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Dec 25, 2009 07:28 AM

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:

              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!!!