This is the first post of the “Small Business Roundup” This series focuses on the coolest small business around the country. “Small Business Roundup” is sponsored by UPS. Read more posts in the series »
Besides being known for oil, heat waves, and George W. Bush, Texas is now known as something else: a great place to start a small business. Houston in particular is a hub for cool small businesses in the Lone Star State.
From a futuristic Japanese-themed shop to a custom cowboy boot-maker, we’ve rounded up the 24 coolest small businesses in Houston.
What it is: An eclectic bar and restaurant that draws inspiration from around the world.
Why it's cool: Bar Boheme showcases items and foods that were discovered during the owner's travels around the world. There's a garden full of Zimbabwe Shona statues, a traditional Venetian stucco accent wall, and
antique light fixtures from Germany, France, and England. The food and drink menu is equally eclectic with items like Vietnamese Fries and a wide range of cocktails from around the world, including Dark & Stormy, Russian Lemonade, and mojitos.
What it is: A food truck blending Texan and island flavours.
Why it's cool: Visiting Big Daddy Z's is like going to a luau. They focus on slowing it down, making food to order, and using the combination of Texan and island cuisines to remind people to relax. Try the grilled pork shoulder or ribeye, and add grilled pineapple to anything on the menu.
Why it's cool: Blacksmith is a coffeehouse with a rock star attitude. It pays homage to Queen, and has a photo of lead singer Freddie Mercury on the wall. Any time a Queen song plays in the shop, the first customer in line gets their drink for free. As they say, 'When Queen plays, Freddie pays!'
Why it's cool: In addition to the biscuits, scone mixes, teas, and custards native to the U.K., British Isles also sells collectibles like ceramics in the shapes of famous British figures, British-made toiletries, and, of course all things 'Keep Calm and Carry On.'
What it is: An authentic Mexican bakery.
Why it's cool: El Bolillo serves traditional Mexican breads and sweets including pan dulce (sweet bread) and tres leches cakes, but what makes it different from other Latin bakeries is the sheer number of tres leches varieties, including one made with a cream cheese frosting.
What it is: A Japanese-themed shop.
Why it's cool: From toys to beauty products to food, everything at fit Japanese Store is, well, Japanese. You can't find most of their goods at other stores in the U.S., and everything is well-organised by type, making it all easy to find.
Why it's cool: Hello Lucky sells artist-designed clothing for men, women, and children, as well as accessories like jewelry, ties, and cufflinks. They also commission custom-designed pieces and work with other local businesses to host events in and out of the shop.
What it is: An old-school video game store.
Why it's cool: Joystix carries classic arcade games like pinball machines, jukeboxes, air hockey, dart machines, and photo booths both to buy and to rent. People looking to add something unique to a party or hoping to play the games they enjoyed as a child can find them all at this shop and showroom in Downtown Houston.
What it is: A website that offers 3D printing services all over the world.
Why it's cool: Users of Kraftwurx can design, promote, showcase, sell, and buy 3D printed products all through the cloud. After users design their products -- whether that's jewelry, charms, or figurines -- they can choose to manufacture and sell their designs through an online store.
Why it's cool: The concept behind Mansalt is that other bath salts on the market smell too flowery and feminine. Mansalt makes a masculine-smelling bath salt (think Old Spice for your bath) that's perfect for improving skin and repairing sore muscles after a hard workout.
Why it's cool: Head chef Matthew Mui is the culinary genius behind Muiishi Makirritos, a gourmet Japanese fusion food truck. Mui whips up creative dishes, like mac 'n' cheese egg rolls and a type of Asian chicken nuggets made with tempura corn, in a casual environment. Fans go ballistic over the sushi rolls, which come with a creamy cilantro dipping sauce.
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 a good cause: The company works with Room to Read, a non-profit organisation, to help educate girls in developing Asian and African countries.
What it is: A bar that donates its profits to charity.
Why it's cool: OKRA (Organised Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs) Charity Saloon is a bar that donates 100 per cent of its profits -- from food and drink sales -- to a different patron-picked social cause in Houston each month. Each time a guest buys a drink, they get one vote toward which charity is picked as next month's beneficiary. OKRA also has a great food menu, including, you guessed it, fried okra.
What it is: A mobile photo booth.
Why it's cool: PhotoMoto is a mobile photo booth operated out of a restored 1978 Volkswagon bus. People can book PhotoMoto for events and parties, and husband and wife duo Austin and Brittany Havican will drive the bus right to the event.
What it is: A hip dive bar.
Why it's cool: Poison Girl is a cool rock-themed bar with a bad attitude. There's often live music and dancing, and locals love the kitschy decor, like the giant replica of the Kool-Aid guy. If it gets too rowdy inside, there's a large open patio outside.
What it is: A workshop that sells custom cowboy boots.
Why it's cool: Nothing quite says 'Texas' the way cowboy boots do. Tejas Custom Boots prizes high-quality craftsmanship, putting a lot of effort into its handmade custom products. They can make their boots, belts, and briefcases out of crocodile, alligator, shark, elephant, rhino, sting ray, or ostrich leather. Custom boots start at $US1,250.
What it is: A decadent chocolate shop that offers treats for both people and pets.
Why it's cool: The Chocolate Bar offers everything from chocolate truffles to chocolate-dipped fruit to chocolate pizza. They can turn any shape -- cars, animals, computers, you name it -- into a chocolate treat. In addition to offering treats for people, they also sell treats for dogs made out of carob. They also sell chocolate 'novelties' where they craft various solid chocolate blocks shaped in various items from animals to computers to cars.
What it is: A J.R.R. Tolkien-themed bar and restaurant.
Why it's cool: The owners of the Hobbit Cafe strive to bring all the merriness and hospitality of Hobbits to the great city of Houston in the way they treat and serve their customers. It's reflected in the food, too: Each of their sandwiches is named after one of the dwarves that visit Bilbo in the book.
What it is: A bar and restaurant that calls itself 'Disneyworld for craft beer lovers.'
Why it's cool: The Petrol Station offers dozens of craft beers and microbrews and great food. A popular choice is the Rancor burger, a juicy Angus beef patty with Swiss and cheddar cheese, bacon, and a fried egg. You can get one with Parmesan garlic fries and a pint all for less than $US10.
Why it's cool: WhimseyBox aims to turn anyone into a creative type. For just $US15 a month, subscribers receive a different kit each month for an anyone-can-do-it DIY project. In the past craft-lovers have received kits to emboss leather bracelets, sew their own custom camera straps, or create wall art from recycled wooden pallets. It's like Birchbox for DIY.
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