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A Chat With the Cordúas On Their Expansion Plans

Churrascos in Gateway Memorial City [Max Burkhalter]

It's official: A new Churrascos location will open in a 5,100-square-foot space in the Champions area. It was recently announced that the 26-year-old brand would make another foray into Houston's suburbs, with an opening set for this fall, following Churrascos setting up shop in Sugar Land nearly three years ago. The expansion also comes on the heels of last year's Memorial City site for the restaurant. Then, there was that anniversary cookbook that came out. And a revamping of the menus at sister concepts Amazon Grill and Americas. But it's not, insist Cordúa Restaurants founder Michael Cordúa and executive chef David Cordúa, an attempt to re-define themselves. They know exactly who they are. What they're really doing, is making sure diners know it, too.

So, this is your second major Churrascos opening in a year. That's got to be a lot on your plate, pardon the pun. Why this? Why now?
David Cordúa: Yeah, this is our fifth Churrascos. We've always had our eye the Champions area. The location has the right demographic for our brand, and it's near enough to town that we have name recognition. When you make real estate decisions as a multi-brand company like we are, you look at a set of metrics: Competitors with similar price points, maybe or the same demographics, even similar growth patterns. You see how they are doing in various locations, and for Churracos, we identified a number of these in that area, the same way we did with Sugar Land.

In addition to those factors, you're opening in the spot where Bonefish used to be. What's desirable about that?
David: As a second-generation site, it means for a quicker opening. All the infrastructure is already in place. So, for us, a lot of this can be about putting our finishes and our touches on it. And we're using MBH, the design firm that did the Churrascos in Memorial City, so this is a way to see how they do a second iteration of the Churrascos concept.
Michael Cordúa: And they also did the design for the P.F. Chang's next door, so for me, it's fun to see them compete with themselves a little, see how they further the design.

How have the recent menu changes and the openings of new restaurants changed the company? Or is it a case of, you always expected this growth? Michael, did you think you'd be here when you opened the first Churrascos in 1988?
Michael: No. God, no. I was just hoping to pay the mortgage and not go broke! I still want that.
David: There are a lot of factors to our growth. The Houston economy is better now than it was when I joined the company in 2007. And, we're a lot smarter, more disciplined, operationally, as a group. We have systems in place, and we're focusing on quality and consistency. We've got a strong team. We've really grown up as a restaurant group.

You just returned from a trip from Nicaragua. What was that like?
Michael: It was wonderful. We took 16 people, and we had the opportunity to share our roots with people. That connection, letting them see who we are and where we are from, letting them see this gorgeous country and its people, that was fantastic.
David: And with Churrascos, we've made the decision to define it as having more of a focus on Nicaraguan cuisine and on our heritage than in the other concepts. That's come through in our last two openings. It's "criollo" cooking, kind of like Creole in New Orleans. For us, the food of Nicaragua is tied to the land, maybe peasant food, street food. And that's a very different approach to how we make our signature steak, the churrasco, than that our some of Houston's other steakhouses.

There's no doubt this is a lot of work. What's most exciting for you in all these changes?
David: It feels like the wind is at our back. The last time we opened two concepts in the same year was 2002, when we launched Artista and Amazon Grill. We look at the now, especially with Champions, with ExxonMobil's campus not too far away and Vintage Park. I feel like we're a more confident company.
Michael: It's not a time of change. It is a time of definition. The goal is to maintain a close community. We are a family that allows our family members to provide for their own families and our guests. We talk a lot about corazon as a concept, which means heart. And we do what we do with a sense of affection and care that you would receive if you were coming into our home.
David: We've always been very conscious of where we came from. And that's shown itself over the last year – the trip to Nicaragua, the cookbook, celebrating our 25th maybe on people's lips a little more. But we haven't changed what we've done. We're just speaking about it more confidently, more openly. This is who we are.

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