Multiple local chefs and restaurants say they were left blindsided after the landlord of Railway Heights Market, the Houston food hall now also known as Junction HTX, evicted them through text message on Friday, December 1, with no previous warning.
The food hall’s remaining vendors upstairs — including the Funnel Cake House, Meat + Cheese Project, Mykuna, and Meshiko — were all asked to vacate the premises, and codes to the food hall doors were soon after changed, preventing restaurant owners from moving out their property on their own, multiple restaurant owners say.
The Houston Chronicle reported that the food hall, which opened in August 2021, was initially led by Company of Nomads co-founder Anh Mai and COO Shephard Ross, who were also behind Downtown’s Bravery Chef Hall and the original Conservatory. Since 2022, though, Railway has been reportedly helmed by Easy Park, with Beth Fahey as the landlord, according to multiple tenants and past reports.
Eater Houston reached out to Junction HTX and Beth Fahey, Railway’s landlord and employee of My Park Easy, which owns the property at 8200 Washington Avenue, but did not receive an immediate response.
Junction Beer Garden, however, noted that it was still a downstairs tenant of the food hall but did not have any involvement in the leases. It will continue to operate as a beer garden and “will be looking to add a new food provider in light of the closures of the upstairs food vendors,” the owners wrote.
Pleshette Drummond, the owner of the Funnel Cake House, was unable to talk to Eater Houston on Monday, December 4, explaining that she and other vendors were scrambling to get their personal items and equipment out of the food hall since they were locked out. She told the Houston Chronicle over the weekend that she was “frustrated about how everything transpired” and that she had no warning that she and other vendors would be evicted.
Sunny Vohra, the chef and owner behind the burger joint Meat + Cheese Project, agreed, noting that though the food hall has experienced considerable instability, particularly in the last few months, restaurant owners were given no signs and no notice that Railway as they knew it would be shuttering. But Vohra, who has been a tenant with Railway since its opening, says he had a gut feeling that they were going to get kicked out.
The food hall has undergone multiple transitions, changing its name from Railway Heights Food Hall to Railway Heights Market, to most recently, the less commonly used name Junction HTX. Vohara, who originally ran his co-founded business Peaky Grinders at the Railway, says landlords were trying to work with restaurant owners to establish a successful food hall, allowing chefs and restaurant owners to initially operate ghost kitchens to help supply the hall’s bar with food to help get the food hall on track.
But things at the food hall quickly started going downhill, with many tenants chalking it up to incompetent management and an unskilled marketing company, which ultimately led to the food hall’s demise, plus a hostile environment and other issues like poor signage and high fees for parking.
One of Railway’s initial tenants David Guerrero — owner of the Latin-Asian restaurant Mykuna — says Fahey and Easy Park company encouraged tenants that the new bar, Junction HTX Beer Garden, would bring more business and convinced some to stay even though paying rent was becoming nearly impossible. The company also hired consultants in hopes of building business, but Vohra and Guerrero says not much got better. During the rebranding process, the company stopped promoting the food hall, including on social media, which affected some businesses drastically, and at times, it was difficult for residents to know when or whether the Railway was open, which resulted in some backlash from the community, Vohra says. With little traction to the food hall, businesses were suffering, and many could not pay rent. Fahey allegedly became fed up, tenants say.
Vohra says he ended up getting a part-time job while searching for someone to hire to help his business at the food hall go more smoothly. Meanwhile, various retail vendors were kicked out as of three weeks ago, and the landlords reportedly shut down the food hall’s upstairs bar in hopes that there would be more traffic and business to Junction Beer Garden.
When Vohra finally texted the landlord about his new staff member on Friday, December 1, Vohra says Fahey sent a text back to restaurant owners, apologizing and stating that the food hall was going in a new direction. Fahey noted that Railway would hire their own chef. All the restaurant owners felt left in the dark, Vohra says. By Monday, the codes to the hall’s locks were changed, and many scrambled to get their belongings out, fearing Fahey would seize their equipment and personal belongings.
“I’ve been through here thick and thin, trying to support this place. .. . how could you not give us a response? I’m not trying to trash-talk them. They have to run their own business, but I took the risk of opening a business, too,” Vohara says.
Vohra said most tenants previously had an amicable relationship with the landlords, who even hosted communal dinners, so most of them were expecting a conversation or meeting. “Unfortunately, a text can’t be a bigger slap in the face,” he says.
Vohra says he confronted the landlord via text message, questioning what he was going to do with all of his food and the new staff member. After getting no response, he and his wife decided to host an “eviction party” over the weekend in hopes of selling the remainder of his food and some of his equipment. “I don’t have a backup plan,” says Vohra, noting that he won’t be able to take much of his equipment home. The Saturday eviction party was successful, but Sunday spiraled out of control with immense support from the community. Nearly all tables at Meat & Cheese Project were filled and lines became so backed up, that it took nearly 40 minutes to order a burger, he says.
Guerrero, too, says he’s tried to reach out to the landlord Fahey but she told him she had hearing issues and would not speak with him. He says some the of the writing was on the wall. “We were brought to this point. She should have told us two to three months ago,” she said.
“To kick out everyone out, and to do this to the employees right before Christmas, it’s just left everyone without a job,” Guerra says. In some ways, Guerrero says he’s relieved that they “finally unplugged the cord,” since he and Vohra have been tennants since it opened. “I feel relief. I will not lose money here anymore,” says Guerrero, who went from earning up to $62,000 a month during his best months to $3,000 a month during most recently months.
Tenants, many which hadn’t established any backup plans, are now working on their next moves. Vohra says he plans to host a pop-up soon, and Guerrero says he’ll pour his effort into Andes Cafe, a South American restaurant that he’s owned for a decade and now has an outpost in Post Houston’s food market Downtown, and will work on redeveloping a ceviche bar that’s accesible.
Meanwhile, Vohra says “I think everyone should know the truth,” calling the situation bittersweet. Though he’s happy to finally be done with Railway, “I’m not leaving by my own free will. I would have been happy to … if someone gave me the opportunity.”