Monday, June 14, 2010

When my favorite places go out of business

Failures and closures are a part of business life, but I nevertheless hate it when restaurants I like suddenly go out of business.

Case in point: the other day I had a hankering for Mexican-style pollo asado. So I drove over to Wayside and Polk, only to only to find that the relatively-new Pollo Feliz had gone out of business. The posters on the windows were raggedly, sun-bleached Halloween advertisements, so I guess the franchise have called it quits somewhere around late October or early November of last year.

I'm not sure why Pollo Feliz couldn't make a go of it at that location, but for whatever reason business didn't seem to be good; whenever I went there I found the restaurant to be practically empty. (In that regard, since I hadn't been there myself since last fall, maybe I was part of the problem?) Anyway, I'm a bit disappointed - their food was good - but not too surprised that Pollo Feliz is no longer with us. I'll just have to go elsewhere for my pollo asado fix.

I was, on the other hand, utterly surprised and horribly saddened a couple of months ago, when I drove to my favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop in "old" Chinatown (behind the George R. Brown Convention Center) - a place that I had enjoyed and faithfully patronized for at least fifteen years - and discovered that they were gone. As in, completely disappeared. No kitchen, no counter, no tables, no chairs. Even the big menu on the wall had been painted over. Banh Mi Hoang Son had vanished without a trace. My reaction, naturally:

The same Hoang Son that I had faithfully eaten at since I was an undergraduate at the University of Houston. The same Hoang Son that won a Houston Press "Best of Houston" award for "Best Cheap Sandwich" in 2007. Those awesome sandwiches, those fresh spring rolls, that wonderful char-broiled pork with vermicelli and fresh vegetables... All gone.

The folks in the adjacent Kim Hung grocery store couldn't really tell me what happened. Apparently, the owners just "upped and left" one day. It had to have been sudden and without notice because I had eaten there just a few weeks before. I can only hope that a financial catastrophe hasn't befallen the nice family that ran the sandwich shop, and I regret that I could not at the very least say goodbye to them and thank them for all those years of wonderful food.

Sure, there are other places to get cheap Vietnamese food around town. But it won't taste the same. There's something about the way they prepared the sandwiches and the vermicelli dishes at Hoang Son that gave them a unique flavor. I'm really going to miss it.

I know that change is a part of life and that I can't expect anything, even restaurants, to be around forever. Especially in this economy. But when your favorite places disappear, it's more than a mere inconvenience. It's a small part of your life, your routine, your experience of the city, that is lost. And it's saddening.

Tangentially, I note one that one Houston institution that a couple of years ago was supposed to go out of business (or at least change its name) has re-emerged. That's great, but I eat way more often than I buy furniture.

No comments: