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.