There’s much more to Houston than humidity, oil, and heavy traffic.
In fact, the small business scene here is bursting. So we rounded up 18 of the coolest places that have opened in the last few years, from a bakery with a happy hour to a boutique run entirely through Facebook.
Are there any we missed? Let us know in the comments.
What it is: A website that connects patients with doctors and specialists around the country.
Why it's cool: No one wants to to wait for answers when it comes to their health, and with 2nd.MD, you don't have to. The site allows anyone to upload medical information and ask questions, and connects each customer with medical specialists around the country for consultations and second opinions via Skype.
What it is: A craft brewery that celebrates Houston history.
Why it's cool: Located mere blocks from where both the Astros and the Rockets play, 8th Wonder Brewery embodies Houston pride. Named to honour the now-empty Astrodome, the bar is full of Houston memorabilia, including stadium seats from the dome. Even the drinks capitalise on Houston pride with names such as Hopston and Rocket Fuel. 'We're just trying to make the freshest, tastiest beer possible, and have as much fun as possible,' says co-founder Ryan Soroka.
What it is: A toy store stocked with items to enchant kids and adults alike.
Why it's cool: Filled with both the newest toys and vintage finds, this quirky toy store will bring any parent right back to their own childhood. Each piece is carefully curated by owner Vanessa Wodehouse for an eclectic collection that's both fun and kooky. From old-fashioned board games to vintage collectibles to toys from 'Frozen,' it's not just a destination for children.
What it is: A site created by locals to help newcomers and visitors experience Houston.
Why it's cool: Whether you're new to town or a long-time resident looking for something fun, Chasing Houston provides the inside scoop on the best events happening every weekend. Created and curated by locals, the website finds everything from brewery tours to fitness classes to sporting events, and allows users to search by neighbourhood or activity.
What it is: An eclectic boutique for those with trendy tastes.
Why it's cool: After college, Bonnie Reay was poised to attend law school -- but the idea failed to excite her. So at only 23, Reay opened Emerson Rose, a women's clothing boutique in Houston's Heights neighbourhood. The store's funky aesthetic targets women with fun, trendy styles who want unique pieces that their friends don't already own. And with price points ranging from $US30 to $US300, there's something for everyone.
What it is: A restaurant that serves up creative burger and crepe combinations.
Why it's cool: Everything's made from scratch at Guru Burgers & Crepes in Sugar Land, where the unlikely combination delightfully comes together through clever concoctions such as the Ukelele Burger, with Texas pecan smoked ham, grilled pineapple, and fried egg; or the the Shaggy, a crepe with ground salmon, lump crab meat, and Sriracha. The restaurant also focuses on choosing high-quality ingredients, and serves only akaushi beef, which is exceptionally low in cholesterol.
What it is: An addictive, Texas-style BBQ joint with lines out the door.
Why it's cool: You're almost guaranteed to wait in a line that wraps around the building, but Killen's Barbecue is worth it. The restaurant brings the art of Texas 'cue back to Houston with its smoky brisket, falling-off-the-bone ribs, and mouthwatering pulled pork. Even Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt touted the joint as his favourite place to eat in H-town.
What it is: An upscale tiki bar.
Why it's cool: Lei Low, Houston's only tiki bar, manages to master the tropical vibe without feeling like a frat party. The combination of a laid-back environment, cheery Hawaiian shirts, and top-shelf alcohol give it just enough kitsch to set it apart, but still retain an upscale, elegant feel. Stop by for a summery cocktail, or get into the full spirit at one of Lei Low's luau nights.
What it is: An architecture design studio focused on digital fabrication.
Why it's cool: Using digital printing technologies and rapid prototyping tools, such as 3D printers, māk studio is able to quickly turn ideas into custom-built offices and retail spaces. The agency loves experimenting with composition and finding creative design solutions, especially when it comes to wall surfaces and furniture. 'Our clients tend to (be entrepreneurs), and this allows us to test unconventional approaches to design to meet client needs and budget,' says founder José Aguilar.
What it is: Bath salts made just for men.
Why it's cool: While other other bath salts on the market smell too flowery and feminine, Mansalt makes a masculine-smelling bath salt (think Old Spice for your bath). It's perfect for improving skin and repairing sore muscles after a hard workout.
What it is: A website that sells custom-made iPhone cases for a good cause.
Why it's cool: Mrked sells cool, well-crafted iPhone cases online, and sends its proceeds to Room to Read, a non-profit organisation that works to educate girls in developing Asian and African countries. Mrked's products appeal widely to tech-savvy, social justice-minded consumers.
What it is: A bar built just for nerds.
Why it's cool: Filled with everything from Star Wars paraphernalia to sci-fi novels, Neil's Bahr is a haven for nerds of all kinds. Visitors can watch The Simpsons, play MarioKart, or peruse the bar's extensive collection of comic books while enjoying their booze. There are plenty of opportunities to make friends as well: Join in a game of Magic: The Gathering, or participate in a Dungeons & Dragons tournament.
What it is: A company that brings fresh local produce and urban farms to the city.
Why it's cool: The folks at Planted: Houston aim to connect residents to the land and each other. It brings fresh produce into areas of Houston that are removed from grocery stores. The company purchased several plots of land throughout the city, and plans to turn them into a series of urban farms. Planted: Houston also provides produce to renowned local restaurants, such as Uchi and Oxheart, and uses these partnerships as a means to further inform the public of its mission.
What it is: A bakery with a happy hour.
Why it's cool: At Red Dessert Dive, you can order your favourite sweet treat alongside your favourite craft beer. You heard us right: It's a bakery with a happy hour. The options themselves are pretty sweet too: They have got everything from butterscotch s'more blondies to vanilla bean cheesecake. 'Nowhere else in Houston can you sit and have a rich Valhrona salted caramel brownie and pair it with Karbach's Rodeo Clown, a double IPA,' says owner Jessica Lusk. 'It's the best of both worlds!'
What it is: A clothing shop run entirely through social media.
Why it's cool: In an age where women are constantly glued to their phones, Savvy & Grace combines two happy addictions: shopping and Facebook. The stylish boutique operates entirely through social media, so customers must check back regularly to see what's new and available -- which isn't hard when it's part of your newsfeed. But for those who'd rather shop in person, Savvy & Grace also hosts frequent pop-up shops around the city.
What it is: A pastry shop that bakes ultra-creative doughnuts.
Why it's cool: There's always something new to taste at The Grove Donutz and Deli, where creative doughnut flavours range from rocky road cronut to strawberry cheesecake to Fruity Pebble doughnut holes. Not every flavour becomes a hit -- take the shop's discontinued ramen doughnut, for instance -- but that doesn't deter owner Tam Hoang from trying bold ideas.
What it is: A music-focused bar with handcrafted cocktails.
Why it's cool: From the same group that created Houston favourites Anvil, Underbelly, and OKRA Charity Saloon comes The Nightingale Room, a cosy yet eclectic downtown bar. It features the carefully crafted cocktails of its cousins, but The Nightingale Room is decidedly more entertainment-focused, with live music on the weekends and hundreds of vinyl records lining the walls. The owners even hired professionals from indie music store Cactus Music to help curate the sound.
What it is: A food truck that specialises in waffles.
Why it's cool: 'The waffle is our platform and we can put anything on it,' says Phi Nguyen, owner of The Waffle Bus, a waffle-only food truck. And put anything on it he does: Diners choose from an array of both sweet and savoury options at the truck -- everything from a Nutella and banana waffle to one topped with smoked salmon. Catch it in its usual spot near University of Houston's main campus and enjoy waffles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
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