From breakfast to dessert, Empire Café is still a Montrose mainstay

Owner Johnny Fooshe stands with his daughter Holly Flack, who runs the restaurant's social media. (Photos by Johnny Pena/Community Impact Newspaper)
Owner Johnny Fooshe stands with his daughter Holly Flack, who runs the restaurant's social media. (Photos by Johnny Pena/Community Impact Newspaper)

Owner Johnny Fooshe stands with his daughter Holly Flack, who runs the restaurant's social media. (Photos by Johnny Pena/Community Impact Newspaper)

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Not Fried Chicken ($10.95): breaded chicken, red onions, tomatoes, pepper jack cheese, mixed greens and chipotle aioli on jalapeno cheddar sourdough
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Tollhouse crunch cake ($7.95, half price on Mondays): one of 15 varieties of cake; yellow cake with chocolate chips and chocolate icing dusted with sugar
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Bailey’s Mocha ($8.75) Irish cream, frangelico, chocolate, double espresso, steamed milk, topped with whipped cream
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Cucumber cooler ($8.75) muddled cucumber and basil, cucumber vodka, St. Germain liqueur and lime simple syrup
Few restaurants in Montrose have enjoyed the longevity of Empire Café, a mainstay for 26 years.

The owner, Johnny Fooshee, said not much has changed about the restaurant since he and his friends opened it in 1994. He credits a simple formula for Empire’s success.

“There’s no real secret. You need good, fresh food and a good location. You need to trust your employees and care about the customers,” Fooshee said.

Empire Café’s menu features breakfast, lunch and dinner, including sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, soups and salads. Patrons can also enjoy specialty coffees and alcoholic beverages at the restaurant’s patio, which faces Westheimer Road, Fooshee said.

The desserts are a big draw, and patrons can order a generous slice of cake for half off on Mondays. Customers can pick from 15 varieties.

“We’re known for our breakfast. But the cakes are a big deal. A lot of people will come by in the evening and have coffee and cakes and drinks. We have a full bar,” Fooshee said.

The restaurant, located at 1732 Westheimer Road, has been able to keep up with the area’s growing population.

“There are more people moving into the neighborhood. They don’t want to live outside the Loop anymore. It’s a lot denser,” Fooshee said.

Connecting with those customers helps guide Empire’s menu, said Holly Flack, who is Fooshee’s daughter and oversees the restaurant’s social media.

“We like learning from our customers. We try [new items] multiple times before they are perfected. We put them out for display, and it will be like a trial day for our customers. The customers will give us feedback, and either we do it again or put it right on the menu,” Flack said.

Flack said working with her father and the close-knit staff has taught her about the business.

“I pushed him into a partnership,” said Flack. “I’m very proud of working for my dad. There’s always something new to learn.”

Fooshee got into the restaurant business in the 1970s when he was part of a real estate group responsible for bringing the first Chili’s Bar & Grill to Houston. He later became the owner of the iconic 59 Diner before selling it some years ago.

“The restaurant business is getting up every day and doing that thing better every day,” Fooshee said.

He said there are no plans to open another location.
“This is a one-of-kind restaurant. We are not a chain. We just want to keep doing what we are doing,” Fooshee said. “Empire will always be a comfortable place to stop in and hang out and enjoy the food.”

Empire Cafe

1732 Westheimer Road, Houston


Hours: Sun.-Thu. 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m.


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