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Restaurants / Openings

Big Time New York Chefs Look to Transform Houston’s Grocery Store Coffee Scene

New Cafe in Double-Decker H-E-B is Just the Start

BY // 10.10.18

It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. A new quick-service cafe, The Roastery, is set to open up in the new double-decker Bellaire H-E-B  next Wednesday, October 17th. The Roastery’s prominent New York chefs are perking up supermarkets throughout the city — this is just the first in a wave of openings.

These cups of Joe come from the chef quartet behind Four J Foods, yet somehow none of those J’s even stands for Joe. Instead, we’ve got Jason Giagrande spearheading with the help of Barbuto’s Jonathan Waxman, The Red Cat’s Jimmy Bradley and Joey Campanaro of Little Owl.

They promise an elevated grab-and-go menu with fresh seasonal salads, sandwiches with locally baked bread from Slow Dough, soft-serve gelato and made-to-order donuts, perfect for pairing with a medium roast. And you can expect Texas craft beer and wine by the glass.

For the grocery store/foodie fusion, it’s been seven years of good luck. Four J has been working with H-E-B for almost a decade now, teaming up to grow their line of food products, specialty coffees and new-to-market teas.

Why H-E-B? That’s the first question everyone asks. But Giagrande’s ready for it.

“We just really fell in love with the company,” he tells PaperCity. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked with another retailer more involved in their community. They have just a natural hospitality about them.”

And H-E-B’s Houston home base didn’t hurt. Giagrande’s been traveling back and forth to Texas for the past 15 years, and he’s found there’s truth to the Southern Hospitality rumor.

“There’s something about the people in Texas that really make it feel like home to me. It always has a way of making you feel like an adopted son of sorts,” he says. “Some cities around the country, people need a reason to be nice to you. In Texas, people need a reason not to be nice to you.”

And so he’s entrusted the menu — seven years in the making — in the hands of a Space City native and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, Matt Johnson.

No Ordinary Grab and Go

When it comes to the typical expectations of a grab-and-go spot, The Roastery is going against the grain.

“A lot of times when you have this quick service market people often don’t push the limit, so to speak,” Giagrande says. “We take the same approach that you would if you’re making a restaurant and apply it to the quick service model we have.”

The Four Js and Houston chef Johnson coordinated on their existing restaurants’ greatest hits.

“Jonathan’s really well-known for his chopped kale salad. Joey has a beet salad that he serves at Little Owl. We have those on the menu at The Roastery,” Giagrande says.

Sauces and dressings from Four J foods are incorporated throughout the dishes. Another highlight, courtesy of the new chef Johnson: an autumn quinoa salad with fresh figs and butternut squash.

And the soft-serve gelato isn’t pulling any punches. “We’ve perfected this roségelato — I think it’s going to be a crowd-pleaser,” Giagrande says.

“We’re also taking some creative twists and turns. We have a shaved beef sandwich where we’re actually using an espresso rub on the beef and then roasting it and then carving the beef for the sandwich. It’s not just about incorporating a product, but taking it to the next level.”

The same goes for their coffee program. Master roaster Jennifer Stone is a member of the Cup of Excellence.

“When we first started working with Jen several years ago, we asked her to bring us what she felt are the best of the best of the beans around the world. And then we did countless cuppings to go through all the different beans and tasting the different coffees,” Giagrande says.

The verdict?

Bold beans from Colombia, Indonesia, Honduras, Kenya and Brazil. Four J sources beans from the top one percent of the top 10 percent of all global coffee production. Giagrande’s goal was to treat the coffee like the food menu — only putting dishes or drinks on the menu that really speak to him.

The chef’s choice coffee is a blend of an Indonesian beans and Colombian beans, each roasted in a different fashion and then blending them to create a unique cup. Meanwhile, their espresso is a single origin Brazilian bean with a singular roasting technique.

The Roastery’s second location is coming to the H-E-B on San Felipe, in place of the grocery store’s shuttered Table 57 restaurant. It’s given them enough space to up the ante on their coffee program. The 6,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space will allow for an onsite roasting operation.

“We wanted to be the same way we are with our food products trying to keep it local, being able to roast our coffee locally,” Giagrande says.

It all ties into their signature slogan, a brief coffee-based bit with a little bit of real-world application. Be Bold. Not Bitter. The idea is a lot of people associate strong coffee with bitter coffee. Giagrande is determined to create a strong coffee that’s bold and powerful, but not bitter in the least.

“It’s a little bit of a coffee slogan — and a life suggestion,” he laughs.

It’s that heartfelt, hearty coffee that goes so well with the made-to-order donuts. It may be a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. It clicks.

“A coffee and a donut,” Giagrande says. “The reason for that is — Jonathan says ‘Keep it simple.’ So when we first started developing the coffee shop I wanted to bring the utmost elegance and simplicity by saying, ‘Where did this all start?’ ”

Probably a cart somewhere with a coffee and a donut, he thinks. “So our thought was, ‘How do you make absolutely the best cup of coffee and best donut possible?’ In the realm of keeping it simple and making it great,” Giagrande says.

Home, chic home.

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