by ellie sharp
As construction is kicking off with Century Square – the new 55-acre multi-use development of shopping, dining, lodging and entertainment in College Station – locals eagerly await the opening of one specific new business: PORTERS. The forthcoming restaurant will lend a sleek yet approachable dining experience to the region unlike anything else currently available. And, in a nod towards the region’s railroad heritage, the name comes from both the helpful gatekeepers of the railcar and also a well-recognized leader in the community, Porter Garner. The long-time president and CEO of the Association of Former Students at Texas A&M University also happens to be close friends with the owners.
Located just steps away from a multitude of attractions, PORTERS will cater to an underserved community ready for a taste of upscale dining without the drive to larger towns like Houston or Austin. The overall development comes from Midway, the firm responsible for similar concepts like CITYCENTRE in Houston. Brad Freels, chairman of Midway, and Charles “Chuck” Criswell, partner and General Manager for PORTERS, are part of an experienced team bringing a unique combination of knowledge, compassion and energy to the design and subsequent experience at the restaurant. Both leaders contribute decades of experience in their respective fields and understand the importance of community engagement for business success.
In this way, they chose to collaborate with NextSeed to fund PORTERS and offer the region a tangible connection to support growth in ways beyond simply going out to eat. Visit https://www.nextseed.com/offerings/porters/ for more information on how to get involved.
We sat down with Freels and Criswell to learn more about how they connected and the kind of impact they hope PORTERS will create on the community for generations to come.
How did PORTERS come into play, and how does it fit within Century Square?
When we’re developing places and when we have these canvases that we’re painting on, we can be very specific with what businesses we use to fill the canvas and create the feel that we’re trying to accomplish. In Century Square, there was one spot that was perfect for a higher end restaurant that was still approachable and that would resonate with that community. You can go out and try to curate the right tenant for it or you can do it yourself. We took it upon ourselves to put together a group who could do this correctly. I think the residents and visitors of Bryan-College Station and Brazos County in general are going to really embrace PORTERS. Some good restaurants certainly exist, but I think they are ready for a dining destination of this caliber.
What made you believe this project and this team could be successful?
What always impressed me about Chuck was that he understands the hospitality side of the business. We first met when Chuck opened Eddie V’s in CITYCENTRE, and when you went to his restaurant, he knew people by name and you could tell he took it seriously at a very high level. On the chef side with Bill, it was just the same thing – the quality of the food product was just fantastic. When we had the opportunity to do PORTERS in College Station, we knew we wouldn’t be taking on this opportunity without him and Bill. We wouldn’t have the confidence that it could be pulled off to the level that we wanted it to be pulled off.
I would say from the concept and design part, Midway has been incredible, and I’m fortunate that they bring extensive experience to us – they’ve seen a lot. They’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work across the country. When you have good operators and good people, it just brings better people to the table. I think we can execute service very well, and if we can add that hospitality element, it’s just going to make a big difference in the community. I think it will be much appreciated if we come in with a high level of execution and raise the bar, which I think will make everybody in the region better.
What is going to make PORTERS special for College Station?
People get tired of having to drive to Cypress or Houston for an upscale experience and they’d like to get it in their own community. I think that this restaurant will cater to the town’s ability in regard to extending who comes to town, why, and for how long.
We always talk about our purpose at Midway, “Create enduring investments in remarkable places that enrich people’s lives.” For me, this project falls under enriching people’s lives. Brazos Valley is a huge region, and when thinking about PORTERS, I think about a couple who lives out in Hearne or Somerville and are celebrating their 35th anniversary. They come over for a special night, and our team is going to deliver to make it even more special. That couple will go back and talk about it, and it will become a great memory for them. I have very little doubt that PORTERS will get known as being the regional place to go for special events and occasions. Because that’s what we care about – doing something that means more.
That purposeful and personal approach to decisions is carried through on the products as well. We made a big commitment on cooking with real wood and live fire cooking, which you don’t see often, even in Houston. It’s a level of training that we have to deliver on but the end product is so much more remarkable, and I think that level of care will become a signature of PORTERS. It fits the Texas style cooking, the product, the execution, and it will be something that will be classy. I think people will really enjoy it.
And for this to work, it has to engage the whole community. We don’t have a single A&M moniker at Century Square, and it’s not because we’re opposed to it. There’s just no need for it. College Station has grown beyond just the university. There’s so much more to the region. The restaurant itself should feel like you’re in Midtown in New York or Chicago or Houston. It will feel very urban, very approachable and authentic.
A lot of times, when people think about great steaks or great seafood, they think about the less inviting places. But this isn’t an old, stodgy restaurant that feels club-ish. This is an extremely approachable, young, energetic place. The music will be a little more alive and it’s a little bit edgy. You can have a really fun restaurant and really great food. I can go in with jeans on in the evening and sit next to a guy in a suit or go in on Saturday and sit on the porch with a golf shirt and shorts on and feel comfortable. You’re never going to feel like you’re underdressed or overdressed for this place.
Why did you choose to fund PORTERS using crowdfunding and specifically by using NextSeed?
What I really love about NextSeed and PORTERS is that I wanted the social side of it. I wanted 500 people to say “I have a piece of that restaurant” and take pride in it because it’s their restaurant; it’s the community’s restaurant.
There are so many people I know – my friends and my family, the chef’s friends and family – who couldn’t get involved in the equity side. NextSeed was perfect for giving our people a vehicle to back us and get excited about what we’re doing and feel like they are participating and supporting us. Just the thought that we can bring the community together and bring people together and everybody can get excited about it. They can say, “Hey we’re truly a part of this restaurant, we believe in Chuck and we believe in Midway, and it’s a great partnership.”
You signed a 75-year lease for the property. Why is it important for you and the executive team to make a generational investment in A&M through this project?
A lot of us went to A&M, and we take a lot of pride in the school. And this is just right for College Station. It’s a holistic approach to how to make the whole region better. My humble opinion is that College Station has had marginal development over the years because what was there worked. I think development in the community is going to get better because people will demand it once they have something to compare current development to.
How did you get into your careers of hospitality and development?
My mother was the dining editor for the Houston Chronicle and all my life I’ve been in the restaurant business. I’m still amazed how I can spend a career in a business and it still be challenging everyday. When you’re trying to perform at a level that you want to enjoy as a career, there’s always a challenge out there. I’ve always been entertained by the level of products and what’s been going on in the restaurant business.
I just liked development. I grew up enjoying building things, working on things and creating things and it brought me into this development world. I just always enjoy creating and visualizing things.
Any advice for others who are looking to get into your space?
At the end of the day, just don’t compromise. If you want to do something right, don’t settle. Don’t compromise because there are a million times you can compromise in life and you can settle for something that’s just “good enough.” But I think the best things in life come when you keep pushing on them and make them happen.