Analysis: The Inevitable Fall of Prince's Hamburgers

I had such high hopes for the reincarnation of the legendary Prince's Hamburgers. Since 1934, Prince's was a favorite in Houston for great burgers. Long before Whataburger was the hometown favorite, Prince's was the Golden Boy of local burgerphiles. But the Prince is dead — yet again. Sadly, it was predictable. 

As I wrote in January 2023

"By the time Whataburger started up in 1950, Prince's Hamburgers had already been in business for 14 years and was already legendary. Unlike Whataburger, Prince's is actually named after the man who founded the restaurant." 

Unlike Whataburger, which is thriving today and was acquired by a Chicago firm in 2019, Prince's Hamburgers nearly went extinct. "The last Prince's Hamburgers location in Houston has closed, a victim of Hurricane Harvey's massive flooding," the Houston Chronicle reported in 2018. "The location at 3425 Ella Boulevard was the last location standing."

But Prince's is not down yet. In fact, they seem poised for strong comeback, as you'll see in my video

However, flash forward to 2024 and the "last Prince's Hamburgers location" in Houston closed AGAIN on December 31, 2023. The location at the Sharpstown Park Golf Course has permanently shut its doors (6600 Harbor Town Drive). The sad demise of Prince's should come as no surprise to anybody who was watching closely. The phoenix is ashes once again.

Sure, they made a damned good burger, but did so much else wrong that failure was virtually pre-determined. With a bad location, no signage visible from a busy street, poor social media presence, no merchandise, no inside bathroom, a promised grand opening that never happened, and the City of Houston as their landlord, failure was Prince's destiny. Let's go down the list:

Poor Location, Bad Landlord


You might think that a public golf course is a great location for a restaurant. That depends on the golf course, of course. I'll bet a million dollars that the majority of golfers at Sharpstown ate before they arrived, or drove elsewhere to eat after their golf game. Public courses are government owned, and having the City of Houston as your landlord seems a bad idea. It's hard enough to sue your private sector landlord, and you know what they say about fighting City Hall. 

The golf course location had another disadvantage: Lack of visibility. Prince's had a sign at the entrance of the golf course on Harbor Drive, a quiet side street, but it was about 370 feet away from busy Bellaire Boulevard. Virtually invisible, therefore useless. Unless you lived in the immediate neighborhood or were coming to play golf, you might never see that sign. Visibility is extremely important to any retail business, particularly restaurants. Why do you think you never, NEVER see a McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Whataburger or any other burger restaurants on sleepy side streets? Because they want visibility, something the Prince's team with their "20 years of experience" failed to consider. And by the way, that experience is cumulative among the five partners, averaging only four per man — still more than enough to know that's it's all about "location, location, location."

Weather, naturally, would factor in. Golf courses are dependent on reasonable weather to attract customers. So if it's too cold or too wet, Prince's would see a slump in business. While that's also a factor for any restaurant, it's more pronounced when you're nearly invisible to potential customers and have no inside restrooms (see below). 

Weak Social Media

As of February 22, 2024 their website has not changed since before they closed. It's as though they're still open on Harbor Drive. That's a huge discourtesy to people who don't know they're closed. IF they plan to reopen at another location, this won't help build goodwill for future customers. Ironically, they say this on their website: "With 20 years of experience, our team is excited to present their vision to you and all our guests." And they did that — in the restaurant. But when it came to social media, they fell flat and floundered about aimlessly.

Not the real Prince's website
Prince's had a Facebook page and an Instagram Page but only had the Facebook link on their website. They under-utilized both. No promotions, no specials, no merchandise. But most importantly, perhaps, was a lack of a solid establishment of identity. In fact, anybody looking up "Prince's Hamburgers" on the search engines of Google or Facebook could be easily misled by out-of-date or fake Prince's pages.

They closed on January 31, but as of Februay 22 their website still tells people, "We are open! Come see us!" That's misleading. How many people have seen that page, went to the golf course for a burger, only to find that they wasted a trip and are now forever distrustful of Prince's Hamburgers?


No Merchandise


The Prince's Hamburgers partners had an iconic, nostaglic name and image that they inexplicably failed to cash in on. 

The image here would have looked great on a t-shirt or sweatshirt. They could have sold them online and in their store. 

Why they never did is a mystery.


The Grand Opening That Wasn't


As noted above, Prince's landlord was the City of Houston, and it was the City of Houston that, at least initially, killed Prince's plans for a Grand Opening. 

On January 31, 2023 Prince's partner Terry McConn emailed me:

Tom, our city and  media grand opening is February 24th.

On February 13, 2023 I learned the following from Terry and posted it on Facebook:

It was to be Feb. 24, but some City of Houston officials said they can't make that date .... and they ALL want to be there for the media event. The city is their landlord at Sh
arpstown Golf Park, so you get the idea. The event has been pushed back to a still-to-be-determined date.

In other words, city officials couldn't get their act together and coldly dismissed Prince's grand opening. Worse, Prince's partners bent over and took it. No date, it seems, was never determined and the Grand Opening never happened....unless they did it so secretively that I never heard about it. 


No Inside Restrooms


Imagine eating in a restaurant and you need to use the restroom ... but it's raining outside and the only way to get to the toilet is to exit the restaurant and walk about 50 feet outside. That's the situation Prince's had. Is that legal for a restaurant that doesn't have the city as it's landlord? 

Poor Communication


Communication between the five partners was not always coordinated. Communication with local media (including social media influencers) was neglected almost entirely. Communication with the public, via social media and hard advertising, was weak at best. Signage was virtually invisible to the general public. 

Even their goodbye message on Instagram is confusing (watch here), and it's curious that they did not post that on their Facebook page or on their website. In fact, as of February 22, 2024 their most recent post on Facebook was on October 6, 2023.

"Continue to follow," it says, promising an "Exciting next chapter of Prince's Hamburgers 2024." Let's hope it's more exciting than 2023 was.

My Amazing Luigi's Pizzeria Experience

When I lived in Chicago, I often stopped into pizza shops for a slice or two. But when I moved to Houston in 2013 I was amazed that by-the-slice is hard to find. It's taken for granted in Chicago, New York, and other cities. Not in Houston though. Happily, however, there are places that sell slices. Frank's for example, downtown, which I wrote about previously

Recently, however, I was delighted to find Luigi's Pizzeria at 4505 Bissonnet in Belaire, TX. (Video below)

Luigi's Philly sandwich
Join me for my video visit to Luigi's Pizzeria for pizza slices, sandwiches, salads and more in Bellaire, a Houston suburb. I had the "Luigi's Philly," a massive sub stuffed with tender, juicy beef and tons of cheese (your choice, I did mozarella).

Not a true Philly cheese steak, but it may be better because it's so juicy and succulent. I've had a lot of good cheese steaks, but none of them were juicy. Luigi's Philly has the best qualities of a cheese steak, offering the satisfaction of a lot of meat and cheese, combined with a "wet" Italian beef dripping in beefy goodness. Juice was pouring from the sandwich as I ate it. 

The Meats pizza slice
The bun held together, though, and added a subtle crunch to every bite. The meat was tender and I encounter no gristle or fat. Perfection.

I also had two huge pizza slices, a "Margherita" and "The Meats." The super thin crust is crispy perfection covered with generous toppings. They're big, too. I mean, really big slices.

The atmosphere is cozy, comfortable and kind of retro. A stand-up Centipede video game sits in a corner near the front door. This family-friendly eaterie also offers cheese cake, gelato, and more. Although they offer great salas and "vegan cheese," this is not a good choice if you're a strict vegan.

I'm hooked and will definitely return to Luigi's Pizzeria.

Flying Goose, Best Sriracha Option I've Found

Flying Goose Sriracha
Anybody who loves sriracha sauce
knows by now that the beloved Huy Fong brand is difficult to find in recent months. I live near Houston's Chinatown, and nearly all of the Asian markets that used to sell Huy Fong sriracha no longer carry it. But why is that? Cozymeal.com noted last month that the main reason "is issues with the supply chain."

Like many other products across different industries, supply lines became difficult to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Huy Fong, Inc.....suffered from these difficulties, too. In the fall of 2022, they were able to resume production at a fairly normal pace. Many thought the worst of the Sriracha shortage was over.

The latest news on the shortage is that there are still some lingering supply chain issues affecting the Sriracha makers. The largest problem is the drought conditions in Mexico that are making chili peppers difficult to come by. Consumers are feeling the consequences of these conditions, as Sriracha is out of stock at brick-and-mortar retailers and online stores, often with comments that the suppliers do not know when the item will be restocked. (Read full article)

Flying Goose sriracha at HMart (far right),
and Huy Fong sriracha next to it. Notice the
big price difference.
So that's the bad news: Huy Fong brand sriracha sauce is still difficult — almost impossible in many areas — to find at retail stores. Sure, you can find it online. A number of online sellers offer it. But in most cases, the prices are significantly higher than what the brick-and-mortar retailers were selling it for less than two years ago.

The good news: Flying Goose brand sriracha


In my occasional sriracha searches for a suitable substitute for Huy Fong, I stumbled across Flying Goose brand sriracha sauce. And I like it more than Huy Fong. It tastes a bit sweeter (just a bit), and the garlic seems more prominent. In a blind taste test, however, I might not even know the difference. 

Flying Goose is made in Thailand and uses difference sources than California-based Huy Fong. You should be able to find it in large cities, at some Asian markets. Yes, you'll pay a bit more if you get it online, but a little goes a long way and a 17 ounce bottle should give you months of sriracha pleasure.

Updated: Hotline Burger 2 Still Not Open

Update, Jan.1, 2024: They're finally open!

When last I wrote about Hotline Burger's new store in Sharpstown, it was about how they still had not opened. 

Their new location at 8880 Bellaire Blvd Suite P, Houston, Bellaire Gessner Shopping Center is still dormant, but there is hope that it will yet open. Maybe before Halloween?

"Hotline Burger 2" has faced a number of obstacles over the past half year. Back in April, Hotline Burger's people told me they planned to open their new store on Bellaire Blvd "this summer." We're a couple of weeks into Fall now and the Bellaire Blvd. location has yet to open. 

Hotline Burger, Facebook
I spoke with sole owner Phil by phone today (10/04/23). He was very polite. He sounded genuinely optimistic and said he hopes to open the new store in "two to three weeks." 

UPDATE, 29 October: 25 days later, the new store is still not open.

But why the delays?

Over the past six months, he said, he's faced issues with the water line, installation of some of the signage, two major water leaks (including the fire suppression system), and making a full gas kitchen where there was none before (the ice cream stand before it only used electric heaters for hot dogs). 

Hurry up Phil, Sharpstown is eager for you to open! Our mouths are watering from the photos of your incredible burgers! In the meantime, you can enjoy Hotline Burger at their (currently) only store at 1585 Hwy 6, Houston, TX 77077.

When Giants Collide: Kroger-Albertsons Merger Update

Last October, Kroger announced that they intend to purchase Albertsons in a $25 billion deal.

"The deal, which is expected to close in 2024, would combine two of the largest supermarket chains in the country and create one of its largest private employers," reports CNN today. "The two companies have a combined 710,000 workers – most of them unionized in an industry with low union rates – nearly 5,000 stores and more than $200 billion in sales. The companies say they reach 85 million households." It will be the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. (read more)

The deal is not yet complete, of course. On Friday, Sept. 8 it was reported by Bloomberg that, "Kroger Co. rose the most in six months after agreeing to sell 413 stores to C&S Wholesale Grocers in a divestiture designed to help win antitrust approval for its $24.6 billion merger with Albertsons Cos." 

That article continued:

The FTC still could sue to block the Albertsons deal. Labor unions and officials from a range of states have urged the regulator to oppose the merger, saying it would hurt wages and competition. Some senators and members of Congress have also criticized the transaction.

Still, Kroger said the acquisition remains on track to close in early 2024, and [Kroger CEO Rodney] McMullen has vowed to fight in court if necessary. The divestiture plan ensures that no stores will be closed in connection with the Albertsons merger, he said. Frontline workers will remain employed and existing collective-bargaining agreements will continue. [My emphasis added]

Time will tell what will happen to employees at Kroger and Albertsons. What's basically being said is that the divestiture plan will not cause any layoffs. But those employees, along with the 413 stores being sold to C&S Wholesale Grocers, are essentially being shunted off to a third party. The real question, in my opinion, is what will happen to them as C&S employees.

C&S is also a giant in the grocery industry. According to Winsight Grocery Business:

Currently, C&S operates 160 stores, mostly under the Piggly Wiggly banner in the Midwest and Carolinas but also including 11 stores under the Grand Union banner in upstate New York and Vermont. Overall, C&S licenses the Piggly Wiggly banner to approximately 500 independently owned and operated supermarkets in 17 states via its Piggly Wiggly LLC subsidiary.

Thus, the Kroger-Albertsons divestitures, if approved, would give C&S a grocery retail network of about 1,073 stores, which under the companies’ agreement could grow to 1,310 locations if regulators call for more divested stores. [My emphasis added]

Meanwhile, AP reported that Kroger recently "had a $1.4 billion opioid settlement tagged to its recent financial sheet, and total company sales — $33.9 billion — were down compared to Q2 2022 when they were $34.6 billion. Sales excluding fuel, however, did increase 1.1% year-over-year." That is not expected to affect the Albertsons deal. 

Related:

  • Kroger and Albertsons Companies Announce Comprehensive Divestiture Plan with C&S Wholesale Grocers, LLC in Connection with Proposed Merger - PR Newswire, Sept 2023
  • Pharma Companies, Pharmacies Agree to Pay $19B in Opioid Settlement - BioSpace, June 2023 
  • After Cutting Hazard Pay, Kroger Gives Workers New Bonus - AP, May 2020 

Liberty Taco: Freedom To Eat!

Liberty Taco
I was on my way to an appointment on a recent morning and got there early, as I've done before. I'd gotten in the habit of stopping in to a Subway nearby, but on this morning the Subway was gone and I was hungry. 

Liberty Taco is in Subway's former space, with an appealing storefront. The sign that advertised breakfast tacos (they open at 6:00 AM!) is what really hooked me, so I stepped in. I'm glad I did.

The friendly staff offered to answer any questions, without being overbearing. The space is long and narrow, but very efficient and comfortable. Where Subway's former sandwich-making counter once was is now a kitchen with a service window. Fun wallpapers adorn the room. 

Breakfast Brisket Taco
I scanned the menu and focused on the Breakfast Tacos and ordered the Texas Brisket, Egg & Cheese. I also ordered a coffee and was impressed that this little taco shop served Kona, a nice way to wait for my food.

I confess that the brisket taco looked small when the server delivered it to my table. But my opinion of it changed as soon as I picked it up. 

Liberty Taco menu
It had some heft to it, packed full of perfectly scrambled egg and nicely shredded brisket topped with cheddar. It oozed brisket juice every time I lifted it to my mouth. And OMG, it was delicious. If I had had more time I might have eaten three more.

I will definitely return, and I won't wait for another appointment nearby. They are now a destination unto themselves. That brisket breakfast taco impressed me that much, and the menu choices are very intriguing. To quote from their website, "Our made-to-order tacos will take your taste buds on a flavorful journey as you sample our Liberty Steak, Thai Basil, Cali Club, and other varieties.

A local chain, this is Liberty Taco's third location. They're only in Houston. Staff told me that the company has been around since 2017, and this store opened about four months ago. They have yet to add this location to their website. They're located in The Shops At Memorial City (12365 Kingsride Ln, Houston, TX 77024), just west of Memorial City Mall. (See Google Maps) Plenty of parking, outdoor tables available.  Phone: 713-992-5877

Will "Hotline Burger 2" EVER Open?

Update, Jan.1, 2024: They're finally open!

Update 8/12/2023: Hotline Burger's new location at 8850 Bellaire Blvd is still not open for business. When I last wrote about this in April, they told me they'd open "in the summer." But now, in mid-August, they still haven't even removed all of the old signage from previous occupant Twistee Treat.  On August 12, Their Google Maps listing says they are "temporarily closed."  

Also see: Still Hope for Hotline Burger 2 in Sharpstown

Here is the original post from 4/11/2023:

Hotline Burger has a new location
in Sharpstown on the cusp of Chinatown at 8880 Bellaire Blvd Suite P, Houston (map). That's a block west of Gessner. They're calling it "Hotline Burger 2." Their only other location is at 1585 Hwy 6, Houston.

Photo by Rebecca Wright,
My Table Magazine, 2017
Hotline Burger recently finished refurbishing the building that housed Twistee Treat ice cream palace, complete with a giant "ice cream cone" atop of it. While cute, it seemed out of place, looking  more like something you'd see on a desolate part of Route 66 than along Bellaire Boulevard. That eyesore is gone, giving the newly renovated structure a clean, aerodynamic look.

Hotline Burger's smash burger
photo from Instagram
The Hotline Burger on Highway 6 has indoor seating. It's not a certainy, but it seems very unlikely that Hotline Burger #2 will. The building is just too small. Like the Twistee Treat that was there before, the only "dining area" will probably be the outdoor picnic tables. Drive-thru service should be available, and there is ample parking in the adjacent shopping center's lot.

I'm eagerly anticipating their opening. Reviews from their first store are very good and the food photos look amazing.

There is precious little information about Hotline Burger to be found on the internet. What seems to be written by someone with the company, however, can be found at the Culinary Agents website:

Hotline Burger began in the Summer of 2019 as a nameless pop up serving SoCal style smash burgers at bars and breweries. We took the positive feedback and turned it into a food hall space in Downtown Houston in 2020. Once the pandemic broke out, we were no longer able to sustain our position through the next year and decided to not renew our stand. Fast forward to 2021, we found an opportunity to sign 2 new locations, with HWY 6 being our first brick and mortar. Hotline Burger 2 will be opening in Chinatown (Bellaire Blvd & Gessner Rd) later in 2022. [Emphasis mine]