Tomball and Magnolia have seen several new dining concepts arrive in the area in the past year, resulting in expanded menus and new cuisines to enjoy.
With increasing tourism in Northwest Houston, city officials and businesses are looking for new ways to promote themselves and expand to meet demand. Particularly in Tomball, which has seen record tourism increases in the past four years, new restaurants are opening at a higher rate to keep up with demand.
“Tomball is becoming a foodie town,” Tejas Chocolate Craftory co-owner Scott Moore said.
More than ever, consumers want higher quality ingredients, locally sourced products and distinctive dishes, he said.
Since moving from a small factory in Spring to a refurbished residential building on Tomball’s Elm Street in October, Tejas Chocolate has quickly become a local barbecue and chocolate authority in the area, according to publications like Texas Monthly.
“Barbecue is going through a renaissance right now,” Moore said. “We wanted to bring Central Texas-style barbecue to Tomball, and we wanted it to be high-level [food]. We felt like there was an appetite for that, and it turned out to be true.”
Tejas Chocolate was one of several local businesses in Tomball—including Pain Train Salsa, Jane and John Dough Bakery and Pretzels Pleaze—that was introduced to the area through the Tomball Farmers Market before establishing permanent storefronts.
“The Tomball Farmers Market, historically, is probably one of the stronger farmers markets in Harris County,” Moore said. “So I think that [the] farmers market is an incubator. You’re not going to make a ton of money, but it gives you some exposure.”
Moore said the market allowed Tejas Chocolate to test how customers in Tomball would react to higher-end products before establishing a permanent eatery.
“I was worried how an expensive chocolate bar was going to go over in Tomball,” Moore said. “But we’ve had a great response to the brand and our product.”
With the combination of eclectic style, locally sourced ingredients and distinctive dishes, Moore said the Old Town Tomball area is quickly becoming a more trendy area, akin to the Heights area in Downtown Houston.
“A lot of people will come up from Houston and shop,” he said. “They like the local feel. I think it’s the collection of independent businesses that’s the most important part of the equation; there aren’t these giant corporate chains and franchises.”
Effects on tourism
As restaurants in the area continue to bring in visitors from outside the city, Tomball is looking to capitalize on diners coming to the area to explore new dining concepts.
“Foodie tourism is a big deal,” said Mike Baxter, director of marketing for the city of Tomball. “The quality of the downtown restaurants is consistently good, and it’s giving me another hook to promote the downtown area and bring people to Tomball.”
Baxter said the city has begun to focus heavily on marketing Old Town Tomball as a destination in the Greater Houston area with food options serving as a key factor in attracting consumers to the city.
“Tourists can eat at a chain restaurant in their hometown[s], so why would they want to travel and do that?” Baxter said. “They want to find things that are fun and unique. So the more of that we have, the more it’s going to allow us to promote [Tomball] as a destination, keeping people here and spending their money here in town.”
Bryan Hutson, attorney and owner of development company The Hutson Group, said developers are also looking to increase food options in the Old Town Tomball area as a way to ensure the success of other businesses.
“Basically, I’m thinking if I can get great food in great places that have really cool reputations in Tomball, there will be families in the Old Town area spending more time in the stores,” Hutson said.
In the past two years, the Huston Group has developed and opened several restaurants in the area, including Tejas Chocolate Craftory, Jane and John Dough Bakery, Brautigams Bar N Grill and the Empty Glass. Preliminary discussions on future eateries are already underway.
Hutson said the development group is in the beginning stages of designing a bistro near Commerce Street and a third eatery along Elm Street.
“As I develop these buildings, I’m specifically developing them as food service locations,” Huston said. “As word gets out, there’s a lot of interest from these mom and pop eateries, so I’ll pick and choose to give us a mix in downtown.”
The demand for local and craft options is not limited to food. Last April, the city of Tomball approved a new land use ordinance allowing for the city’s first craft brewery and pub, Fire Ant Brewing.
Plans are now being finalized, and construction will begin later this year on the craft brewery, co-owner Bruce Kissinger said. Between approval and construction, Kissinger said the brewery’s owners have been interacting with the community at Tomball’s many annual festivals.
“The area around here really lacks any craft beer locations,” Kissinger said. “The reaction has been pretty great at all the festivals we’ve been to, and people are excited for us to open.”
Kissinger said the brewpub will be located on Market Street and will offer 12 of its own beers, along with a yet-to-be-determined food concept.
The brewpub will also help to keep visitors in the city after shops along Main Street have closed, Hutson said.
“Weekends here are fantastic, and days are great, but as you go further in to the evening, there isn’t a whole lot in the Old Town area in terms of foot traffic,” he said. “I’m really trying to bring in food service that will stay open at night and serve dinner.”
Old eateries, new tactics
As culinary options increase in Tomball and the city expands, restaurants outside the city limits are starting to feel the effects of the upscale food demands and are working to stay ahead of the game.
Along FM 1488 in Magnolia, several new restaurants have opened in the last year, including Pizzaiolo’s Gourmet Pizza and Cajun Cantina.
In between the two cities, GrandE Tamales—which was opened in Pinehurst in 2014 by owners Higinio and Ascencion Amado—will begin offering tapas, or small plates of different foods, later this year to update and broaden its menu while keeping up with culinary trends.
“It’s a completely new concept in the entire area,” Ascencion Amado said. “Now in the U.S., cuisine has become very international. You have [Asian], Mexican, Spanish and Italian. So the tapas menu will be very international as well.”
Amado said one of the biggest challenges of establishing a restaurant that serves traditional Mexican cuisine was educating the public to show the variety of food not typically offered at Tex-Mex eateries in the U.S.
“That’s the great thing about tapas is that it’s up to the chef to decide what to serve that day,” she said. “We need so much more education about what the food is. What we are going to do is to try to close the gap between what we offered [before] and what my husband offers with his cooking and knowledge.”