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Why do chains avoid Houston?

There's no Carl's Jr, Culver's, or Wienerschnitzel (the one Google claims to be on Hwy 6 N is no longer there), for example. They're happy to go to San Antonio, Dallas, or Austin, but not Houston.

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  1. There's been a big influx of chain burger places like Smashburger and Five Guys coming in all over the state, but there's no reason to make a big deal about that. Houston has plenty of locally owned, mom and pop restaurants so that makes for better food. I say that's a good thing that those chains aren't around.

    Also, I hope you didn't have to make a long drive for that hot dog! James Coney Island has locations all over town and they are a good local chain, their chili is spectacular - see the frito pie thread for a big discussion.

    1. I've only been in a Carl's Jr once in Amarillo I think and it was awful. The flies were thick inside the restaurant and after eating the food I couldn't imagine what they saw in it. There was a Wienerschnitzel years ago in Pasadena but it didn't make it. How could it with James Coney Island within 10 miles? I would gladly drive to JCI over any other hot dog place that I know of.

      But I get your point and have wondered the same thing. Not that we're lacking for choices but there are a few places I'd like to see come here.

      1 Reply
      1. re: texasredtop

        There were Wienerschnitzels here in the 60's and 70's. There was one on Hillcroft and Bissonnett when I was a kid. Our family didn't care much for it, we usually ate at James Coney Island even though it was farther away.

      2. There is a Culver's out in the Woodlands that we have eaten at. We did like the Der Weinerschintzel, when it was here many moons ago, but James Coney Island is great, and a local chain. If you subscribe to the B4-U-Eat newsletter you will see that more and more chains are moving into Houston, but that does not mean they will last. I remember when Marie Callendars made a go of it here. Lasted for awhile, but Houston just didn't embrace the, what was considered, "California" way of preparing things. It's tough to succeed when we already have so many chains as it is. Add to that part of our chains are locally based, and they get more loyalty, I think, than ones from other places. And did you know that some people from other states, think that Houston is nothing more than chain restaurants? I have read comments here on Chowhound to that effect. We really don't need any more chains, IMO.

        1. Winerschnitzel's chili-cheese dog is disturbingly good. I wouldn't eat the chili in a bowl, but it's great on dogs and burgers. As to local joints, the chili dog at Little Bitty Burger Barn is spectacularly good in my opinion. I've tried JCI, but maybe because I tend to eat late I've found them only so-so. I ordered the frito pie, but maybe it had too many fritos because it was incredibly salty.

          The only Carl's Jr I've tried have been in the SF Bay Area. If they've gone downhill since their acquisition of Hardees it wouldn't surprise me, Hardees is horrible (the ones in FL were anyway). I generally liked their burgers more than McDonalds and Burger King, plus they had Green Burrito for some tacos on the side (yeah I know, chain tacos, and California isn't exactly bereft of good local taco joints either).

          I'd mostly go to Marie Callender's for the pies. The entrees weren't great but a definite step up from Denny's and IHOP, which seem to have made a place for themselves here. A better pie/diner place is Baker's Square, but I don't think they're in Texas yet. They have a great grilled cheese/tomato-basil soup combo.

          3 Replies
          1. re: aynrandgirl

            I read that The Counter is coming in Winter of 2010. Another burger chain.

            As far as JCI goes, if you look on the frito pie thread you will see that if I get a bowl of chili pie with too many firtos, I make them add some chili! The chili is really the best part, besides the cheese ;-)

            I live practically down the street (and around the corner) from LBBB, and I have not tried one of their chili dogs. I'll have to give it a shot. Thanks!

            1. re: danhole

              I've been to LBBB several times and liked everything I got there. It was a bit of a stretch for us to go for lunch when I worked in the Galleria area but the guys really liked it so we went a few times. After we retired, I took my husband there once and he hasn't asked to go back. He liked it but I guess didn't love it. But he's hounding me to return to El Tiempo and we were there less than a week ago for the first time. I liked the sliders at LBBB but believe it or not, Chili's are better. It's the only thing I'll eat at Chili's.

              1. re: danhole

                The chili dogs are fairly new apparently, they weren't there the last time I ate at LBBB.

            2. It isn't all chains just some and there could be lots of possible reasons. One could be the strength of local competition. I've read in restaurant trade publications in the past that Houston is considered a tough, competitive market. Here's one recent article that indicates it's very attractive to some chains, though: http://www.nrn.com/article.aspx?menu_...

              WIenerschnitzel has a lot less geographic coverage than it used to have; Houston isn't the only market it's not in but I'm sure JCI's popularity is a factor. There's not only a Culver's up north, there's a Krystal and a Steak and Shake. And there are chains here that you won't find elsewhere. A former co-worker moved to Detroit and bemoans the lack of Burger King there.

              The diversity of cuisines and the fact we eat out so much also contributes to a slightly more educated and discriminating dining public too and chains typically serve pretty homogenized fare. Many chains have to depend heavily on advertising to build a customer base since their food is not very distinctive and that can be very expensive here, plus the need to build lots of units to justify the advertising expense adds up to a very big investment risk that I'm sure is daunting to some.

              Don't worry though, we have more than enough chains; there aren't any I wish we had and I wouldn't even notice if a lot of them left. The only good thing about chains is that some people are perfectly happy eating there which means less crowds at the really good local places.

              5 Replies
              1. re: dexmat

                Burger King isn't afraid of McDonalds, why would Wienerschnitzel would be afraid of JCI? There's room for more than one hot dog joint, just like there's room for more than one burger joint. Besides, they have more locations in Texas than anywhere else outside of California.

                Wienerschnitzel's iconic old A-frame buildings make the best drive-throughs. You drive right through the middle so you're protected from the elements by its roof.

                Steak & Shake is pretty good, especially the shakes. I never warmed to Krystal, and I admittedly ate at an actual White Castle only once, so I guess that style of mini-burger isn't for me. Culver's seems more like a Diary Queen competitor than anything else, and there are a few DQs in Houston.

                I'd think that Houston would be attractive to the alternative Mexican chains like Del Taco (all over SoCal), Taco Time, and Taco Bueno. Sure, I'd rather go to El Tiempo or Pappasito's, but sometimes time and/or cost matter when making dining choices.

                1. re: aynrandgirl

                  We had Del Taco here in the early eighties. I remember my ex-wife and I went to one after returning from upstate New York, just off the plane, and we were starving. All we had was Canadian money, we'd been to Toronto, and got in a big fight. Apparently they took Canadian money in Rochester/Buffalo, but I had to assure her rather sternly, hence the fight, that nobody in Texas takes Candian money. As for inexpensive Mexican/Cuban drive thru, try El Rey.

                  1. re: aynrandgirl

                    There was a Taco Bueno on Gessner near Westpark in the early '80s. I don't know how long it lasted. Chains like Del Taco and Taco Bueno can't compete here with Taco Cabana, IMO, at least not for the quality of the food.

                    1. re: aynrandgirl

                      Who said anything about fear? It's about return on investment and profit margins, that's how businessmen make their decisions, not 'room.' I had forgotten about Taco Bueno but they were here; Del Taco lasted only a couple of years. All the chains you think there's 'room' for have been here and left - contact them and ask them why. I doubt it was because of fear.

                      There's plenty of great places to get Mexican here at all price points, and a lot of it is way better than any chain crap. What's the fixation on chains anyway?

                      I can't help you on hot dogs; it's been so long I don't remember what WIenerschnitzel was like but I do wish there was something better for dogs than JCI but like I said they've fended off lots of competitors over the years. It's a taste Houstonians prefer despite how much 'room' there may be for competitors.

                    2. re: dexmat

                      I believe there is one Steak and Shake here - Eldridge Road & FM 1960. There were several about 30 years ago but they didn't last. I wish there were one in my neighborhood. I like them better than the McD's, Wendy's, etc. They have something similar in SATX called Freddie's and they have frozen custard. Sinful!!!

                    3. There is a Culver's on Atascocita Road at Timber Forest. Good burgers and frozen custard! Definitely worth the drive. It takes about 25 minutes from downtown to get there.

                      This little area is getting quite dense with some good chain types. Smashburger arrived about six months ago and now Five Guys is opening up across the road (FM 1960). Good news for locals.

                      1. Never heard of Culver, I think theres one Carl's and maybe one Wienerschnitzel in greater Dallas area (that I have seen or heard of). Remember these joints are more often that not franchises, and these are not popular brands on this part of the planet. Not particularly sure why you would want any of these if there are fantastic mom and pops doing the heavy lifting. Count your blessings.

                        We have the Smash and 5 Guys coming in with extremely mixed reviews. Personally, I would prefer our local chains or M&P's.

                        17 Replies
                        1. re: DallasDude

                          They opened a Mooyah Burger down by Baybrook Mall and we were excited reading all the reviews about it. After trying it I couldn't imagine anyone choosing that over Miller's in Clear Lake or Salt Grass Steakhouse cheddar burgers. I would even prefer Burger King over Mooyah.

                          1. re: texasredtop

                            Mooyah is about on par with Five Guys, but for that style of burger, Tornado Burger would be the place to go. I'm honestly not even concerned about the lack of In-N-Out in Texas anymore, I think Tornado has them beat.

                            1. re: air

                              And once again, we are recommending a local place - not a chain!

                              1. re: air

                                I tried 5 Guys this weekend at the Dallas Galleria. I found the burger to be dry (overly well-done) and the bun extremely lacking (generic, soaking wet and gummy). Even with the abundance of free toppings, and the relatively inexpensive burger as it was, I still give it a 'no thanks'. The fries were excellent, however. fresh cut and hot.

                            2. re: DallasDude

                              We tried Culvers in the Woodlands. The menu has quite a variety of things from their "Butterburger" and frozen custard, to cheesesteak, pot roast and fried chicken. I had a burger, and my DH had the fried chicken. My burger was good, but he wasn't that thrilled with the chicken, although to be fair, he is very picky about fried chicken. I thought it was fine, but not spectacular. Feel the same way about the burger. But I'll tell you this - the place was packed! I don't know how long it had been there, but it seems that when a new chain opens, people flock to it, in droves, just to find out what it is about. I'm not a big follower, so I still haven't gotten around to trying Smashburger, 5 Guys, Cheeburger Cheeburger, or another of the other imported chains. I stick to the mom and pop burger place in my area called LIttle Bitty Burger Barn. It's in a trailer and very good!

                              1. re: danhole

                                One national "chain", that 's a hit in Houston is Grimaldi's,, the NY/NJ old school pizzeria in Sugarland.. They opened a 2nd location in The Woodlands which could benefit from better mgmt., as they do not mirror the same level of service and,, the parking is terrible..

                                Another national chain that gets a positive nod is Jersey Mike's. I frequent the Rice Village location when I'm in the mood for a good Jersey sub... They make their own bread and the cold cuts are their own I believe..

                                A chain i just don't understand the fuss over is Smashburger.. I tried the Atascacita/Humble location a couple of months ago and was very disappointed after reading all the hype. I'd consider their greasy and tasteless burger and fries forgetable but,, the word awful keeps coming to mind at the mere mention of the name.. Spend your dollars elsewhere!

                                I avoid Applebee's, TGIF, Olive Garden and all the chain burger and pizza chains etc as their are too many terrific local mom and pop's that deserve our business.

                                1. re: bornie

                                  The Smashburger on Westheimer has been pretty good to me. The manager is very attentive and wants to make you happy.

                                  I will definitely check out Grimaldi's. Now if only I could find a pizzeria that does real deep dish, Chicago style. Houston pizzerias wrongly call their Sicilian pizza "deep dish".

                                  1. re: aynrandgirl

                                    Aynrandgirl, you might try the "Joe's" pizza at Star Pizza.. Its a deep dish pizza w/sauteed spinach, lots of garlic, a smattering of mozzarella on top of red sauce.. Its pretty tasty (ask them to bake just a few minutes longer than usual)! Their dinner salads top'd with their own "house dressing" is killer. Jack

                                    1. re: bornie

                                      Aynrandgirl,, should have mentioned,, try Barnaby's (a local chain) on West Gray or Shepherd for a burger,, you'll be treated to some of the best burgers and fries in town.. Their mushroom/swiss is terrific,, and their HickoryBBQ burger has what i feel is the best BBQ sauce in the city,, thick, smokey and oh so flavorful.. Burgers are $8.50 on a wheat bun and come w/fries. They are hopefully putting back on the menu the chipotle sauce that they used w/their sweet potato french fries.. That sauce was unbelievable. Also,, skip Coney Island hot dogs for a Barnaby's all beef ($8.00). U can order with chile, cheese, onions etc... Best dog in town (maybe anywhere IMHO) and a foot long w/fries!

                                      1. re: bornie

                                        Thanks, I didn't even realize Barnaby's had dogs; I'll have to try one. They've got places in Woodway and even Sugar Land now but the original on Fairview is the best.

                                    2. re: aynrandgirl

                                      For good Chicago syle pizza try Windy City Pizza, 5377 Atascocita Road. It's a tiny establishment but ex-pat's believe it to be the real deal. Give it a try. Incidentally, across the street from Culvers!

                                    3. re: bornie

                                      I tried Grimaldi's and it was, indeed, quite excellent. Thanks for the recommendation. If only they were closer to Houston proper.

                                    4. re: danhole

                                      LBBB is consistently good - at least it was every time I've been - maybe 4-5 times. I would stick with it too if it weren't so far from my house.

                                      1. re: texasredtop

                                        Have you ever tried their French Dip? Very, very good! I am fortunate that they are maybe a mile or two away from my house. I really want them to make it, but from the amount of police cars there, and the crowds at lunch, I think they are doing just fine.

                                        1. re: danhole

                                          For as small a place as it is, they were always crowded when I was there and lots of people coming in for takeout. I've mostly had their burgers or sliders.

                                    5. re: DallasDude

                                      There is a Culver's location in Lewisville and Freddy's (another frozen custard chain) has a location in Frisco.

                                      1. re: air

                                        There is a Culver's in Rockwall on Ridge Road, too.

                                    6. I'm a fan of Der Weinerschnitzel. Their chili dogs are simple, tasty and they have the best buns. I would think they could do quite well in Houston, and I have even driven to Beaumont and Victoria to bring back a dozen. I will never understand anyone who likes JCI. I recently had two dogs from JCI, to retest, and give it one more try. They were the worst hot dogs I have ever had because they tasted like...nothing. Completely tasteless. Bring on Der Weinerschnitzel.

                                      1. "Why do chains avoid Houston?"

                                        Because Houston avoids chains.

                                        There's just too much good food being crafted by our neighbors to waste money on a sterile, cookie-cutter clone from elsewhere.

                                        Why would you go to Smash Burger, when you could go to Sam's Deli Diner?

                                        (Don't bother - there just isn't a "right" answer.)

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: DoobieWah

                                          Because maybe I need to eat and I've never heard of "Sam's Deli Diner". You know what you will get with the chain, even if you don't think it's very good, at least it's consistent. "Sam's Deli Diner" might be fantastic or it might be crap.

                                          1. re: DoobieWah

                                            Sam's fell off recently at least at the Katy location. Frozen patties, not great.

                                          2. I dunno. Pappadeaux's and Pappacitos are based in Houston, and I think they are among the best chains in the country. Plus the Houston's steak house chain, excellent, (although it's based in CA)

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Veggo

                                              Yeah well, so is the Fertitta Empire!

                                              1. re: DoobieWah

                                                There's surely no better way to start your day than with a big laugh, is there. And this thread made me laugh out loud this morning. So thanks, y'all.

                                                Actually, it hits on something I've always found extremely interesting regarding inquiries posted on Chowhound, and that's the need some people seem to feel to add their distaste of chain restaurants when they're asking about good places to eat. I mean, really? Why? Why do you think folks add that? Has anyone ever really come here and said something like, "I'm looking for an Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Chili's close to my hotel at Fifth and Main"? Isn't the very reason folks come to Chowhound because they are looking for "insider info"? If you're looking for a bunch of chains, wouldn't you go to the Darden (or whatever) website and click on "Locations"?

                                                Doesn't it go without saying that if you're here, you're not looking for a handy location of a national chain restaurant?

                                                So why do people say (and usually with added emphasis and vehemence to be sure we "get" it), "NO CHAINS!!!"

                                                Seriously? They can't think anyone here would recommend one, would they? So what are they trying to say?

                                                I just think it's so obviously unnecessary that, the need to say it anyway, is just weird.

                                              2. re: Veggo

                                                The Pappas do a consistently good job, had their bacon wrapped shrimp grilled and stuffed with jalapenos and cheese just this week ('sito's) and it was very good. But let's get real, there is no comparison between Pappas and Fertitta's Landry's.