Restaurants / Openings

Your First Look at the Completely Reimagined Houston Farmers Market — World Class Chefs, Pioneering Cowboys and Plenty of Green

A Behind the Scenes Preview Tour of What's Coming to a City Changing Venue


Walking through the new Houston Farmers Market as it’s being built, you’re struck by one simple truth. Houston’s never had anything like this before. One of America’s top chefs (a Jimmy Kimmel favorite) and a real ranching cowboy who shoos bees aside by taking the hat off his head and using it to usher them away are walking besides you on this tour.

This is a big deal for the nation’s fourth largest city — even if some do not quite grasp the full scope of it yet.

“We’ve got to get all of Houston in here,” MLB Capital founding partner Todd Mason says.

With that in mind, this massive redevelopment of a farmers market with roots that stretch back nearly 80 years is going to include a little bit of everything. That means rows and rows of open air produce, six to eight street food vendors (think pitas and hummus, tacos, Thai and Indian options), a coffee shop, a yoga studio, clothing stores, a new full restaurant from Chris Shepherd protege Nick Fine, a casual takeout type place from Shepherd, a showcase butcher shop from R-C Ranch Texas Craft Meats and more.

It is going to be a very different place from the chaotic farmers market that held court at this 2520 Airline Drive location since the 1940s. For one thing, it will have full modern bathrooms. The type that people are not hesitant to use. Which anyone who’s ever been to the Houston Farmers Market can tell you is no small thing.

“It was like, ‘Oh, you need to go to the bathroom?’ ” Shepherd says of how things used to be. ” ‘OK, we’re leaving.’ ”

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Now, the newly reimagined Houston Farmers Market will be the type of place that promotes lingering — with a large green lawn space, cocktails for sale and outdoor seating.

“The goal is to keep this thing engaged and going all day long,” Mason says, over the sound of drilling from the market’s rebuild.

Mason and his MLB Capital partners Jeff Lindenberger and Fred Baca are spearheading this dramatic metamorphosis. The idea centers around showcasing the best of Houston — and bringing the best here.

“We’re not looking for any national chains,” Mason says. “We’re looking for chef driven, high quality. Hopefully, there’s some beer and pizza, but it’s got to the best pizza in the country.”

Nick Fine’s Houston Restaurant

With that push for excellence in mind, Nick Fine is getting his own restaurant for the first time at the new Houston Farmers Market. Fine’s restaurant will be an unstuffy place with an emphasis on local ingredients, R-C Ranch meats and more.

“We’re going to focus on the heritage of this market,” Shepherd says. “Using Ryan’s stuff as well.”

That is Ryan Cade, the cowboy rancher (and bee wrangler), on this exclusive tour of the transforming market. Ryan heads the family behind R-C Ranch Texas Craft Meats and Shepherd, charming food nerd that he is, already admits to lusting after Cade’s pigs.

“The pigs he has right now are some of the best pigs I’ve ever seen,” Shepherd says.

If you know anything about Shepherd, you know that’s a high compliment indeed.

Houston Farmers Market
The reimagined Houston Farmers Market will have a new entrance — and a real sense of arrival.

Mason is also talking to the chef/owners behind a West African restaurant and an Indian restaurant, too. A Korean restaurant could also be in play. The best of Houston, oft-recognized as the most diverse city in America, means the best of the world in many ways.

Many of the mom-and-pop vendors who’ve called Houston Farmers Market home for decades still will be part of the reimagined market. There just will be a bunch more restaurants, shops and outlets around them. The beloved Canino Produce did close last year when its seventysomething owners elected to retire.

This 17 and 1/2 acre, 230,000 square feet of retail space, site offers plenty of room for growth. And maybe, a guy playing a guitar on the lawn.

MLB Partners decided against building a full stage, but there will be times when musicians play and times when chefs give cooking demonstrations. It is all about turning Houston Farmers Market into the type of destination market that other world class cities have long had.

“The idea is when Houston First brings in a conference from out of town, they wouldn’t dare not bring them here,” Mason says.

The Cowboy Butcher

Part of building that type of must-visit attraction buzz depends on keeping things authentic. R-C Ranch Texas Craft Meats will be a vital part of that. Houston Farmers Market’s new showcase butchers shop will occupy a prominent spot in the market with huge glass windows that allow passers-by to look in at all the slabs of meat and sausage.

It does not get any more farm to table than this. With more and more people concerned about where their food comes from, Cade — who lives at the ranch and wears a cowboy hat every day — knows that educating is part of his role.

“My wife is originally from California and when she talked about it, I thought it was a bunch of nonsense,” Cade says of his first reaction to the push to know the origins of your food. “But then I started paying attention to it. And as time progressed, I realized she was right.”

Cade’s working ranch is located in Bailey’s Prairie, just south of Pearland. “My cowboys are my kids,” Cade tells PaperCity. “That’s who we are.”

Now, he is part of one of the most ambitious projects to hit the Houston food and farming scene in a long time. If things go as planned, this reimagined Houston Farmers Market could help change some people’s perception of the nation’s fourth largest city. Houston’s never had a Pike Place, a Reading Terminal Market, a Borough Market. Or anything even remotely close to it.

Plans call for the initial first phase build of the new Houston Farmers Market to be finished by the end of the year. Then, the market’s new tenants will start their builds. The first restaurants and street food vendors could open by April or May, but the ultimate goal is to have everything open by the end of 2021.

Changing the city takes a little time.

“It’s quite a thrill,” Mason says of seeing it all come together. “I’ve been walking this market since 1975.

“. . . It’s been a long term path. Seeing it here now is a huge thrill.”

With a pioneering cowboy and a world class chef too. Pretty much everything but a candlestick maker. But give Mason time. That could be coming too.

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