Railway Heights Market – Houston’s most innovative marketplace – is opening in 2020.
Anh Mai and Lian Nguyen founded Company of Nomads, a restaurant and entertainment group with a track record of bringing new concepts to life. With Prohibition Supper Club and Terrible Enfants Theatre Co., the group launched an alternative theater and dinner experience that earned national acclaim. In 2016, Houston’s first food hall was brought to life with Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall. Then, continuing to stay ahead of the curve, the group has plans to launch Bravery Chef Hall in May 2019, a cluster of chef-driven concepts that brings an elevated dining experience to the booming food hall market.
With Railway Heights Market, the team is aiming to create a true landmark for the city of Houston.
Railway Heights Market is a community within itself, comprised of a large market with local vendors, an outdoor beer garden, dog park and family park. Integrated into a new mixed-use development that includes a complex of micro-apartments, a creative office space and a dedicated 600-car garage, Railway Heights Market will bring a complete food, drink and play concept to the area.
The core concept of Railway Heights Market is to create a place that supports local artisans, farmers and restaurateurs – and gives them a platform to develop exciting and cutting-edge food trends. The curated selection of vendors allows for a collaborative spirit in the market and a wholly unique experience for the customer at each juncture.
In the 27,000-square-foot two-story market, the first floor will be anchored by artisan stalls, a coffee roastery and grocers. Here you’ll find some of the highest quality fruit and vegetables in Houston alongside a selection of so-called “ugly” produce (items deemed “unfit” for sale because of their appearance) in the fight against America’s food waste problem. Nine artisan produce stalls showcasing the best of Texas will also be located on the first floor of the market. Independent butchers, cheesemongers, bakers and more will bring farm-to-market food options to an underdeveloped part of the city.
The second floor will feature 20 eateries with cuisines spanning the globe, divided between typical food hall counters and eight short-term lease “hawker stalls”, which will spotlight a constantly rotating assortment of casual, street food style chefs. Interspersed among the upstairs food options will be another 20 retail shops. They’ll represent a diverse collection of local independent sellers and some of Houston’s brightest entrepreneurs, offering an eclectic array of everything from handmade jewelry to vintage clothing, artwork, music, creative gifts and more.
Also upstairs, a central glass atrium will be the setting for an impressive wine bar with an extensive selection. A cutting-edge salad bar filled with produce grown hydroponically onsite in recycled freight containers will provide a healthier complement to the other prepared food options. Additionally, a cafeteria-style eatery called Watever Fresh will cater specifically to those with vegetarian, vegan, paleo, or keto diets. Watever Fresh will also be piloting a new healthy school lunch program using the kitchens from Railway Heights Market.
The building itself will be modeled on a grand European railway station and designed by award-winning local firm, Method Architecture. Surrounding the market building, the atmospheric heart of the complex, are outdoor areas for socializing. A 10,000-square-foot beer garden is accessible through the main entrance or a cantilevering glass wall from inside, supplying 100 different beers on tap — the best assortment of brewers for miles around, served from a bar made from freight containers. One end of the beer garden will host a stage for small musical acts. At the other end of the lawn will be a 5,000-square-foot dog park with its own separate bar with pre-mixed juice pouch cocktails for visitors to enjoy alongside their furry friends.
The backside of the dog park bar will connect to a 22,000-square-foot family park, offering homemade juice pouches (sans alcohol) and general refreshments. The family park will also serve as a versatile venue for events and community gatherings. Most remarkable of all the outdoor attractions has to be the railway tracks which sweep past the property and give it an unrivaled view of the stunning machines as they steam into the city.
In crafting and building some of Houston’s most noteworthy establishments (Prohibition Supper Club, Conservatory, Bravery Chef Hall), Anh Mai and Lian Nguyen began to form a vision that built upon the most successful parts of their business and take their model up a notch. Visits to various cultural and city-defining markets around the globe spurred their imaginations around a concept that could become a local landmark, representing Houston at its core. Railway Heights Market will be made up of over 50 vendors. Despite the sizable increase in scale, Mai and Nguyen remain committed to ensuring the entire development has a community-oriented, approachable, grassroots feel. Each of the vendors will vary in concept and experience level but are united by the Houston hustle that each possesses. Railway Heights Market aims to support its vendor partners to grow creatively.
Mediterranean Dishes from AL Quick Stop
Emphasis is given to younger, smaller, and independent businesses in need of a supportive platform to take off — a model that has worked well for Mai and Nguyen in their previous projects. The market will become a quasi-incubator as it provides resources, backing, and assistance to the fledgling businesses under its roof in the form of marketing, human resources, and software support. With careful curation of the various spaces, no two businesses will directly compete, allowing them each to individually flourish.
Tenants of Railway Heights Market will pay a reasonable base rent plus 6% of sales and is inclusive of almost all occupancy expenses including utilities, cleaning of the shared premises and spaces, repairs, internet, etc.
THE FIRST FLOOR
Ten Market Stalls:
The first floor will feature the market’s artisan heart. Closest to the glass atrium will be ten market stall-style concepts including bakers, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemongers and more. Customers can interact directly with sellers to learn more about their wares. These market stalls will have cheaper rents than anywhere else in the complex to assist new and less-experienced vendors. This prioritization of growth and innovation over conservative business practices is represented throughout Railway Heights Market. The tenants of the market stalls will pay base rent plus a percentage of sales generated.
The ground floor will only contain artisan concepts, so these vendors will not have to compete with full-service restaurants, making visitors much more likely to purchase smaller artisan items to enjoy in the communal outdoor spaces.
On the weekends, Railway Heights Market will host a local farmers market that starts at the entrance of the promenade and leads into the first-floor grocery store. For small businesses, this lends them the opportunity to gain exposure to visitor traffic that is entering Railway Heights Market, while giving them a chance at having a permanent location. In addition, any leftover produce can be purchased by Railway Heights Market for its ugly produce section for resale at the market during the week. Finally, in this more sustainable ecosystem, any produce not sold in the ugly produce section will be sold to Watever Fresh and other food stalls at the market.
General Store Concept:
In addition to the 10 market stalls, there will be a catch-all general store section that will sell convenience items such as toothpaste, shampoo, and the like. The grocery at Railway Heights Market will also feature a selection of ugly produce and a zero-waste bulk goods section, both of which will be easy ways for shoppers to reduce the environmental impact of their purchases. It is a mutually beneficial relationship with market-stall produce vendors: any produce that is not sold will be purchased and distributed by the grocery store. Identifying an operator who has experience with perishable inventory and managing large teams will be a critical component of the ground floor.
Coffee Shop & Roastery:
A coffee shop and roastery will roast coffee beans daily and serve the best coffee from all over the world.
THE SECOND FLOOR
Twenty Food Concepts:
Upstairs, visitors will find a food hall containing 20 diverse eatery options. Each will occupy its own small modular footprint within the space, signing a renewable one-year lease with a low base rent commitment plus a percentage of sales. If a vendor is looking to grow into a bigger space, the flexible layout within Railway allows for adjacent spaces to be merged into one. Joining the food stalls is a commissary kitchen for their use, as well as eight additional smaller, fully-built “hawker stalls.” The hawker stalls will feature pop-up chefs and brand-new food concepts, with the furnished stalls available for lease in three-month increments to keep the market constantly refreshed. Hawker stalls will not be charged rent, but will instead pay a higher percentage of net sales. Hawkers can renew their lease upon exceeding a certain sales threshold. These Hawker stalls will allow fresh concepts focused on what they are good at to incubate their ideas into a more permanent lease and new business venture with nearly no risk in startup or operational costs.
Identifying and curating complementary concepts will be part of the magic of the space, calling on the team’s experience with Conservatory Food Hall. Full meals, specialty dishes, ethnic and local fare, desserts and beverages of all types will rotate through. No matter how many times guests visit, there will always be something new to check out.
Food vendors have shown a high level of interest in Railway since the project was announced in July 2018. The team is carefully interviewing candidates and anticipates it will have built up a waitlist nearly six months in advance. The constant maintenance of that list will allow for a consistently high occupancy rate.
Twenty Retail Concepts:
The second floor will house the market’s retail concepts, also structured as tenants paying base rent plus a percentage of sales. Twenty independent sellers of goods such as vintage clothing, handmade gifts, jewelry, crafts, and more will be interspersed among the food options, creating a vibrant atmosphere with many attractions. Retail vendors will have more flexible lease terms of 3, 6, and 12 months. Railway Heights Market is curating small artisans, craftsmen, and artists who aren’t necessarily looking to have a retail space, but who need to do retailing activities, such as setting up a booth at their local farmer’s market to get the word out about their business.
Central to the upstairs action will be the wine bar, located under a magnificent glass atrium and featuring an affordable and approachable wine list. Here, bottles of wine can be purchased under an off-premises license for consumption at home or in one of the market’s outdoor spaces. The Railway Heights Market team has focused primarily on using a wine-on-tap system where wine is housed in stainless steel kegs to reduce spoilage from oxidation, while also meeting customer demands by serving smaller tasting pours. This gives customers access to a greater sampling of wine while reducing inventory spoilage costs for Railway Heights Market.
One of the more innovative components of Railway Heights Market is the hydroponic salad bar, Let Us. Salad boxes can be purchased from a vending machine (cutting down on labor costs) and then filled from the plentiful healthy options on offer, including greens grown onsite in hydroponic freight container farms. Growing the lettuce on-site will ensure a fresh and readily available product for consumers while keeping costs lower than if purchased from an outside supplier. The Railway Heights Market team will use this first shipping container as a pilot in hydroponic growing and plans to expand this program to include more growers and containers in the future.
Farm-based Fresh and Takeout Meals:
For those truly dedicated to a healthy eating lifestyle, Railway Heights Market will offer a healthy meals concept called Watever Fresh. This spot provides a variety of cafeteria-style prepared healthy foods made from the freshest produce from local farmers that's friendly to vegetarian, vegan, paleo and keto diets. Produce will be delivered daily and “whatever’s delivered” will be made into that day’s menu. Much of the leftover produce from the Ugly Produce section will be sold to this concept. Watever Fresh will be open during lunch and dinner hours when locals in the neighboring area are looking for a quick and healthy alternative to complement a busy lifestyle.
In the 13,000-square-foot beer garden, there will be over 100 local, domestic, and imported beers and beer-centric cocktails — like shandy — that can be found on tap. One notable facet of the garden will be the view of the market through the building’s glass wall. Visitors in the beer garden can observe the hustle and bustle taking place within the market and those visiting the market can bring food into the beer garden to be enjoyed amongst a varying selection of beer. Containers will be used in the beer garden to complement the surrounding area's industrial feel, while also reducing material costs. Rental payments from this establishment will be part of the revenue stream for the Issuer.
The dog park will be located at the end of the beer garden to make use of an underutilized space. Within it will be a dog park bar called SitBar, managed by a soon-to-be-announced operator who will oversee park maintenance and day to day operations of the bar. There will be a membership component to the dog park, which will ensure that the space is not overutilized and will be made available to visitors. The team pursued this concept due to the rise of dog parks in metropolitan cities and with the area once being home to the former location of Boneyard Drinkery , a previous dog park and bar that shut down after the property was sold - this was a concept they wanted to re-incorporate into the space. The next nearest dog park and bar is in Austin, Texas. Sit Bar will offer a limited selection of hard liquor, alcoholic cocktail pouches, and non-alcoholic juice pouches for kids while enjoying the outdoors. Rental payments from this establishment will be part of the revenue stream for the Issuer.
The family park will be a 22,000-square-foot amenity meant for visitors of all ages. The Railway Heights Market team has partnered with the property’s developer to coordinate and plan the outdoor space. If a visitor wants a change of scenery and wants to enjoy their lunch or dinner outside, there will be enough green space to have a picnic or relax in the park’s many shaded areas. The team will manage the planning of events and programming at the park, attracting more people to visit Railway Heights Market.
OTHER FACETS OF THE DEVELOPMENT EXTERNAL TO THIS INVESTMENT
Non-affiliated Parking Garage:
Separate from the Railway Heights Market project but within the same complex, the developer will be building a parking structure in the near future. The future site of the micro-apartments will be used for parking in the meantime. Considerable thought has been given to the design of the parking complex, as visitors are encouraged to flow from the onsite 600-car-garage down a path to the nexus of the action before entering any one of the specific areas of the market. Doing so increases the visibility of every part of the market and encourages visitors not to miss a single bit.
In a future stage of development, separate from the Railway Heights Market project but within the same complex, the developer will also be building 500 micro-apartments. Tenants of these apartments are expected to be a consistent and constant customer base for all the concepts in Railway Heights.
Non-affiliated Creative Office Space:
The remaining space in the first floor of the Railway Heights Market building will be creative office space that is also separate from the Railway Heights Market project.
Railway Heights Market is intended to be a destination at any time of day, 7 days a week. The team has carefully thought through the many ways they can increase a visitor’s use of the space to increase traffic. First and foremost, the team intends to meet the needs of the neighboring community by providing access to quality products and food at any time. The on-site grocery store will offer home essentials and be open in the early morning to the evenings, the main market will be open during lunch and dinner and the bar will open mid-day and continue to stay open later into the evening. The team also plans to hold special events in the outdoor spaces on the weekends with a bustling farmers market to accompany it, leading to an increase in the organic traffic brought to the location. Railway Heights Market is also centrally located in Houston, within a 10-minute drive of Memorial, The Heights, Washington and Rice Military. Residents of these popular neighborhoods can easily visit Railway Heights Market, and will be part of the targeted community activation.
Outside of activating the neighboring communities, the hand-selected vendors and people that participate in the market is another strategy the team believes will generate more traffic. The products that are being sold will be locally sourced and of the highest quality, and the team believes that their diverse selection of passionate small business owners in conjunction with employing people within the city will be another benefit in bringing in the greater Houston community.
Railway Heights Market aims to be a landmark within Texas by building up talented small business owners that are passionate about their business and the products they offer. The use of word of mouth marketing, combined with the team’s plan to work closely with PR agencies and city officials will be another way they cultivate a local and eventual state-wide presence.
Surely the most immediately notable part of the market’s location is its dramatic setting right alongside the working railways. Trains trundle by about every half hour, making a visit to the outdoor beer garden and dog park truly unlike anything else in the city.
Despite its industrial setting and appealing price tag, the market is still inside the Interstate 610 loop, one of the few affordable plots left for development inside what’s regionally recognized as central Houston. Its home on Washington Avenue is a mere 10-minute drive from the densest part of the city, as well as minutes from Interstate 10 and Memorial Park, one of the largest urban expanses of greenery and leisure space in the country.
Over 1000 new luxury housing developments including David Weekly Homes at Reserve at Washington, Hine’s Somerset Green, and Intown Homes at Cottage Grove Lakes and Timbergrove Heights.
In close proximity are affluent communities of single family homes like Cottage Grove, Timbergrove, Lazybrook, Heights and Rice Military — as well as 500 soon-to-be-developed micro-apartment units on-site — which will not only make Railway Heights Market easily accessible for large numbers of its target audience, but also give the residents of these neighborhoods an exceptional and innovative entertainment option filled with exciting new local brands and companies open to them all day long, seven days a week.
Additionally, positioning itself in what’s considered an under-developed part of the city will make it that much easier for the market to become an outstanding attraction for the area, and help in the future development of its surroundings as a pioneering business.