EV in Houston: How oil has affected the BBQ business

Houston news
Houston news

Born and bred Houstonian Richard Cook loves to tell the one about the bullfrog oilman.

“You ever head that one?” the 67-year-old bellows to the back of his packed tour bus.

“These two women were jogging down by the bayou, when one of them stops, because she spots a bullfrog on the ground.

“The bullfrog looks up at her and says, ‘Help! I’m not a frog. I’m actually a really rich Texas oilman and I need your help!’

“’What happened?’ she asked.

“And he told her he was doing this deal with a business partner and he ended up losing that partner a bunch of money.

“The business partner turned out to be a witch in disguise. She turned him into a bullfrog as punishment for losing all her money.

“The bullfrog told the joggers, ‘Now I just need a beautiful Texas woman to kiss me and I can go back to being a rich Texas oilman’.

“The jogger, who stopped, listened carefully before slipping the bullfrog into the pocket of her jacket and jogging on.

“Her friend said, ‘Hey, aren’t you gonna kiss him, so he turns back into a rich Texas oilman?’

“The jogger smiled and said, ‘Oh no, he’s only worth half of what he should be! I’m going to hang onto him for a while’.”

The 67-year-old owner of Texana Tours lets out a few belly laughs before explaining to his latest punters how life was at $100 oil for some.

“When oil was $100 you would see the oilmen walking down the street with biggest smiles on their faces,” he said.

“You could walk right up to them and give them a big whack and you still couldn’t slap the smile off their face.”

The smiles have since started to slide alongside the oil price.

Lower oil has seen the Houston lose thousands of jobs and its commercial property market take a big hit.

But what about its local businesses?

Jackson Street BBQ opened in the wake of the oil plunge.

The firm turned over close to $1.3million its first year in business and is expected to double that figure this year.

Jackson’s BBQ PitMaster, Brandon Allen, said: “The oil drop has affected the whole city. A lot of people lost their jobs, but as far as the restaurant industry goes we haven’t seen a lot of it. Houston has such a strong culinary community. It’s such a huge melting pot of diversity and we didn’t really feel it in the restaurant business.”

Even though Allen’s Dino Bones Fridays – a rib so big it’s been named after Prehistoric origins–always proves a smashing hit, it doesn’t mean he isn’t affected by the oil crunch on the home front.

“My wife lost her job,” the dad-of-three said.

“She was in oil and gas and lost her job two years ago. She was out of work for a year. It made it difficult especially, because I bought a new car two days before.

“She was trying to look into everything in the industry, but everything was so tight because everybody was looking for a job that got laid-off here. She was getting turned down for receptionist jobs, because she didn’t have a Bachelors degree.”

His wife later landed a job managing a local restaurant. Despite the difficulty of steadying his own family’s fortunes, Allen is confident in Houston’s ability to weather a lower oil price.

“Houston is extremely resilient,” he said.

“This city takes a hit but it kind of shrugs it off and keeps going.”

Victoria Dearmond is the pastry chef at Underbelly, a restaurant which opened its doors in March 2012.

“You can feel the fall in oil to an extent, but honestly we’re still okay,” she said.

It’s the pre-Christmas rush where she sees the biggest change.

“Around the holiday season we had a lot more holiday parties and people just aren’t doing that anymore. Companies aren’t going out of their way to do a lot for their employees, because oil is down.”

However, she added: “Yes, we’re affected by oil and, yes, a lot of people worked for oil companies, but we have so much more to offer.

“I feel like we’re holding on and doing pretty good as a whole.”

Bobby Mireles works across town at one of Houston’s micro-breweries.

The University of Houston grad, who studied biology, feels confident about his choice to join 8th Wonder Brewery instead of following his friends into high-paid oil jobs.

“There’s definitely a big oil influence in Houston and what kind of lifestyle you’re living. So when it’s up it’s up, and when it’s down, it’s down, so you have to plan for it. I decided that’s not for me,” he said.

“I like something that’s consistent and beer is definitely a recession proof industry, because when you’re happy you’re drinking and when you’re sad you’re drinking.

“You can easily apply engineering to beer especially structurally. But you get a lot better pay in oil, because they can afford it versus beer. You can get a job as a mechanical engineer in oil and get paid $75,000 a year and if you’re a mechanical engineer in the brewing business that salary is more like $40,000.”

But 8th Wonder is going from strength to strength. A one-day carnival brought in $20,000 for the business and it’s expected to double the amount of barrels it brews to more than 10,000 this year.

Mireles added: “A lot of my friends haven’t been working for about year. And it’s hard to go from making whatever you were making at the time to waiting tables. But you have to put your pride away and do what you have to do.”

Do they ever ask him for jobs?

“All the time. All the time. It’s always, ‘Hey you hiring?’”

Like Mireles, tour guide Cook ends his tour by explaining Houston’s opportunity and potential is so much bigger than the pocketed bullfrog.

“This oil drop is just like all the rest. We’re not really alarmed by it,” he said.

“In my view, as a tour guide, the city is still doing very well. It’s not just an oil town any more.

“It’s got the Texas Medical Center, which is the largest medical center in the world, and from a tour guide point of view, I’m told that half of the international people flying in are going to the medical center. They’re not all going to the oil business like they used to.

“I personally don’t see any slowdown. I know a lot of people, who lost their jobs, because they were contractors and the contractors were laid off first. But if you want a job in Houston you can find a job in Houston. It’s not as bad as people think it is.

“I think Houston is a great city. I’m hearing rumors that we’re getting ready to replace Chicago as the number three biggest city in the country.”

He added: “I don’t see anything slowing down. It’s a dooms day thing that people think oh poor us, but I don’t see anything that says that.

“Oil is certainly important, but it’s not a one-horse town like it used to be.”