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.

UPDATE 07-14-2023: Naq's Halal Foods closed around the end of December 2022 or very early January 2023. In May 2023, Siam Iyara opened in the spot. (Also removed YouTube shilling, as I'm afraid that's on hiatus...)
UPDATE 07-21-2023: TexAgs has reported Marco's Pizza is now closed.