After more than a decade of operating modern Southern restaurant Lucille’s in the Museum District, two-time James Beard nominated chef Chris Williams is expanding his footprint in Houston in a big way. Williams’ Lucille’s Hospitality Group, which encompasses the restaurant inspired by the legacy of his great grandmother, Lucille B. Smith, and the Lucille’s 1913 non-profit, has assumed the role of building operator of Houston’s historic El Dorado Ballroom, located at 2310 Elgin Street in Third Ward.
Through its ambitious takeover, the group has revealed three new and reimagined concepts set to debut this spring. The El Dorado Ballroom, returning as the “Eldorado Balloom,” will feature a live concert venue for experienced and emerging musicians, as well as a community-centered space; Rado Cafe & Market, an all-day cafe and market spotlighting culturally-conscious prepared foods, fresh groceries, and a bistro-inspired menu; and the Hogan Brown Gallery, operated by Lucille’s 1913, in an effort to offer self-sustainable opportunities to the community through cultural and culinary arts.
The trio, set to debut in the coming months, is worth noting for being Williams’ first Houston concepts after opening Lucille’s back in 2012. The chef made headlines last year when he ventured across the border to open Emile’s Black Point Bistro in Nova Scotia, but it’s fair to say he’s got his work cut out for him back in the Bayou City.
The involvement in the Eldorado Ballroom from Lucille’s Hospitality Group marks a sort of renaissance for the storied space. The building dates back to 1939 when Anna Johnson Dupree and Clarence Dupree opened the El Dorado Ballroom in Third Ward, in an effort to give Black residents of the neighborhood a place to celebrate and gather without discrimination. In ints heyday, the site played host to an impressive mix of Black talent, including Houston-based musicians, Sam “Lightning” Hopkins and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, along with internationally renowned names like B.B. King, Ray Charles, Etta James, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The El Dorado Ballroom had a successful run well into the ‘70s. After the death of her husband, and witnessing a decline in the neighborhood, Anna sold it to Hubert “Hub” Finkelstein, the founder of Medallion Oil Company and a local philanthropist, who wanted to save it from destruction. Finkelstein went on to donate the building to Project Row Houses in 1999. Under its new ownership, the landmark was fully restored and rehabilitated, courtesy of a $10 million capital campaign from Project Row Houses and its partners.
Along with being a destination for dining and entertainment, Williams’ vision for the new El Dorado Ballroom places a hefty emphasis on honoring its rich past, while serving and empowering a new generation. News and updates of each of the forthcoming concepts are soon to follow.
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to note the El Dorado Ballroom’s new name, titled Eldorado Ballroom, and to note chef Chris Williams as building operator of the project.