Restaurants / Openings

Houston’s Own Hudson House Is Set to Shake Up the River Oaks Scene — And Another New Vandelay Restaurant Won’t Be Far Behind

Popular High-End Dallas Group Jumps Into the Bayou City — Again

BY // 09.12.23

It’s been a painstaking two years in the making. Construction delays — care of a change of ownership at River Oaks Shopping Center and plans for an aesthetic revamp of its façade — left Hudson House simmering on the back burner. But its Dallas parent company Vandelay Hospitality Group (which is responsible for Hudson House, Drake’s Hollywood, Brentwood, Anchor Sushi Bar, D.L. Mack’s and others), reveals that Houston’s own Hudson House will finally swing open its doors, next door to the always buzzy, always packed Brasserie 19 restaurant, in a matter weeks.

This will be the sixth Hudson House overall for Vandelay.

If that cheeky corporate moniker sounds familiar, you must be a Seinfeld fan. Vandelay founders Hunter Pond and Kyle Brooks, former college roommates, watched the sitcom, which featured a Vandelay Industries, religiously for years. Their Texas homegrown group now boasts 10 different restaurants in Dallas, with one outpost in Beverly Hills (Hudson House) and one in West Hollywood (Drake’s Hollywood).

Hudson House is Vandelay’s first full-service restaurant in Houston’s River Oaks area. And it won’t be their last. But more on that later.

The Dallas restaurant group’s initial entry into the Houston market several years ago was the fast-casual East Hampton Sandwich Company, but that didn’t go quite as planned. COVID and takeout services such as Uber Eats and Favor cut deep into their bottom line. Not to mention having a 3,000-square-foot location (one of three Houston East Hamptons at the time) in one of the priciest retail enclaves in the city in River Oaks District. Lessons were learned and changes subsequently made as Vandelay temporarily exited Houston.

Undeterred, Vandelay has turned the proverbial page. Speaking to Vandelay Hospitality CEO Hunter Pond, I ask how Houston’s Hudson House will differ from the Dallas version.

Introducing Pêche

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“For one, we spent more money,” he says. “This is a Northeastern-inspired restaurant with a nautical vibe. I always like to say Ralph Lauren is a huge inspiration for us. This place is like Hillstone meets a Ralph Lauren store.”

That means tastefully decorated with wood-paneled walls, blue-and-white Chinese-style ginger-jar lamps and cozy banquettes in a rich nautical navy blue. The decor is a collaboration between Vandelay’s in-house design team and Dallas-based firm Foxcroft Studio.

Hudson House is billed as an American grill that serves timeless American food. The menu — which is identical at lunch and dinner — has a check average of $35 per person.

“The cheeseburger is what exploded the concept,” Pond says. “We utilize a special bakery for the white-seeded brioche bun. But it’s a combination of the softness of the bun, the meat-to-cheese-to-bread ratio and our Hudson sauce made with a few signature spices that make it great.”

burger and martini at Hudson House. (Photo by Courtesy of Vandelay Hospitality)
“The (Hudson House) cheeseburger is what exploded the concept,” Pond says. “We utilize a special bakery for the white-seeded brioche bun. But it’s a combination of the softness of the bun, the meat-to-cheese-to-bread ratio, and our Hudson sauce made with a few signature spices that make it great.” (Courtesy of Vandelay Hospitality)

There’s also a raw bar with an oyster-shucking station and a menu groaning with salads, sandwiches and entrees such as maple-planked salmon, French chicken, pan-seared red fish and steak frites. A popular happy hour brings Hudson House’s signature chilly martinis — billed (and even trademarked) as “the world’s coldest martini.”

Whether you like yours with gin, vodka, or otherwise,” Pond says. “We sell a lot of martinis. And they are all going to be the world’s coldest. First, we chill the glass, shake them extra-long. . . We even replace your chilled glass with another chilled glass if you’re halfway through your martini.”

Vandelay is only getting started with this new Hudson House, though.

Its Drake’s Hollywood, arguably Vandelay’s most high-profile restaurant, is set to open later this year in the former Montrose home of the original Georgia James steakhouse on Westheimer Road. With a weeks-long waits for a table not uncommon at both the Dallas and Beverly Hills Drake’s Hollywood restaurants, we’re guessing you can expect a similar buzz for Houston’s own. Vandelay purchased the building a year ago and has been retooling the 8,500-square-foot space ever since.

Drake’s Hollywood’s See and Be Seen Allure

Having visited the Dallas Drake’s, I can attest to its very see-and-be-seen nature, where tables clustered close together under the glow of flattering light foster a jovial party atmosphere of table hopping and delicious people watching. In terms of inspiration, Pond admits there is a direct through line from the decor at Drake’s Hollywood to Graydon Carter’s famed celebrity haunts Waverly Inn and Monkey Bar revamp in New York. At Monkey Bar, signature caricature murals adorn the walls (care of artist Edward Sorel).

Drake’s has replicated the caricature theme in size and scale at its three restaurant locations — albeit not by Sorel.

“I wanted more of an LA party vibe in the environment of a timeless New York scene,” Pond says. “The combination of the two inspired our concept.”

hunter pond at hudson house beverly hills
Vandelay Hospitality founder Hunter Pond strikes a pose at Hudson House Beverly Hills. (Courtesy of Vandelay Hospitality)

Drake’s Hollywood is open for dinner only. The food leans heavily on approachable Italian American dishes such as pastas, white fish piccata, veal meatballs, snow-crab scampi and four varieties of pizza. There are a few chilled noshes too, such as hamachi crudo and pressed toro roll, as well as a nod to Asian-inspired king crab Rangoon and truffle-scented fried rice.

Vandelay Hospitality restaurants are not chef-driven by design (James Douglas is the group’s culinary officer).

“We will never try to be something we are not,” Pond says. “Even though the moniker of ‘chain’ might be negative in nature, I take pride in the fact that we’ve built something that is cool and calculable.” What sets the Vandelay restaurants apart, in Pond’s estimation, is service.

“In the Dallas market, we’re pretty well known for our service,” he says. “It’s a very custom situation. A lot of our senior leaders come from Hillstone, but we are a very different organization from Hillstone, although a lot of their training ethos has been carried forward into what we do.

“It’s methodical and unique. It sounds contrived, but that’s how I would describe it.”

Drake’s Hollywood will be opening at 1100 Westheimer Road. Hudson House can be found in the River Oaks Shopping Center at 1964 W. Gray Street.

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