Saturday, August 31, 2019

Former Aggie Cleaners on College Main

Courtesy Project HOLD, mid-1990s

As always, one of the goal of the current "new posts" is to dismantle the older posts that combined various properties. In this post, we're revisiting Northgate to cover 111 College Main, which was previously covered back in 2014. In my day at A&M it was "Gatsby's on Main", with a sign that said "Since 2004". By 2014, this was mildly impressive, which they celebrated with having drinks at 2004 prices. (I did not participate in that, that's just what I remember). But, Gatsby's did end up closing, with a replacement bar, The Dragonfly, opening in May 2018 (Gatsby's closing is unavailable). Aggie Cleaners was in the space prior to Gatsby's, from as early as 1980 to as late as 1998.

Rename in March 2020 to eliminate "address posts".

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Chili's Texas Avenue

I never ate at Chili's all that often, so I don't have memories of it.

One of the themes of the future posts coming up (though not all of them) is a trip back to 2014 to cover some places in the Eastgate area where I actually lived. It's all part of improving the Eastgate article which hasn't been touched since 2014 (as of this writing). These pictures were taken in 2014, not long before the signs were upgraded to the newer logo, and I believe by this time many Dallas stores had been upgraded already. Today it has the upgraded prototype.

Picture of the older sign.

Chili's #235 was built in 1991 and has upgraded on the inside and outside more than once.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Pizza Hut, University Drive East

In 2014, the sun was starting to set on this Pizza Hut, figuratively and literally. (Picture by author)

With the recent news that Yum! Brands is closing some 500 sit-down Pizza Hut locations, that is, the ones that haven't already been closed down, it's high time for a look back at the sit-down Pizza Hut that College Station once had at 102 University Drive East (there was another short-lived Pizza Hut on University Drive proper in Northgate, and I promise I'll cover it soon enough). From newspaper archives and other sources, the Pizza Hut opened in 1974 but closed around July/August 2017. It did retain its iconic 1980s logo for a while after Pizza Hut started rolling it in more stores (probably as late as 2007), and today is home to additional parking for Fuego Tortilla Grill. The roof was redone in brown around this time.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Northgate Subway and the University Drive Food Court

One restaurant for the price of three! (Picture taken by author, 8/19)

It makes me wonder why there aren't more buildings that house multiple brands of restaurants, arranged with common seating and other elements (restrooms, etc.), except in the occasional larger gas stations, Taco Bell/KFC stores (or other variants), or mall food courts. Yet that was the Northgate area got in the late 1980s at 601 University.

Today, a massive 24-hour Subway takes up the building, complete with a whole line dedicated for the Subway "pizzas" and a drive-through, which is rare (perhaps because of an unflattering appearance in Lethal Weapon 2? [link contains strong language]), but began as something more intriguing.

In 1988, the building (all new at the time) contained 31 Treats, a much smaller Subway, and Little Caesars. 31 Treats was apparently a rebranded Baskin-Robbins, though it was a Baskin-Robbins later according to a picture I saw once (in Project HOLD, but couldn't find it again).

Prior to Rusty Taco's move in, 2011. Notice the evidence of the Baskin-Robbins actually being called "31 Treats".

Baskin-Robbins was ultimately short-lived, as Smoothie King got their certificate of occupancy in 1993 and opened soon after. Little Caesars survived into the 1990s but at some point closed and was replaced with Papa John's.

In 2001, Papa John's expanded into the vacant Smoothie King space, bringing its 900 square foot space up to 1,500 square feet and added an eat-in area. Sometime around the late 2000s, Papa John's closed up shop at Northgate, and the space was extensively renovated to become Dallas-based Rusty Taco, which was open 24 hours, and opened in October 2011.

Looking west on University. August 2019.

However, the summer hours were severely restricted in summer 2012, turning it into a mostly lunch-based option, and it closed shortly after the fall 2012 semester started.

Yelp! is the best resource if you'd like to read more (and it pictures of the front, too!). It was cheap taco place (cheaper than Fuego, and it showed) the tacos were $2-$3 each and were full of meat, with the flagship item being the "Rusty Taco", a taco filled with reddish-colored meat. The Dallas-based chain has locations as far out as Minneapolis, and even incorporated a garage door in the restaurant in lieu of windows, creating a hybrid open-air restaurant. They also had very cheap beer ($1 Pearl).

According to a guy who worked at the Daily Ruckus, Rusty Taco's pricing was fundamentally flawed since the cheaper breakfast tacos (eggs instead of meat) had thin profit margins, but that's what was most popular, and none of them were particularly good--the tortillas were small and tasted no better than what you could find in a grocery store.

In 2013, after Rusty Taco closed, Subway ended up renovating the entire building for their restaurant. (I believe they moved into the Rusty Taco portion, then renovated the old side).

I should also mention what was here before the "food court", in the 1970s and early 1980s it was the home of an ARCO gas station. In 1986, according to Project HOLD, files were made with the city to renovate the now-closed gas station (now closed) and expand it into a restaurant called Peso Exchange. As far as I can tell, this never opened, but it is an interesting piece of trivia. Additionally, the University Drive Food Court name is derived from an official document, but in research for this document, I was unable to reproduce the name of it as searching in the city database is difficult.

UPDATE 06-21-2023: Subway was one of the many restaurants that ceased 24 hour service after March 2020. Furthermore, the restaurant downsized, with the Stasney Street side of the building becoming a leasing office for "The Field House". (I believe this has since been rendered obsolete, but it opens up the possibility of the space becoming a multi-restaurant site as it was prior to a decade ago).

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

La Quinta next to Denny's

The current La Quinta as of August 2019 by author. Will it continue to be a La Quinta when the new one on the freeway opens?

Both of these buildings have the address of 607 Texas Avenue, thus they'll be covered at the same time. The restaurant at the corner of Texas and Live Oak was built in 1978 with La Quinta Inn was built in 1979 (originally "La Quinta Motor Inn", later "La Quinta Inn", before branded as simply "La Quinta") right behind it and, with the restaurant being Julie's Place (no. 139). The "#139" implies more of the chain, but from the Houston Chronicle archives, there's only references to the College Station location (none in Houston). Boasting a menu including hamburgers and onion soup, Julie's Place closed in January 1987 after a murder (there was a story on MyBCS, though I'm sure I had heard it elsewhere about how the manager actually swallowed the key to the safe and the stabbings were to retrieve the key, but I'm not sure on that since that's just a comment on the forum and the official court summary makes no mention of the key-swallowing incident). That said, an article from the Houston Chronicle did mention the body was cut from the sternum to the pelvis, which lends credence to the statement.

By 1989, it had reopened as Bombay Bicycle Club (not the 1990s, phone book lists BBC in that era), which was considered one of the nicer restaurants in town (it didn't have anything to do with Indian food), and by the mid to late 1990s it became a Denny's.

August 2019 picture of Denny's by author. Until about a year or so prior, it had green trim.

Additionally, the La Quinta has some additional buildings behind what is currently Rice Garden and the La Quinta Inn was previously home to a "super slide" of some sort, but I can't find much information on that. (Parts of this post originally appeared here).

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Albertsons Gets Altitude

Picture taken in 2019 by author

Built in 1991 adjacent to the Wal-Mart in its pre-Supercenter days was an Albertsons supermarket (2205 Longmire), the first store of its kind in town (#2702 post-renumbering when it became part of the Houston division, as the Skaggs Alpha Beta also converted). Despite coming in with relatively low prices, thanks to the expansion of H-E-B Pantry and the pre-existing Kroger market, Albertsons would never really thrive in this town, despite beating or tying Kroger for store count of full line stores until 2006.

Wal-Mart 1995
Albertsons is on the left, Wal-Mart is on the right completing its first expansion.

Despite the fact that it was much closer to my family's house than Kroger or H-E-B Pantry, my family actually never really shopped at Albertsons due to it being more expensive than those two other stores. As my family bought lots of groceries due to a growing family, it was more cost-effective to make the extra miles to H-E-B Pantry (later the full-line H-E-B) or Kroger (the location at Southwest Parkway and Texas Avenue), so it was fairly rare that I even went to it at all.

Around 2002, it remodeled, as the grocery market was heating up around it, probably to compete with the Kroger a mile north of it (an updated, albeit badly, Greenhouse model, and also one that outlasted a Winn-Dixie Marketplace catty-corner to it), and a large (Signature store) Kroger that opened in 2000 a mile south of it (also holding a Longmire address, natch). The décor of Albertsons in its early days wasn't all that memorable (I believe it was the "Blue & Gray" model), but I remember that a large mirror that you ran the length near the checkouts. Apparently it was where the break room and offices were. The remodel also added a Starbucks Coffee kiosk, and if I recall correctly, changed it to the "Marketplace" décor package (see above link) from the "Blue & Gray" model. It should've been surprising that the store remodeled at all (along with adding a third store in Bryan) as all around the same time, Albertsons was selling or closing stores across Texas, pulling the plug on the San Antonio, South Texas, and Houston markets, leaving a just few scattered stores that remained (along with North Texas, Austin, and Dallas-Fort Worth).

A few years after this remodel, it also added a little Sav-on logo to the front, as the chain tried to make an ill-fated attempt to capitalize on the Sav-on name like Jewel-Osco in the mideast (never mind that by that time stand-alone Sav-on drug stores had long vanished from the Texas market).

Seeing as how I don't have interior pictures (a visit less than a year ago had the store gutted entirely down to a shell), I'm going to try to walk through what I remember. Albertsons had two doors on either side, you walked in the alcove, grabbed your cart, and in the right, that was where the bakery and deli sections were, in the back was a fairly long fish counter that always smelled like fish because they couldn't move the product fast enough, on the back left was the dairy and ice cream, and in the front you had the customer service section. I think the produce was on the left side, and the Starbucks was definitely on the right. There was also a video rental place, we went there around 2003-2004. The discs were scratched up and it even had some old N64 (maybe even SNES!) games for rental, but the disc rental was cheap. Later on, this was totally gutted for Texas A&M sports apparel (I think it was in 2005), which would remain until the store's closure in 2008.

The summer 2008 closure seemed to confirm a long-standing rumor that Wal-Mart would buy the store for a Supercenter expansion, and in 2009, part of the store was demolished to make room for a physical expansion. After the Walmart was finished, the exterior walls of the old Albertsons were repainted a different shade of brown to match Walmart's color palette.

Ripping into the old Albertsons, 2009.

Walmart actually uses the back of the former Albertsons for storage and occasional other uses (sometimes the front of the gutted store was used for hiring fairs), and there's even a physical connection to the store's back to the current Walmart.

Post-Walmart expansion

Sometime in late 2016 or early 2017, I noticed that the front of the former Albertsons was being renovated into a new storefront...Altitude Trampoline Park, which would open August 2017. I ended visited the trampoline park with some family members, and created some new memories in a place that had long been vacant. Next to the Albertsons included some smaller stores with blue awnings, also with the 2205 address but suite numbers. These included Western Beverages (changed in 2016 to "WB Liquors & Wine" as part of a chain upgrade) and a few others. According to archives I found, Austin-based ThunderCloud Subs even had a store here at some point in the mid-1990s.

Previously posted on Safeway and Albertsons in Texas with some mild changes and additions.

UPDATE 12-12-2020: Reports are that likely owing to the difficulties of closure from COVID-19, Altitude Trampoline Park has permanently closed. There were also some minor edits made to differentiate the "front" of the former Albertsons (which Altitude used) and the "back" (which Walmart still uses).