While Click Virtual Food Hall currently houses a handful of “ghost restaurants” that are takeout- and delivery-only, the team behind it envisions potentially going brick-and-mortar with concepts that work well. It’s a smart idea, but there are other ways Houston’s would-be restaurateurs are developing and testing their concepts before investing in fully building out new eateries.
In a way, food trucks and carts are the original eatery incubators, nurturing concepts until they're ready to hatch. They’ve long served as lower-cost ways for chefs eager to either gain a foothold in the industry or try out a new cuisine. The most successful ones—think Mélange Creperie and Bernie’s Burger Bus—have turned into bustling brick-and-mortar businesses over the past decade.
Then there are new spots like Decatur Bar & Pop-Up Factory, the Washington Avenue restaurant that opened in January and gives up-and-coming chefs an opportunity to run its kitchen for a period of months—allowing them to develop their ideas and familiarize themselves with Houston diners before taking the plunge—while serving creative drinks to complement the cuisine at its full-service bar.
NextSeed provides chefs with a similar opportunity. Early this year the Houston-based company—which provides a platform for everyday people to invest in local businesses and has helped start restaurants including B.B. Italia & B.B. Pizza, Poitín, and Pitch 25—opened the NextSeed Space, a small stall inside Greenway Plaza’s food court, which is known as The Hub (and itself could be considered an incubator, as it’s helped launch concepts like The Rice Box).
The NextSeed Space was created to help chefs test menu items while assessing and perfecting everything from the order-taking process to kitchen efficiency. If the concepts work and their proprietors decide to look for a permanent space, they might seek investors through NextSeed, too.
Interestingly, two local food trucks, the Waffle Bus and the Dough Cone, have been among the first to take advantage of NextSeed as they prepare to make the brick-and-mortar move. Concepts like Mexico City–style kitchen Tlahuac, meanwhile, have been more like months-long popups. The idea has been a hit; in July NextSeed opened its second kitchen space on Yale Street in the Heights, with Chicken & Rice Guys as the first tenant.
All of these initiatives are giving local chefs the chance to refine their ideas and achieve success. Houstonians who love food aren't complaining one bit.