Original Greenway Coffee Location is Closed, but There’s Hope it May Reopen
Under normal conditions, having a coffee shop in a large office complex such as Greenway Plaza is advantageous. It provides a built-in customer base. Of course, 2020 was not normal. COVID-19 and the need for social distancing made working from home the new standard, leaving a once-thriving office food court short on customers. Unfortunately, Greenway Coffee is a casualty of this downturn — at least for now. The company’s namesake location in 3 Greenway Plaza is “closed until further notice”, according to Niken Prabanto, who co-owns the company along with her sister, Ecky Prabanto, and David Buehrer.
It’s been an ongoing struggle since COVID-19 began impacting Houston in mid-March. “When offices started having employees work from home, we saw a tremendous drop in the tenant count in general. Usually, we get a rush from 7 a.m. until around 8:30 or 9 a.m., and then another rush around 1:30 or 2 p.m. People are just coming back from lunch and heading back to their offices. Now, we see hardly anyone,” said Niken Prabanto.
At this point, Prabanto anticipates that it could be this fall before Greenway Plaza’s tenants return to working in offices regularly. “For example, Oxy [Occidental Petroleum] is one of the biggest tenants. The employees were excited to come back this month — January — but my understanding is that’s been pushed back to the third quarter of the year.”
Greenway Coffee isn’t the only business that’s been hurt in what’s been called “Houston’s best food court”. Willet and Diane Feng’s acclaimed burger-chan closed last year (although an above-ground location in the Galleria area is expected to open late this spring). John Peterson’s Chinese-American Rice Box hasn’t served food for several months (although its two street-level restaurants are doing business as usual).
Just like the Fengs, owners Patrick Feges and Erin Smith of Feges BBQ are also opening an above-ground brick-and-mortar location, which will be in Spring Branch. However, Feges says they have no plans to leave Greenway Plaza, even though times are hard right now. “Our business is down 70 percent, and that’s even with our farmers market presence, online sales and the ability to ship to other states. I will say, though, that our landlord has been amazing with helping us figure out how to navigate this situation.”
Prabanto and Buehrer agree with Feges that Parkway, which manages the leases at Greenway Plaza, has been very supportive. Negotiations are underway on an agreement that will allow Greenway Coffee to continue operating there when people resume working at their offices. “They’ve been very helpful and are doing their best to keep us engaged,” Buehrer said. Prabanto added that Parkway even gave tenants daily vouchers for breakfast and lunch that could be used at the food and drink stands in Greenway Plaza. “The vouchers — which were reimbursed by Parkway — helped us have enough sales to cover payroll. We only had one person working and limited hours. We’re happy to have sales, but more than anything we were happy to employ someone.”
Unfortunately, Prabanto says that people who received vouchers and claimed free coffee drinks didn’t often become regular customers, and there seem to be even fewer people in Greenway Plaza now than there were in November and December.
The well-regarded coffee company, which had been on a continual growth path until the pandemic hit, has suffered a series of losses over the past seven months. Morningstar in the Heights shuttered on December 28. The closing of Tropicales, a Latin bistro in the Museum District, turned from temporary to permanent mid-2020. Adding insult to injury, the sisters’ Indonesian ice cream and boba tea spot, Susu Kopi & Boba, was forced to close when the host food hall Politan Row suddenly ceased operations. Prelude Coffee & Tea in downtown Houston is temporarily closed because not enough workers are reporting to 609 Main at Texas, the Hines’ office tower where it is located. Similarly, Audrey’s, the coffee shop in the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, is temporarily closed since many students are taking virtual classes.
Lease negotiations are pending at Greenway Plaza, where Greenway Coffee got its name and start as a simple food court stand with a counter and barstools before moving in 2018 to a larger open-concept café with polished wood counters and tables. Meanwhile, fans of the company’s locally roasted coffee beans can order online. (The selection is currently limited until renovations to the roastery are complete.) Prabanto says that most Whole Foods in Houston also now carry Greenway Coffee.
In addition, the company’s other shops, Inversion Coffee and Blacksmith (which is co-owned by Underbelly Hospitality) offer patio and to-go service, and the combination gamer lounge and café Coral Sword is still operating. The Greenway Coffee website also has a lengthy list of shops and restaurants that serve its coffee.