“Who knows what COVID is going to do to it but prior to that there was an evolution and it was changing, a progression for the better I think, you know. It was getting more sophisticated, I would definitely say.”
So says David “Ziggy” Gruber, he of the Harry Caray spectacles and owner of the Galleria area’s Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen, quite likely the best Jewish deli between New York and LA and one that gives even the best in those two cities quite a run for their money. Which just makes sense — Gruber has operated delis in both the Big Apple, where he was born a third-generation Deli Man (and stars in the documentary of that name) and the City of Angels.
Masked in one of his restaurants, where one’s temperature is taken upon entry, we are talking about Spring Branch, where last year Gruber moved his baking operations into Braun Enterprises’ revamped 1960s strip mall Spring Branch Village at 8141 Long Point. There Kenny & Ziggy’s Cakeworks now produces its famous, knee-bucklingly great cheesecakes, carrot cakes, chocolate knockout cakes, key lime pies and more near a host of new tenants such as Slowpoke’s coffeehouse and Feges BBQ and critically-acclaimed holdovers like north Mexican restaurant Tacos del Julio.
For Gruber, from a business angle, the move was win-win-win. Kenny & Ziggy’s had long outsourced some of its baked goods to a remote source, but when that person sold out, the new owners nixed all wholesale baking and laid off numerous reliable and able employees.
After 19 years, Gruber was left in the lurch.
“So I decided, I said ‘Look, most of that was our recipes anyway,’ so I got some of the girls who was laid off and basically I was told by a friend of mine that Liberty Kitchen had a space where we are presently and that they needed to get out of it and would we like to take it over?’,“ he says. “And we decided we could take it over without going through the whole rigmarole of building out of space — it was already there. So we could just take it over and not skip a beat with our production in the restaurant.”
Gruber says his restaurants were hardly alone in that predicament.
“We found out that there were a lot of customers that (the wholesalers) were supplying who were in the same dilemma,” he said.
So Gruber hired employees who’d been laid off by those bakers. No Gruber’s operation supplies his restaurants and about 60 others.
All of this took place last year, when it looked like there were nothing but good times ahead for Spring Branch. That’s still true, albeit now in a COVID-19-stricken world.
“Who knows what COVID is going to do to it but prior to that there was an evolution and Spring Branch was changing, a progression for the better I think, you know,” Gruber says. “The Brauns bought the shopping center and with their design and the tenants they are tenanting, it has become more sophisticated. But with this whole covid-19 thing with it affecting restaurants, who knows what’s going to happen when the dust settles. and not just here, everywhere: the Heights, Montrose, the Galleria, everywhere. It’s definitely gonna be different.”
Gruber looks at the big picture. This is a man whose thoughts wander far from those that directly impact his business. Talk turned to Houston’s ephemeral nature and Spring Branch’s newly-prominent role as a haven for artists and other creative types.
“Montrose used to have a lot of the artists and first a lot of them went to Washington Avenue,” Gruber says. “And then Washington got redeveloped and then they moved to the Heights, which was mixed, with some good blocks, and some bad blocks. And then things were starting to get expensive there so a lot of those people who could no longer afford it are moving to Spring Branch, which is getting more bohemian.”
Gruber hopes that this influx, along with a concurrent one of well-heeled new residents, won’t disrupt Spring Branch’s diversity.
“What’s interesting is that you have this very Latin neighborhood over there, so it will be interesting to see what happens,” he says, offering up Midtown as an example to be avoided. “Midtown basically pushed off the residents that were there, the people who made that neighborhood for many, many decades. They had to relocate.”
Gruber doesn’t think that will happen in Spring Branch. “I think the Latin community in Spring Branch is very well entrenched, so I can’t see that community being pushed out,” he says. “And not just Latin, but you have a large Korean population, too, and they are very entrenched as well. It would be nice if it doesn’t knock out some of those elements in my opinion. It could end up with more of a New York kind of flair where you have different sections of the city but everyone kind of works together and commingles. I think it has more of a chance working in Spring Branch than anywhere else.”
Well, that’s the way it is right now. Keeping that flair while sprucing up Long Point just a touch is a delicate balance but one Spring Branch is certainly up to undertaking. When the dust settles on this COVID nightmare, it seems Spring Branch could end up not just a great place to raise a family, but also one of the coolest neighborhoods in the Bayou City, one blessed with the scent of Kenny & Ziggy’s amazing pastries baking away there on Long Point.
Houston, TX 77055