There are few restaurateurs in Houston that have been busier in the past few years than Agricole Hospitality’s Chef Ryan Pera and beverage director Morgan Weber. Between the two of them, they’ve opened three restaurants in Coltivare, Revival Market, and Eight Row Flint, the endlessly popular Heights watering hole and taco spot that arrived just over a year ago.
In the latest installment of Eater’s One Year In, Pera and Weber discuss the challenges of opening a new restaurant, what they’ve learned over the past year, and the “swimming pools” worth of queso that the restaurant serves up every single day.
Eater Houston: In the first year, what were the most important lessons you learned?
Ryan Pera: With Eight Row, we learned not to take ourselves too seriously. The more relaxed we are, the better the vibe in the space.
Morgan Weber: The one lesson we've continued to learn every time we open new places: be flexible. We plan and obsess over all the details of a new concept, but we really don't how it will be received by guests until the doors open for business. At that point, we have to be flexible in how we react and how we adjust our "precious" initial notions. We own neighborhood joints, so ultimately, the establishments will evolve as we observe and get feedback from our guests as to what they need and want.
How would you describe Eight Row Flint's crowd of regulars?
RP: We get a good mix of Heights locals, bourbon drinkers, beer drinkers and taco lovers.
MW: Eight Row has a wide cross-section of regulars, and we love it. We see neighborhood folks every day of the week--they're our lifeblood. Thursday evenings and weekends bring people from all age groups from all parts of the city. Personally, I love how people from so many different walks of life frequent and enjoy Eight Row Flint.
Based on what you've learned over the past year, are there any adjustments that you're planning to make?
RP: With all of our businesses, constant adjustments are made. We’re constantly looking to improve ourselves. We’ll absolutely be making changes within the next year and every year to come.
MW: Our plan over the next year is to really dial in our operational systems and refine the patio, and make it more comfortable by giving different seating options in a great environment.
What was this year's most popular dish? Cocktail?
RP: The queso was definitely our most popular dish. I think we have an amazing queso. I love it and stand behind it, and I’m glad our customers agree.
MW: Most popular dish? Chips and Queso. Makes me so happy that people love it. We go through swimming pool quantities of the stuff. It was really important to me that we had a queso made with legit cheese--not easy-melt as per the industry standard. We didn't want to compromise texture. I think we've found that balance.
Most popular drinks? Ranchwater and the Frozen Coltivare Gin and Tonic. The Ranchwater embodies everything I love about simple cocktails. It's four ingredients, and only one of them is a spirit--the details are all there though. It's refreshing and incredibly complex given its simplicity. Also, the frozen version of Coltivare's gin and tonic is its own anomaly. It's been the best-selling drink on Coltivare's menu since the day it went on, so it only made sense to re-think it as a frozen drink. To say that it has been very well-received, is an understatement.
How do you balance your time between Coltivare, Revival Market, and Eight Row Flint? Does one place demand more attention than the others?
RP: For me personally, I spend more time at Coltivare than any other. Certainly, Eight Row has been more Morgan’s baby, as Coltivare has been more of mine. I give him space to do what he thinks is best at Eight Row—with input, of course! That system has worked out well so far.
MW: We have an incredible staff that we rely on heavily and could do none of this without. To that end, Ryan and I, as well as our Culinary Director Vincent Huynh, are in all the establishments, every day. We are constantly analyzing and tweaking; figuring out how we can improve things everywhere.
Now that Eight Row Flint has been open for a year, are there any new plans in the works? Like maybe the distillery that's been rumored for awhile?
MW: We do have some plans in the works, but are still fleshing out details. Stay tuned.