Teas Nursery in Bellaire sold its last rose bush and orange tree in 2010 after over a century in business. The news of its closure was met with considerable grief from both Bellaire and Houston residents, who worried that the sprawling, 5-acre site—situated smack in the middle of what has become one of the wealthiest enclaves in the nation—would be sacrificed on the altar of stucco mansions, its history as the first business in Bellaire reduced to rubble. They worried too about the fate of its so-called Little Yellow House, the beloved bungalow where Teas patriarch John Frederick Teas was born prior to spending his entire life planting trees across Houston. When Teas died in 2009, the nursery followed soon after, though it turns out that residents were worried for naught.
Another longtime Bellaire family quickly stepped up to preserve the site for future generations, almost as quickly as the closure was announced in 2009: Maury “Bo” Rubenstein and Jerry Rubenstein purchased the property at 4400 Bellaire Boulevard with the intention of transforming it into a park in honor of their mother, Evelyn. Today, the vision Evelyn's Park Conservancy has for the land—based partly on the Queens Botanical Gardens in New York—is nearing completion, with plans for a butterfly garden, a grand lake and a great lawn, in addition to a restaurant housed in a rebuilt Little Yellow House.
After conducting a six-month search for the ideal operators, the Conservancy partnered with Zelko Concepts, whose owners, Jamie and Dalia Zelko, are perhaps best known for their work at Zelko Bistro. Inside a tiny bungalow on 11th Street, the duo helped reignite the Heights as a dining destination when the bistro first opened in 2010, though lately they've been just as focused on helping the Heights in a different way: by preserving its bee population. The couple's Heights Honeybee Project now boasts 90 thriving hives across the city, including a new colony removed from the original Little Yellow House. "They're already in our hives in Alvin, so that's kind of cool," Jamie says.
Evelyn's Park couldn't be a better fit for the team, says Dalia Zelko. "We loved their vision and the whole thing behind it. It went along with all of our values." In addition to plans for even more apiary operations at the park, look for a much larger version of the herb garden currently planted in a small side yard at Zelko Bistro. "I plan on having an educational garden at Evelyn's Park," says Jamie, adding with a laugh: "I want the kids to get their hands dirty."
Although the Little Yellow House couldn't be fully salvaged (it was demolished a few months ago after massive asbestos and water damage problems, among others, presented themselves as insurmountable), a new Little House is being rebuilt from what the Conservancy was able to save. This, too, is familiar territory for the Zelkos, who found themselves in a similar position upon renovating Zelko Bistro seven years ago prior to moving in. "What Dalia and I have done with the space is to take its footprint and make it as original to the yellow house as possible," says Jamie. "We want to do the same thing we did with the Heights: We're gonna find that history and nostalgia and pull it out and serve the local residents the best possible quality food in the best environment."
And as to that food, fans of the modern Southern comfort food at Zelko Bistro will likely find much to love at the yet-to-be-named eatery in Evelyn's Park, though Dalia is quick to note that this move is about much more than opening a second restaurant location. "Jamie's vision, which I fell in love with so many years ago, goes beyond just food—which she's amazing at, obviously," says Dalia. "We want to make Evelyn's Park a destination."