An everyday, run-of-the mill bar was the last thing Adrian Hembree had in mind. The restaurateur and entrepreneur has a different vision for his new space in Pearland. Think passwords required for entry through a secret door to a cozy space with limited seating. Imagine a place with a dress code, upscale cocktails and maybe a jazz duo performing in the background.
Hembree is designing a speakeasy – and while he still has not chosen a name for his new venture, construction is under way beside his Grazia Italian Kitchen restaurant at 9415 Broadway St. He hopes to open the bar by mid-September.
The inspiration for the underground cocktail lounge came during a recent visit to New York.
Hembree went to Please Don’t Tell, a bar that patrons can only visit by passing through a vintage phone booth.
He decided to take the concept home with him.
“There will be a password for the day, maybe a secret door will open and you’ll walk into a world that will be a lot of fun,” he said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to do this. It’s been a long ride to get here.”
Hembree said there will be no signage for the speakeasy, leaving it up to patrons to find their way.
The password will change daily and general manager Larry Bates will slip it to bar regulars and dinner guests at the restaurant.
“I would also think that we will have people who come in just to visit the speakeasy … and for those, I would suggest that they venture up to the restaurant bar and start their journey that way,” Hembree said.
Dress code planned
The bar will have a dress code.
“Women love to get dressed up and want their man looking sharp,” Hembree wrote in an email. “So, men will have to wear a nice dress shirt (coats and ties are optional), dress slacks, dress shoes or boots (We are in Texas). Larry will make sure you will look the part before the passcode is given.”
“It’s a little bit of a show,” Hembree said. “You’re trying to create an experience.”
Hembree opened Grazia Italian Kitchen last September as his next step after a career in food service. He started working in the kitchen at an Italian restaurant while in college.
“I’d always loved cooking,” he said. “I started out washing dishes. Then I became a prep cook, line cook and sauté cook. I cooked my way through college.”
When Hembree graduated with a degree in marketing and business, he made the switch to working as a sales representative in the food service industry and worked his way up through the ranks for eight years.
But he missed being in restaurants.
“I’ve always had a heart for the kitchen and a love for the business,” he said. “I love controlled chaos.”
Hembree took a leap of faith and quit his day job to open Grazia Italian Kitchen.
“Grazia is a combination of a whole lot of my experiences,” he said. “I have a ton of knowledge about the products. I’m not a chef, but I have a whole lot of soul. I know what to do with food.”
Hembree chose to feature Italian cuisine, which includes pizza, pasta and dishes such as Veal Milanese.
“Italian is my comfort zone,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for so long. I like Italian soul food.”
The Sugar Land resident also wanted to place his restaurant in the right spot.
“Pearland is an evolving market,” he said.
“There’s a whole lot of growth here.”
Hembree noticed that while there were a number of franchise restaurants in the area, the number of independently owned operations was small.
“I felt the market was underserved on the independent front,” he said. “And I think people are getting more creative with what they explore when they go out to dine.
“Houston is really starting to emerge as a fun food town.”
Hembree said it took over a year and half to open the doors.
“My family was in a tight spot, but we had the idea and the belief,” he said.
“When we opened in September, we put all we could into it and all we had. We opened up strong.”
Area residents came in droves and the restaurant expanded from dinner service to include a lunch menu.
Hembree started thinking of an expansion and saw a chance when the insurance agency next door expressed an interest in moving.
Focus placed on drinks
Instead of adding space to the restaurant, Hembree wanted to reserve the extra square footage for a place focused on drinks.
“I’m going to have a space that’s all about the drink – and it will depend on if you have the password if you can get in the space,” he said.
Kim Sinistore, executive director of the Pearland Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the area needs more dining and nightlife options as the population surges.
The city has about 108,000 residents, and that total rises to 130,000 when surrounding areas are included.
“There have been a lot of new housing developments, and a lot of developments in business with our proximity to the (Texas Medical Center) and downtown,” Sinistore said.
She said Hembree is among those responding to the expanding market.
“He understands the culinary needs of his clientele,” she said.
“He’s doing very well, and this is expansion will be wonderful.
“This concept will provide residents and guests with a unique dining and evening experience.”
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