Thursday, January 6, 2022

The 700 University Drive East Club

One of the buildings here as it appeared in March 2020, showing the scars of both Blockbuster and Genghis Grill.

There's a few reasons why this site has been a bit slow to update as of late, partly it's a lack of photo availability, partly a lack of running out of places to cover, and partly it's a focus on new projects that take priority. The most recent entry, Saenz Tamales, was fairly spur-of-the-moment, and I had gotten my photos, then actually wrote up the entry. Otherwise, I have a bunch of mostly written-out descriptions that lack photos, and many of those just end up on my other website.

700 University Drive East is a bit of a complicated property, as it contains a strip mall and two stand-alone buildings, hence, the name of this post (and a play on words for a show contractually airing on Freeform, much to the executive's chagrin).

The first building here we'll take a look at is Golden Corral (store #540), which hasn't changed tenants since it opened in 1991 and...I'm ashamed to admit this, but at one time in the distant past, it was not only a favored family spot but one of my top five favorite restaurants in town. I don't know when we stopped going, probably sometime around or before 2005. The only big change that I can remember from Golden Corral growing up is the elimination of smoking inside the restaurant, so we could sit anywhere, not just the non-smoking section. In 2018 the restaurant closed for an interior renovation to a newer, more open prototype, and the exterior got an update as well.

Golden Corral as it appeared in 2014, looking east.

Across from the Golden Corral is the second building here, and a more interesting one. In 1992, Blockbuster Video, as it was known at the time, rolled into town, choosing 700B University Drive as its first location in town, located next to Golden Corral, and would continue to grow across the United States. As the company's fortunes declined in the late 2000s due to a variety of factors (streaming, recession, unable to support the massive store base that previous owner Viacom had built up), the store was rebranded as "Blockbuster Outlet Store" (whatever that meant, really) and closed around January 2010. Within months, it was announced that a location of Genghis Grill would be taking up residence in the spot, and it opened in late fall 2010, though it didn't take up all of the space, the remaining portion of Blockbuster was taken up by Tutti Frutti, a chain frozen yogurt restaurant the next year.

Looking into the closed Genghis Grill, 3/20.

Around December 2012, Tutti Frutti closed (it may have lasted into January or February of the following year) but something new was Houston, Big Daddy Z's began to make the rounds of Houston's many food trucks, focusing on Cajun cuisine. This would be the start of what was to replace Tutti Frutti in the future.

Following the closure of Tutti Frutti, the next restaurant, Mickey's Sliders, opened in summer 2013. This restaurant focused on the "gourmet slider" trend, much like how Stover Bros. Cafe was doing around the same time in Bryan. Mickey's Sliders surprisingly did a decent business, but the owner retired in fall 2017 and closed the store.

During all this time, Big Daddy Z's would move to College Station and soon restructure the menu to focus on cheesesteaks, with a new name...Blake's Steaks. Blake's Steaks settled into a new permanent home in December 2017 in the former Mickey's Sliders space and for the next two years, cheesesteaks and other related sandwiches (including some sandwiches that were created by customers in a contest) were served. In February 2020, Blake's Steaks closed to focus on a new venture, Zeitman's Grocery, in downtown Bryan (due to COVID-19, Zeitman's ended up opening almost two years later). Around the same time, Genghis Grill, which had been struggling due to inconsistent service and quality, also permanently shuttered. So by the time things started to go wrong for restaurants about a month later, the building was vacant, and that's when the first set of pictures were taken.

The building has since been renovated, sub-dividing Genghis Grill into two new spaces (the three spaces are about equally-sized), suite B of which became The Toasted Yolk Cafe, which opened in September 2021. A month later, Suite C (the former Tutti Frutti/Mickey's Sliders/Blake's Steaks) opened as Naq's Halal Food. As of this writing, Suite A is still vacant.

Another thing I wanted to note is that originally, this post was supposed to go up in conjunction with something I wrote for Carbon-izer, in which I stated that I was disappointed with Genghis Grill compared to a restaurant I ate at in Austin about six years prior to Genghis' opening.

Wing Stop and Marco's Pizza (June 2020).

Next to Blockbuster, in 1996, a Little Caesars was built. It never really gained traction and closed after a few years. Wing Stop would take up residence in the space (since 2001), but that was only half of the building, with the other half becoming Marco's Pizza, open in early 2020. I can't tell or remember what was there before that, but I want to say there was a small barbershop.

The main strip center isn't very active. (June 2020)

The rest of the strip center, 700 University Drive East was built in 1984 and is a pretty sleepy center that really hasn't seen a lot of activity and I don't personally remember many interesting stores or services being here. I did assemble a partial list of some of the tenants that came and went, but few lasted for many years and were forgotten soon after. (If you want to try to take a look at them, view the source for the page). One of the bigger tenants here was University Book Store (University Book Store Inc.) in suite 100 before all locations closed in very early 2006. That space would become Fast Eddie's Billiards for almost the next decade, and is currently a similar business named Four Downs Sports Bar.

Obviously, there have been some changes to the center since I took some of the pictures here back in 2020, with Toasted Yolk and Naq's Halal open and drawing crowds. One last look is going to be the "new" Golden Corral from the opposite side, also taken in March 2020. (All the photos in this post were taken by the author).

Note the Blake's Steaks food truck. (3/20)

Even if "new" posts to this site will be light in the future, I invite you to my other ventures including Carbon-izer, which updates monthly, and my YouTube channel, where a new commercial or other interesting archive from the tapes will appear Monday-Wednesday-Friday.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Saenz Tamales

Extant Saenz Tamales sign.

It's the Christmas season here at Brazos Buildings & Businesses, and while it hasn't been a big tradition from my family, it's tamale time. What better way to mark the occasion with a walk-up shop known for tamales? Located at 1410 William Joel Bryan Parkway, the building today is a broken-down abandoned building.

The aforementioned sign is just off to the right out of view.

The building appears to have been built in the 1950s as Dairy Treat (also known as "Pat's Dairy Treat" in the late 1950s and "Bill's Dairy Treat" in the early 1970s). It wasn't the only Dairy Treat, there was "Buccaneer Dairy Treat" at 1400 S. College Avenue, but by the early 1970s, this was the only "Dairy Treat" in town, also known as "Bill's Dairy Treat". It was "Hargett's Family Smokehouse" in the early 1980s, and it's not known if anything else occupied the spot.

Saenz Tamales moved here in 1984 from 1418 Sandy Point Road (practically behind the later restaurant and also still has signage there), which still has a commercial building with a sign for Saenz Tamales along with a sign for Nesbitt's Orange soda and closed sometime in the early 2000s (when exactly, not sure). I remember a long time ago I went with my dad to get tamales here (back in the late 1990s), and they even had bumper stickers, a yellow one with red text reading "I ♥ Saenz Tamales", which was stuck on an outdoor trash can for years before sunlight and wear eventually ruined it. In its last days, this appears to have gone under the name of "Saenz Tamales & Bar-B-Q".

While the Saenz family still owns the land and building, it has been abandoned since its closure and is considered to be a "Dangerous Building" by the City of Bryan.
That whiteboard might not have been touched in well over a decade. Also note the "Wehrman's" sign, that's for another day.
"Unsafe Building" notices.
Located to the right side of the building, this appears to have been the interior dining room area.
Outside seating area. You can sort of see the original Saenz building from here.

Editor's Note: Check out "Defunct Madden Concepts", an older post recently refurbished as a full post. Just in case you missed it. Also the pictures in this post are by me, taken November 2021.

UPDATE 12-28-2021: Well, it turns out that I couldn't see the old Saenz Tamales building, because the building was actually demolished several years ago! Street View was very out of date.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Downtown Bryan Shell

The restaurant section is the one on the left (picture by author, 9/21)

In what is possibly the newest (and last) Zip'N built (2010, replacing an older Zip'N Shell at 200 North Texas Avenue), this downtown gas station at 208 North Texas Avenue takes up three quarters of the block and is the main gas station/convenience store anchoring the downtown area (some older options take up the slack to the north and west).

At the northeast corner of the block (the original 208 N. Texas Avenue) was Shining Star Detail, which relocated. The rest of the lot (the part that Shell occupies) was a parking lot, presumably for the office building occupying the remainder of the block. Catty-corner to the Shell (at 24th Street) is a Shell Rapid Lube, likely associated with the gas station for years (it predates the new store, probably decades old).

Another look at a slightly different angle.

The tenant to the right of Zip'N appears to have always been empty, but to the left was originally a Krispy Krunchy Chicken very briefly in the mid-2010s, then the sign got modified when it became Bellon's Kung Pao Express (which operated for less than a year; it's supposed to look closer to this). Esmeralda's Taqueria has been here since late 2016.

Across the street is a Dairy Queen, which I photographed the exterior of but due to new site "rules", outlined in the Harmony Science Academy post, it can't make the cut, but perhaps you might see it on the City Directory pages of Carbon-izer soon. Zip'N qualifies because of the restaurant on site (and given that it has the same address, I assume it's connected to the store) has changed a few times.

Friday, November 5, 2021

H-E-B Pantry / Harmony Science Academy

Most of the architectural details from H-E-B Pantry are gone, except the peak in the roof and those windows to the right of the entrance.

Despite a heavy retail-based focus on this website, I still haven't covered all the former grocery stores in town yet (even the post-1980 ones), and of course, the Bryan section on this website is still pretty small, with a good fifth of the Bryan content coming from since January 2020, but, like most of the Bryan content that's already there, it's on Texas Avenue.

I don't believe I went inside the H-E-B Pantry there at 2031 South Texas Avenue, but it was in an area with other grocery stores. It competed with Kroger and (for a few years) the Albertsons at the remodeled Townshire Shopping Center next door. It also had excellent access, it in addition to entrances off of Texas Avenue, long driveways connected it to both Twin Boulevard and Bywood Street. The store opened around September 1991 and closed in December 2004 shortly before the new H-E-B at the redeveloped Manor East Mall (Tejas Center) opened.

Following the move, the former H-E-B Pantry was left abandoned for a few years before Harmony Science Academy took it over in fall 2007 (though Google Maps Street View still shows the empty store with no signage as of November 2007). Later on, Harmony made more renovations to the property, including modifying the exterior and adding an expansion. It has also repainted since. In the Townshire article linked above, the exterior of the store is tan with dark red trim, the facade today is bright red, white, and blue.

This sign near Twin Boulevard is from H-E-B Pantry, which had the rounded rectangular signs.

Harmony Science Academy is no stranger to converting grocery stores, over at you can see an overview of Valley Mills Road in Waco, where Harmony took over both an old Albertsons and an old H-E-B.

All pictures here were taken by the author in September 2021.

Editor's Note: As part of some minor changes, the only new posts will be either buildings that are demolished or otherwise closed, had tenant changeover, had some significant change themselves, or are part of a larger story. So for instance, Spice World Market would not qualify ordinarily under this policy had it not been for the bit on Old Arrington Road. Likewise, even "being historic" would not qualify; therefore, something like Pruitt's Fabrics would not be covered.