Adopt a Small Houston Food Business That’s a Perfect Match for You — Updated
Houstonians are the best at banding together in tough times and finding creative solutions. While much of the focus has been on sustaining Houston restaurants (and that is something that needs to continue), there’s another group of food businesses in need of support: local suppliers of food and drink. These include ranchers, farmers, small importers and bakeries, just to name a few. For many, their biggest customers are restaurants. This means that under the current COVID-19 crisis, these small businesses have now lost the majority of their revenue.
Until and unless the owners can get a monetary boost from the government to sustain them (which could be trickier than it sounds, depending on the requirements for relief), they need fans in their corners.
Many businesses are running at a loss or even temporarily, or, in some cases permanently, closed. Many people are unemployed and fearing for the future. However, for the independent businesses that are still open, every sale counts.
For restaurants, an investment in a smaller business that creates a food, ingredient or beverage can be turned into a promotion that brings in more customers. As an example, this past week, Malaysian restaurant Phat Eatery in Katy bought 100 bottles of hot sauce from iBurn in Bellaire, a specialty shop that showcases spicy ingredients of all kinds. Bottles of the stores hot sauces were given as gifts to customers who visited for the restaurant’s crawfish boils. On the first day of the promotion, Phat Eatery sold out of crawfish in just a few hours — and it’s out of hot sauce now, too. Owner Alex Auyeung says he’s placing another order with iBurn this week.
Since adding a grocery section, Local Foods restaurant in Rice Village has been selling mixed produce boxes from area growers, including Atkinson Farms in Spring and Animal Farm in Cat Spring. It makes sense, as a great deal of the restaurant’s appeal is incorporating local, natural and sustainable ingredients into its dishes.
In another example of synchronicity, Julie Rogers of Light Years, a Houston wine shop specializing in natural wines, is leveraging the company’s winery license to produce a mead series that showcases local honey. “We’ve already contacted HIVE Bee Farm and we’re definitely using some of its honey, as well as Bee2Bee and Uncommon Bees.” Rogers is interested in talking with other local honey producers as well.
Company owners don’t even necessarily need to be in the food and drink world in order to integrate local products into their business models. Realtor Walter J. Tarwid is already planning on it. “I cannot hold open houses for the moment, but I will be adding local vendor products to give away when I do. I already have food trucks catering at open houses. I can add in local restaurant gift certificates as well as have various local restaurants cater my buyers’ house warming parties. So, I am giving value through local offerings as much as possible,” he wrote.
Whether you’re a consumer or a business owner, can you pledge your allegiance and “adopt” one of the many small food businesses in Houston with a single order?
By the way: the business below are just a very small representation — a drop in the bucket — of the many small Houston food companies that need support. There are countless more that contribute to the richness of Houston’s food scene. After this article publishes and the owners can see the connections we’re trying to make, we expect to hear from more of them. Owners of these types of businesses can email us and request to be added to this list. Please note: this is first-come, first-served and at some point, we’ll have to stop adding and move on.
Awesome Bites, (832) 582-0118: Although it recently got a storefront, the “bread and butter” of owner Jennifer Thai’s business were her wholesale accounts — which she lost after the COVID-19 crises hit. The bakery specializes in allergy friendly, vegan baked goods and ice cream. There’s an online ordering page for consumers, and those who want to inquire about wholesale purchases can send an email.
Cake & Bacon: Until recently, this local bread company was a primary supplier of fresh breads to Houston restaurants. Now that the restaurant business is severely impacted, Cake & Bacon is selling its breads at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on Saturday. That’s good news for consumers, because that means now what was once available exclusively to restaurants can be purchased by anyone. Co-owner Jeff Weinstock says that no preservatives are included, which means the bread is very fresh and should be consumed soon after buying. Additional sales channels are needed, ideally through entities that can make a minimum purchase of $200. (One possible scenario is several residents all in a concentrated area making a bulk order.) Send an email with questions or to open up a discussion with the owners.
DR Delicacy, 4120 Directors Row: Owner Diane Roederer made a name for herself as a trusted local importer of fine ingredients such as fresh truffles and caviar. However, what many might not know is that the company recently added meal bundles as well as many ingredients for day-to-day cooking, including pasta, beef, lamb, shrimp, water, canned beans, rice, polenta, canned tomatoes, oil, vinegar and mushrooms. The storefront is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day except Sundays, and online ordering is also available.
HIVE Bee Farm, (713) 419-9323: Owner Cyrus Nasr, who harvests and packages local, raw, unfiltered honey in Oak Forest, says that his biggest need is for wholesale honeycomb customers. “That’s what my hives are set up for, and I still have lots of inventory from last year that I need to sell by next harvest.” That said, there are plenty of consumer products available, including honey in nine-ounce, pint, gallon and five gallon sizes, and boxed, neatly cut hunks of honeycomb. The company also takes custom orders for wedding favors and business gifts. Ordering is easy. Visit the website, give them a call, send an email or even just shoot the company a note via Facebook Messenger.
iBurn, 4227 Bellaire: This shop specializes in “all things spicy,” including hot sauces, salsa and seasonings. While it’s a chile-head’s dream store, things have been less than dreamy over the past few years. Hurricane Harvey devastated the store, and the owners had barely recovered from that when the COVID-19 pandemic came along. Before you pick up a bottle of hot sauce or salsa off a grocery-store shelf or get these delivered from a big online retailer, consider first sending iBurn an email to see what’s in stock that can meet your heat needs.
Mad Scientist Kombucha: This local, small-batch, kombucha brewery is normally found at Memorial Villages Farmers Market and Farmers Market on Tamina. Before the COVID-19 issues hit, the company had started landing new wholesale accounts — which have all now cancelled. To make things more difficult, owner Heather Van Tassell says that the farmers market traffic has slowed. “We are trying to spread the word that the Farmers Market is safer than a grocery store,” said Van Tassell. “Memorial Villages Farmers Market has added hand sanitizing stations, all vendors have increased control of our products and we have always had strong sanitary practices at the market. Farmers Market on Tamina has created a drive-through farmers market to help consumers feel safer shopping locally, and the same increased sanitary practices have been implemented. We are trying desperately to encourage consumers to come out and shop locally.” Added 4/7/20, 3:48 p.m.
Maison Burdisso: Owner Jackie Burdisso and her spread of macarons in varying flavors and all the colors of the rainbow are a familiar presence at the Urban Harvest Saturday Farmers Market. It runs from 8 a.m. to noon and is just across from St. John’s School at 2752 Buffalo Speedway While the macarons are still available there, Burdisso also supplies these to area coffee shops, but under the current circumstances, some have cancelled the orders or closed, either temporarily or permanently. Contact Burdisso to pre-order macarons or get more information via email.
Mona Fresh Italian Food: Although this list is primarily for vendors that do not have a storefront, the situation for this Katy-based restaurant owner is different that most. Mona Fresh Italian Food is temporarily closed, so chef and owner Sidney Degaine is trying to shore up the cash flow by offering fresh pastas for delivery, including full family meal kits for two or four people. Delivery to homes is available through UberEats, Favor, Doordash and EzCater. However, Degaine’s biggest hope right now is to be able to shore up the supply chain through partnerships with grocery stores or online retail distributors. It could be a great match, considering that some stores are struggling to keep the fresh pasta shelves full. E-mail Degaine for further discussion.
Texas Craft, (713) 937-1255: This is a network of local ranchers brought together by Felix Florez of Black Hill Ranch, who also runs the Cherry Block Craft Butcher & Kitchen stand in Bravery Chef Hall in downtown Houston. As a preferred provider of humanely raised meat to Houston restaurants, usually there’s plenty of demand. Now that those restaurants are dealing with a big downturn in business, the high-quality meat needs new places to go and be savored. All sorts of beef, pork and lamb cuts are available, including custom-made creations, such as the brand-new Smoked Bacon Cheeseburger sausage. Visit the Facebook page to see the current retail list. Delivery within five miles of Black Hill Ranch in Cypress is free. The minimum order for up to 10 miles is $50, and for every additional five miles, the minimum goes up $50. However, call and check on delivery availability. If Texas Craft is going to be in your area anyway, it may be able to lower the delivery minimum. Call or send an email for more information. The hours are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.