point, there was nothing on there, and Texas Avenue still was where the activity was (indeed, Earl Rudder Freeway does look a bit barren at some points--compare and contrast Cypress, Texas).

For years, this hotel perplexed me because I seem to remember the Clarion name was on far longer than 2005, but maybe my brain already was getting frazzled by the time because of all the changes. Even Google Earth supports some of the things that I've found.

Because hotel history is a little weird: you'd have to be working there to really understand it, here's some things that I did find through what I found. Here's my 2002 Six Continents hotel directory with the College Station hotels (Six Continents was the parent company of Holiday Inn at the time--forgive the slight crookedness), showing the Holiday Inn Express on University and the main hotel on Texas...

OK, so here we have the two hotels, the one on Texas Avenue and the Express near the University. Makes sense.

Fast forward a few years to the 2005 directory, now owned by InterContinental Hotel Group (the "hotel" side of 6C, as 6C broke up).

The new Holiday Inn is indeed on Southwest Parkway and the freeway, though by Q3 2005 it was still under construction. By Q3 2006 it had been running for a bit.

The old Holiday Inn as you may know was the "College Station Inn" for a few years, but it was Clarion for several years before that, seemingly long before Holiday Inn moved out to the highway. This odd memory is supported by the fact that someone perhaps Photoshopped out the logo. Why? Why would they do this?

Here's what the Four Points/Holiday Inn looked like as a Clarion (a picture of the "College Station Inn" is unavailable).

The phone books due line up with the Holiday Inn until 2005 and Clarion later (College Station Inn didn't last all that long, admittedly).

Regardless, renovations began in 2011 that all but stripped down the Holiday Inn and in April 2012, Four Seasons by Sheraton opened, which is their mid-line brand. We don't have a full-line Sheraton in town, of course, that's for large cities.

From, presumably taken on a hot summer day. The paint isn't quite orange like that, but it can appear as such during certain times of day in certain parts of the year.

Perhaps it would be more interesting if I focused on the restaurants. One of the things about Holiday Inn was their restaurants, good enough that it was able to function on its own as a semi-independent component and not just a liability to keep guests in the hotel. The link to Pleasant Family Shopping talks about this in great detail, but to be honest, I think that such a thing is a bygone element now. I ate at a sit-down restaurant in a hotel once without actually staying at the hotel, I had spaghetti. That, however, was in 1998, when I was much younger than however old I am when you are reading this.

From what I could tell, the early days of the restaurant didn't have a name, the only references came in the paper of what they'd be serving that day (1983 papers seemed to mention only what they'd be serving, Mexican, etc.) That all changed in 1984, when the restaurant became Mongolian House, a Chinese buffet and Mongolian grill.

Garfield's was a higher class establishment than the more family-oriented Mongolian House. Open 6 am to 11 pm, Garfield's marketed toward more than the hotel crowd, and offered a menu that included prime rib, steaks, seafood, burgers, and sandwiches, as well as "54 beers of the world", which was rather good considering that craft beer was not the market it was today, and between Garfield's and Mongolian House, there was "Daddy O's" according to a city directory, and by the mid-1990s it was "Bronco's - The Texas Café". Naturally, there are going to be some I missed.

In keeping with this tradition, the current Four Points does in fact have a restaurant and bar. It's not Asian food, it's the "Century Café". It even stocks New Republic beer (brewed locally).

Minor revisions complete 4/25/15

Monday, May 27, 2013

303 Boyett: Forgettable Mexican Food But Good Beer

Back in the days prior to the 1950s, professors lived in houses on campus, from the place of the modern-day Memorial Student Center and parts south. Most of these buildings were not demolished, however--they were literally partially disassembled and placed in other parts of town. The house on Boyett and Church is one of them. Of course, a lot of them still have been demolished, but the one at Church and Boyett hasn't. I'm not sure of the house's history since being moved off-campus, but it has served as restaurants in recent years.

As mentioned by "AggiePhil" in the comments below and confirmed in other sources, in the early 2000s, it was "Satchel's BBQ & Steaks". According to Restaurant Row, it was "a casual family style restaurant with a rustic ambiance, a fireplace, cozy booths and knickknacks placed throughout. The cuisine is traditional American fare with beef, turkey, pork, chicken, steaks, and seafood entrées. The bar serves domestic and imported beers, wines and mixed drinks. They offer a kid's menu, take out and catering."

From LoopNet, back when it was Fredriko's

By 2007 Satchel's was gone and it had become a Mexican restaurant called Fredriko's, which I ate at once (it was forgettable, and is now gone). Apparently it used to be another restaurant, as well, but I don't know of it. By 2011 (roughly) the building was "DC, Inc.": the headquarters for Dixie Chicken and other related restaurants (Dry Bean Saloon, Dudd's, Chicken Oil Co.), but by 2013 it moved again (former location of Alfred T. Hornback's) and started to renovate as restaurant space again: the Blackwater Draw Brewing Company, a brewpub owned by the same owners as O'Bannon's. Given the generally positive response I've had to brewpubs in Michigan, I had high hopes but was tempered by the lousy reputation of Northgate (Chimy's was a disappointment: I don't want overpriced tacos that I have to fix in a bacteria-laden fixings bar). I have yet to go visit this new restaurant, so expect to see a new photo up there some time in the near future, perhaps. Reviews look great though, and upon trying it (in November 2013, if I recall) I found the food to be very good, a decent value (more expensive than a typical campus lunch option) with good beer. The menu was a bit limited as was the seating. I wish that as they expand (and they do a pretty good business) they could open a larger location, after all, The Chimes in Baton Rouge, a popular bar/restaurant, ended up opening a larger, two-story location called The Chimes East away from campus with a ton of parking (for a restaurant, that is). They are currently looking into building a location in downtown Bryan from what I've heard, which is still unfortunately generally parking-limited.

During the Dixie Chicken Inc. days, a banner outside said "Come And Drink It" in the form of "Come And Take It" of Texas Revolution lore.

UPDATE 6/12/18: Unfortunately, Blackwater Draw closed in May 2018 due to rising rents in the Northgate area. They moved the brewing equipment to their Bryan location, which opened in December 2015 originally as an auxiliary production facility with no food.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Commons

The Commons, before trees or bike racks, back in the '70s. From Cushing Memorial Library

This article (as it stands) was written during 2013 with some in-text updates later (as I had mentioned that it had closed for renovations, which was not the case in 2013). I had intended to do a full rewrite but that didn't end up happening (see update). The address is 676 Lubbock, we go.

Here was one of my favorite buildings on campus, which has since closed for renovations. I don't have a ton of information on the historic information of the Commons. I believe it has always had a post office area (or was it just mailboxes?), common lounge areas, ping-pong, and some eating places. What I'm NOT sure on is how the history of that building was. According to Historic Aggieland, it opened in 1972 along with Dunn Residence Hall and Krueger Residence Hall. The other two dorms were built in 1976. Though I heard the original dorms were built in 1973, with the Commons and the others being completed in '75. Regardless, the buildings are solidly from the mid-1970s.

According to A Pictorial History of Texas A&M University, 1876-1976, Mosher Hall and Kreuger Hall were built as women's dorms (with the other two being men's). The Commons dorms (at least as of this writing) still retain their "shared bathroom" layout. The rooms feature your typical two beds/two desks, but the bathroom is shared between two rooms, with one toilet, one shower, and two sinks. That's unfortunate—sharing a bathroom between another unrelated person is bad enough, and probably would've been a deterrent to actually living in the Commons (I'm sure I wanted to live in one of the Commons dorms at some point).

As seen in the Sbisa Dining Hall article, there were arcade and pinball games at the "Commons Snack Bar" in the late 1980s, which I'm guessing became the Common Denominator later on. (indeed, a 1970s yearbook confirms a "snack bar" was upstairs). This was one of the four "Snack Bar" locations in the 1980s and 1990s, which were the Pavilions Snack Bar, the Golf Course Snack Bar, the Bus Stop Snack Bar, and the Commons Snack Bar, which served primarily sandwiches and chips (note that all of these are gone, with the exception of the Pavilions Snack Bar, which morphed into The Grill at the Pavilion). By 2001, the Commons Snack Bar was now the Common Denominator Snack Bar and Lil' Bernie's Pizza Corner (a spin-off of the late Bernie's at Sbisa, back when Bernie's offered and was known for pepperoni rolls) was built as well.

According to Aggieland '74 (and alluded to the comment below, before I updated the post), there was originally no convenience store, but rather a branch of the "Texas A&M University Bookstore" (later renamed the MSC Bookstore after the branch locations closed). According to the comment below, that later became the convenience store "Common Market", the convenience store on campus. And of course, from the 1970s until the mid-2000s, the basement was the Commons Dining Center.

While not the best food on campus (though it was in the 1970s), you could cook your own food (until Sbisa introduced it as well), which sounds awesome but probably a health/liability problem.

You’ll get a larger variety of food at the downstairs eating facility in the Commons (a setoff dorms on campus). The food is very similar to the food at Duncan, but they usually have some more options. Also, you have the option of cooking your own food. Eggs, bacon, and pancake batter are provided in the mornings, and frozen hamburger patties are provided for lunch and dinner. This isn’t a bad deal if you want to take the time to cook your food. It usually tastes better than what they serve. The grilled cheese sandwiches are widely held as the best food served. This dining facility also has plenty of Blue Bell desserts.

(from an old Epinions review)

According to my cousin, who once worked in the Commons food services, said that not only were there things like egg, bacon, pancake batter, and hamburger patties, on Sunday afternoons, there was frozen steaks you could grill.

You read that right. Steaks. On the meal plan. Combine that with the aforementioned Whataburger (Sbisa page), and wow, it must have been great back then. Meanwhile, somewhere along the lines (early 2000s), Chick-fil-A Express was added to the upper level.

However, in 2004, the Commons Dining Center was closed permanently, partly from the fact that it people ate there less, and partly due to the fact that it was not up to code.

The eating areas on the upper level at the time included Chick-fil-A, Stone Willy's, and Common Demoninator Deli. A "temporary" food court was added at a cost of $50,000, which added Common Grounds, Commons Xpress (which served hot entrees, side dishes, salads, and cookies, not unlike the old Commons Dining Center), and Olla Roja. Apparently, there was "not enough room" for the food court to accommodate students, however.

This was fixed in 2005, when the Commons dining area was renovated, featuring Olla Roja, Zatarain's Louisiana Café, Sargino's, and Common Denominator Deli. Sargino's replaced Stone Willy's in 2005, and initially featured salads and pasta in addition to pizza. It's presumed that Zatarain's replaced the Commons Xpress line.

It says in the article that the new Commons had "lot of color and excitement", maybe from the tables. My jaw dropped the first time I read that as I couldn't believe that those tables had been any newer than 1998 (and that's pushing it). While I do love older things on campus, I prefer period pieces (the old MSC before it was butchered, Chemistry Building '72, Zachry, etc.) rather than things that look dated from day one. The expansion of the food court to modern standards when they converted the "TV rooms" into additional food court space, but they didn't even take the signage off.

The eateries had different sizes than before. Since the modern Sargino's (mentioned in the above linked article) lacked the pasta and salads, I'm guessing the 2005 remodel downsized it. Around this time, Common Grounds moved to the basement and the Tomato Bar, a pasta/sandwich/salad place opened in the basement as well. The Tomato Bar was opened in 2007, aimed at providing healthier alternatives to the usual gamut of pizza and hamburgers. This opened in spring 2007, and was a far cry from even Oodles of Noodles or Baby Greens based on reports. Like the successor food joints upstairs, you could pick your salad ingredients or pasta ingredients beforehand (instead of just asking for them cafeteria-style), and they even had things like artichoke hearts as a salad ingredient.

By 2008 more changes had taken place, Zatarain's, as you can see in the picture that I had from the Commons Main Level map has the same Zatarain's logo you see on boxes of Zatarain's stuff, except they had a whole restaurant, which I can't find anything else on any Zatarain's Louisiana Café. Maybe they got in trouble for use of the name? It and Olla Roja closed around that time (Olla Roja had two other places on campus at that point, so no tears were to be shed yet). It was in fall 2008 that the Tomato Bar closed, because of (you guessed it) health code violations, meaning not much had changed since they closed down the Commons Dining Center. To make up for the loss of the Tomato Bar, a new eatery was open in the Commons Food Court: The Tomato Bar Express, which offered two lines, salad and pasta. These replaced Olla Roja and Zatarain's, though Zatarain's didn't even make it until 2008.

The eatery below was around in the 2006-2007 era, and I have heard nothing about it online except for a few references from the dining website (archived). As tasty as fish is, I can see why Spearfish flopped in the Commons food court and was forgotten.

Meanwhile, where Commons Grounds relocated to, a lounge opened up in the basement with Common Grounds and "Jalapeños Burritos y Mas" on one side and Tomato Bar to the back, the latter of which closed when Choral Activities gutted the area for the MSC renovation. I'm not sure what will happen when it reopens. Somewhere during that time, Cabo opened for at least a semester (a test before they opened in the MSC), which unfortunately lasted less than a semester in the MSC before Compass completely ruined it.

And now to my time at A&M and a personal note: the Commons was my go-to eating place for my first semester at A&M. Having been in the post-MSC era and the post-Whataburger in the Underground era, the Commons has been there for me, where my diet consisted of every eating place available Sargino's pizza (greasy but delicious), Common Denominator (which was my least favorite), Oodles of Noodles (a lot of food, but my interested waned over time--this was the old pasta line of TBE), Jalapeño's (never disappointed), Common Grounds (coffee and ice cream, but never for lunch), Chick-fil-A (always a favorite), and Baby Greens (the salad line--I tried healthy eating, and that worked for a while, except one time I got food sickness from it and never went back). In August 2012, disastrous changes had affected The Commons thanks to outsourcing: Sargino's had changed their recipe and was now self-serve (blaargh), Oodles of Noodles and Baby Greens had gotten decor updates (along with Sargino's, as well) and renamed "Pasta Fork" and "Crisp", respectively. And due to the Compass changeover, prices went up all around. In the basement, going down the stairs and going straight back, you can see The Tomato Bar, gated off but with decor intact. Will it ever reopen? Probably not. Jalapeños became Saboroso, as well.

In winter 2012, the Commons bike racks were finally replaced.

The convenience store mentioned, which was originally a self-branded operation (Common Market, then Commons C-Store) until the late 2000s when Rattler's rebranded it, where it functioned much like a regular Rattler's, except with a lack of alcohol or cigarettes (and that was before smoking was heavily restricted on campus), though it does sell condoms. In August 2012, it "de-branded", becoming "Outtakes" (much like the Sbisa Rattler's), though restored its name within a few months. It is a Rattler's once more, where you can get some of the cheap coffee (relatively, of course) and other snacks.

Unfortunately, due to Sargino's being ruined and the whole fact that the Commons was often dirty and crowded, I didn't go to it at all in spring 2013. Maybe they reopened the other part of the basement. Regardless, I'd still like to go to the Commons again and take pictures.

This post was a spin-off of the linked post as shown here.

UPDATE 9/29/13: A few things have changed. Sargino's looks edible again (but not the same, never the same), Cabo is back in the basement (fake Chartwells burritos Cabo, not the real Cabo--and now it's no longer MSC exclusive anyway), Common Grounds is closed (a few signs remain and the lights remain on, but it's gutted completely), the Tomato Bar area is still closed, the place where Choral Activities is still office space, and the tables and chairs were finally replaced with tasteful wooden furniture. The sad thing is, it's rumored that the Corps will be "taking over" the Southside dorms, and the Commons isn't even unique among dorms anymore, with new amenities at Hullabaloo Hall making the Commons seem ugly and dated (it only took them four decades).

UPDATE 10/7/13: In the process of talking about The Tomato Bar and another feature of The Commons that has since departed...small updates will be in the process here...

UPDATE 3/24/15: For more on the Tomato Bar and some other photos from 2015, check out The Commons Companion.

UPDATE 6/12/18: I had actually planned to rewrite this back in 2017 (I had a job at A&M, making visiting easy) but there were some problems with it. First, it would've completely changed the tone of the article as The Commons, well, it was ruined. The stairs were still there but it was gutted and turned into sort of a discount MSC, with a large "Aggie Express" convenience store (woefully overpriced, even by convenience store standards, and understocked) on the first floor and a large cafeteria in the basement once more (Chartwells dreck)...and that was it as far as food options went. The dorms are being renovated with huge HVAC units on top, ruining their exterior aesthetics as far as I'm concerned (I'm a purist) and no doubts they look different on the inside as well. Then I lost that job at A&M, ending plans to not only kick the rewrites into high gear but also because I had plans to add other TAMU buildings, as I was bitter and depressed about the whole affair (I mean, I put the update on ice for the better part of a year). It really was too bad that they lost the Rattlers' license...I know that it was unlikely that Sunoco would keep the (non-fuel) campus stores but it would've been so much cooler to have a full Stripes there, one with Laredo Taco Company (enough room) and real Slurpees (courtesy of 7-Eleven).

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Northgate: Church Avenue

Looking east. This post was rehabbed in June 2014 as its current form, built around the old "Tales of Defunct Restaurants".

Church Avenue, another Northgate street, was always Church Avenue. It used to be when you could refer to this as "Church Street" and no one would care, but since the 2011 annexation of Wellborn, which has an actual Church Street, it forced the Church Avenue name into more common usage. Since renaming Wellborn's Church Street seems a bit too much like oppression and the Northgate street is more storied, we'll have to live with what we got (at least they aren't close to each other, or we'd have confusing nonsense like O'Neal Lane intersecting with George O'Neal Road). This list was originally written sometime in 2013, but will be disassembled into separate posts (like the entry for what is currently Blackwater Draw Brewing Co.), as this is becoming a "shell" for a new "directory" page, much like the University Drive page is becoming.

Here's the buildings that already have their own posts that are not covered here:
Café Eccell's Former Domain (101 Church Avenue)
Falling by the Wayside (102-104 Church Avenue)
303 Boyett (not actually Church but faces it)

The first building at Church Avenue and Wellborn Road is Church Street Blues and Barbecue, which opened before the Great Church Street Mix-Up but relatively new nonetheless. CSB&B wasn't even built in early 2010, but unfortunately it isn't open for lunch (at all) and only in the evening and night of certain days (weekends and the days leading up to it). The barbecue is inconsistent but it was one of the first to actually feature New Republic Brewing Company beer back in 2011 (maybe the year it opened, not sure). The address is 100 Church Avenue.
[Yes, I know that CSB&B has since closed. This will be addressed when I put up an actual post for this]

At Boyett and Church, we find "The Tradition at Northgate" (301 Church), which opened in about 2002, as that's when Second Street closed off and became a pedestrian promenade, the remaining part of it turning directly into the Northgate Parking Garage (picture taken May '14). Approaching the building on the other side, we find the former Burger Boy.

First off, Burger Boy was not founded on Northgate, but on 300 North Texas Avenue in Bryan (La Familia Taqueria's current location), and later where Fat Burger is now (in Bryan). It soon settled in the Northgate area in the early to mid 1980s, and took off from there. The Burger Boy location at 2nd and Church Avenue was not originally there.

All I know about this building that currently has Aggie Time to Go, MaroonBikes, and the shuttered Happy Yogurt is that it was a "converted garage" and converted to commercial use to 1997 when Burger Boy moved in. This was derived from information when researching Battle for Promenade Part One: 301 Patricia.

While I never went there myself there is a menu and other photos from the second Northgate location. After over a decade of continuing to run Burger Boy in the new location, in early 2010, George and Tara sold the restaurant to Ken Simmons, who moved the restaurant to Westgate Center where it shuttered for good. Meanwhile, at Northgate, it was replaced with Front Porch Grill, which would've been forgotten if not for Internet users and Yelp!. It closed after some four months. It later became Daily Ruckus, which was around in 2012-2013. I rarely ate there since the operating hours were so strange, and when I did, I wasn't terribly impressed with their "batter something and throw it in the deep fat fryer" fare (it's more than that). The odd operating hours and rinky-dink operations led the place to be closed after about two semesters. They had a lot of random 1990s stuff drilled to the wall, including a Super Metroid cartridge. In fall of 2013, Joy Luck Fusion "opened", boasting what would be a second location of Joy Luck Chinese & Sushi, but it never really opened for more than a test run (if at all). This non-starter was replaced with a sushi bar called "Aggie Time 2 Go". This took over in spring 2014 (others included VHS tapes and a Goosebumps book), the Super Metroid cartridge was gone. AT2G never lasted long either (never ate there), and in summer 2014, it was already replaced completely with a bar called Soho, offering "wine, beer, wings, and music". Soho DID update the décor (mostly just painting the walls black). A picture of Soho can be found here, taken May 2014.

On the other side of the Burger Boy/Front Porch Grill/Daily Ruckus/Aggie Time 2 Go/Soho (new cursed spot?) was MaroonBikes, at 313 Church Avenue. Hawking their (rental) "airless, chainless bicycles", the tires are solid and chainless because the pedals are directly connected with the wheel, but it's not cheap to rent (better off getting a cheap bike from Walmart, Target, or Academy). MaroonBikes moved into their spot on August 1, 2012 though I don't know where they were prior, or when they moved out, or where they moved out. Before that it was MacResource Computers @ Northgate. As for MacResource, it did not do repairs on site, and mostly had some software, a few display computers/iPads/iPods/iPhones, but no on-site repair, meaning that you could drop off your computer here but they'd take up to Bryan and back, so it was only of use to customers if they actually lived within walking distance. In May 2012, this was cemented when they moved into the MSC, which helped the "walking" part but hurt Northgate-area customers and anyone with a car. My records show that it opened in October 2009. Before MacResource, it was "Finders Keepers", an apartment locator service.

Next to MaroonBikes was Happy Yogurt. This used to be Jin's Chinese Restaurant. Related to Jin's Asian Café on Nagle but NOT T. Jin, Jin's (317 Church Avenue) was a popular place before it burned down in the early morning hours of December 1, 2008 and never reopened. It later became Happy Yogurt. I have no idea when it opened, but these Yelpers generally hate it. However, I've also heard really good things about this place, including having "real" Chinese food...spices instead of sauces, and healthy foods instead of deep-fried meat so typical of your garden-variety food court Chinese.

It never reopened became instead Happy Yogurt. Happy Yogurt was supposed to be a trendy spot with boba tea, frozen yogurt (not a serving by weight IIRC), American & Asian food, and a trendy place to hang out. It had blue and white tiles, and certainly looked the part. Unfortunately, it was an overpriced place that served primarily reheated frozen food that you could buy at the supermarket (except with jacked-up prices) and served on paper plates. This was not even properly prepared--it's not like they deep-fried potstickers instead of microwaving them, or added special ingredients to make the food more worth ended up being a drunk-food hangout (most of their business was after dark). They reduced hours and eventually quietly folded when the ruse of a "trendy place" wore off and people realized that their food was terrible. Here's a picture of the now-closed Happy Yogurt, here. That said, the décor inside isn't bad, and it's a shame that the space isn't something that can utilize it, like a good hole-in-the-wall ethnic food place. While continuing in that general direction is mostly churches! (room for a later post, perhaps?)

That's about it for Church Avenue, at least what we covered today. Please leave comments/questions about the things covered today. For the intersection of Church and College Main, check this out.

Updated 6/17