Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Café Eccell's Former Domain

Taken by me, on the last day Café Eccell was legally operating on the city's lease, January 14th, 2014

A few years ago, I showed you the former Luby's, which as of this writing isn't updated yet (when it is, I'll do a quick update on this page to remove that disclaimer), which is where Eccell is located today.

For a number of years, though, Café Eccell was located at the corner of Church Avenue and Wellborn, 101 Church Avenue. The building of Café Eccell, as plain and kind of ugly as it was, used to house the city's first city hall and jail back in the 1940s (built 1947). The city hall moved out in 1970 when a new building was built, and I'm not sure of what it was used for later (the police station was also in Northgate during those days, though not that building). The city held onto the lease and in 1989, it reopened as a restaurant, Café Eccell, which featured a classier, "adult" atmosphere and food that the rest of Northgate lacked, and still tends to lack today.

The first incarnation of Café Eccell closed permanently in March 2014 a few months after its lease ran out (why the city never locked them out is unknown). The restaurant opened in 1989, and after changing of hands to the Dallis family completely around 1991, the restaurant continued for many years. The food was also plagued by inconsistency in its latter days as well as the drama involving the Dallis brothers (a.k.a. Eccell Group), the developers, and the community as a whole.

A few months later the building was wrecked for The Domain at Northgate apartment building, which is only four stories, occupies the whole block, and includes retail opportunities, though only one is currently open (4.0 Cuts Barber Salon, opened spring 2016). The building itself was ready in time for the fall 2015 move-in season, and for a time had a leasing office in the former Cycles Etc. on University Drive. A second tenant, Dat Dog, opened in September 2018. It was an odd choice, considering the chain had no other locations outside of New Orleans, not even in Baton Rouge. The restaurant closed in October 2019, citing parking issues.

Of course, the Domain was not the first development to try to redevelop CE, it was to house "Gameday Centers College Station" circa 2004, a large multi-story tower (about 7-8 stories). Gameday Centers was largely doomed to begin with: the company was building luxury condos for big-money donors to stay in on game weekends, but the asking price of $500,000 a condo was too much* (it would be a better value to buy a house in the Traditions subdivision, which is what many have done), negotiations with the city broke down, and rather than a first phase done by August 2007 and completion by December 2008*, it was canned. The center would've had 10,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space and had even signed a 10-year lease with Café Eccell as part of the agreement*.

*Unfortunately, since this page was originally published, one of the links I had for this page has gone dead and I have been unable to relocate it, as the Batt link is dead and does not have it. Likewise the links for the other links seem to be lost.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Gumby's Pizza, Dominik Drive

This was taken sometime in January of this year, when I did the Whataburger re-post.

107 Dominik Drive was built in the mid-1970s as a College Station branch of Pepe's Mexican Food but became a branch of Gumby's sometime in 1997 (The old Gumby's was next to Sweet Eugene's, the parking lot bumpers still mention Gumby's despite moving twenty years prior).

The history behind the Gumby's pizza chain is murky, the website for the chain gives no clue of its founding and I can only guess it was licensed from the decades-old children's TV show many years ago and allowed to fester and grow into its own identity to present a pizza chain more common for the college crowd. Even in the 1980s, there was a pizza known as the "Gumby Dammit". The website also features classic Gumby videos, which are bizarre in their own right, and almost feels like something they'd show on Adult Swim, as it gets even weirder when you're sleep deprived or otherwise under the influence.

It's the pizza chain that's very rare (less than a dozen locations, all near colleges). It's the one where you can get a pizza delivered at 1:15 in the morning (they stop at 2) and sells pizzas like the Stoner Pie, which includes mozzarella sticks, french fries, pepperoni, and sausage. It's also a place that can get away with having a non-lit sign and choosing instead to string Christmas lights around the non-functional signage.

I've eaten at Gumby's a few times and it's, well, it's not very good and if I was in the area (which I was a few years ago) I would probably go to DoubleDave's. The drama around Gumby's got interesting a few years back when they opened up a location in Wellborn called Black Sheep Pizza, which featured a different logo but still the same menu (and presumably the same recipe). The way I understand it is Gumby's was sold among different partners, and Black Sheep Pizza (renamed GranDandy's Pizza & Meals after a trademark dispute) spun off completely, with a clause that Gumby's could buy them back, which they did after GranDandy's became a moderate success, leading the owner to build Howdy's Pizza (long story...) with the modified recipes and menu.

UPDATE 02-24-2019: In October 2018, Gumby's moved to the former Wolfies location at Post Oak Square so that Whataburger could expand and rebuild.
UPDATE 02-26-2023: Since this post was written, Whataburger still hasn't done anything with the property, so it, the old gas station site, and the Gumby's are still as they've been. Howdy's Pizza unfortunately fell through and the restaurant that eventually opened in Caprock Crossing wasn't even the same restaurant. Gumby's has been here since approximately 1997, Pepe's was here from 1976 to 1994. The post has been amended to reflect that, while changes "(still in the works)" to "(long story...)".

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Look at Former Restaurants at 102 Church Avenue

By the time La Bodega moved in it didn't resemble a house anymore.
Back before Church and Wellborn was taken over with new housing, there was a restaurant built out of a converted house not too far away from that intersection.

The structure was built in 1959 as per Brazos CAD, built as a house, the first reference coming from a 1963 obituary about one Mrs. Marguerite Mary Edmonds, age 48, and at some point in the 1970s it was abandoned.

Dead Solid Perfect was a hamburger restaurant and the first that opened in the former house in February 1976. According to this article, [owner Searcy Bond] did nothing to the building" during conversion to a restaurant, which matches up with this description is from Yuccadoo on TexAgs, with "no exhaust vents, smoke pouring out a coupla windows in the kitchen". It closed in 1979.

In December 1979, One Potato Two Potato opened; I'm guessing it was the first "meal in a peel" style restaurant in town. In the summer 1983 it was retooled as Two Blocks North and added hamburgers to the menu. In 1983 Two Blocks North closed, and in August 1984, La Taqueria & Tortilla Factory opened. "La Taq" was arguably the most memorable of the restaurants in the space and is still talked about sometimes today but it closed around summer 1991. According to Aggieland 1992, Rosalie's Pasta House opened September 25, 1991 in the former La Taqueria space (and had the same ownership). Around 1997 it closed.

Finally, La Bodega Baja Taco Bar opened in October 2000 (likely with a major renovation that brought it up to code), and closed in November 2014. I do have a picture of the specials as of May 2014 including the gimmick of the hotter it was outside, the cheaper drinks were.

Despite some talk of more upscale dining in the Northgate area, it and the adjacent apartment building next to it (104 Church Avenue, where Eccell Group operated out of) was torn down. What has replaced it is supposed to be a food truck park, called Wayside Food Park. It was supposed to be a permanent place for food trucks complete with electrical conduits and a covered pavilion area, but it failed hard, opening in December 2017 and closing by early 2019. In regards to that apartment building, I have terrible pictures of that, the one with my finger covering a quarter of the shot is from this May (2014) and I thought had a better picture that shows the building as a whole but I can't find it. It's not much better than what you can see from the older shots on Google Maps Street View.

UPDATE 04-26-2024: Article rewritten for better prose and better information. This article was previously amended in May 2019 to account for the coming and going of Wayside, but now it and the adjacent 100 Church Avenue have been knocked down for a new student housing complex. On April 22nd 2024, the article was been renamed to "A Look at Former Restaurants at 102 Church Avenue", with [demolished] also added.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dominik Drive Whataburger

The sun sets behind this Whataburger, but don't worry, it's open late!

This Whataburger at 105 Dominik Drive is another restaurant that has been here for decades (though been rebuilt a few times). This is the closest Whataburger to campus and I've heard (and felt) like quality is a bit sub-par compared to the Rock Prairie Whataburger. In 1969, it changed hands from an unknown seller to Grace Dobson (wife of Whataburger founder Harmon Dobson), with the earliest reference in newspaper archives to this location in 1971. In 1987, Grace Dobson to Whataburger. It changed hands again in 1987 to Whataburger officially, which was about the time a rebuild of the store commenced, as a permit had been filed in 1986. Regardless, it was rebuilt again in 1996. This is what Brazos CAD says about the store, and that is correct--I had heard when I was a bit younger of a large fire at the store in the 1990s, and later I found a newspaper that said that it did in fact burn down in January 1996, with a "mobile Whataburger" serviced the area until the Whataburger reopened that spring. The store was No. 78 even in the Dobson days and it still is.

While it is the closest Whataburger to campus, for a brief time it was not as you could get Whataburger in the Sbisa basement, and with the revelation that they had a "mobile Whataburger" even back in the mid-1990s, it makes me wonder how much money a Whataburger food truck could still make on campus today. It was at this location that I realized Whataburger had subtly changed its logo.

Today, it has an all orange logo (formerly, the name was in black and there was often blue trim). Compare this picture (not mine!) to the store today. There's another blank lot nearby used for overflow parking. This used to be a Shell station (it was a Texaco prior to 2003) just about three years later when Texas Avenue started to widen, and demolished a few years later. Since then, nothing has taken its spot, but it provides excess Whataburger parking. It was one of the "Max Food Mart" stores that were in a lot of the Texaco stores at the time. The gas station at 1405 Texas Avenue I believe did not co-exist with the old Zip'N at George Bush and Texas, as the stores I remember converting around January 2003 (Eagle archives show the conversion of the store at Southwest Parkway and Welsh converting, and I think that was one of the first to convert), and by February 2003, the old Zip'N had been completely leveled.

Update May 2019: This Whataburger is scheduled to be rebuilt soon, and the Gumby's has moved out.