A Tale Of Two Cities: Doc’s Bar & Grill Adapts To A Houston Audience
Driving up to Doc’s Bar & Grill, one of Montrose’s newest businesses at 1303 Westheimer, it feels as if they’ve been a part of the neighborhood for years. The wood and metal facade is homey and welcoming, blending right in with the aesthetic of the neighborhood. The icehouse-style bar and grill with large patio and indoor-outdoor layout definitely draws from its Austin-based roots, but general manager Garrett Edwards has learned to adapt to local clientele after opening the first branch of the concept outside its hometown.
“We are definitely learning some new things over here,” says Edwards. “We opened right before Thanksgiving, and I feel like we’ve been well-received despite opening in the middle of the crazy holiday season. We always want to do the Doc’s thing, but we also want to keep our customers happy.”
Keeping customers happy from one city to the next has been an interesting study in fundamental differences between Austin and Houston. From major departures in the workforce population to small quirks like service styles, Edwards is taking notice, and Doc’s is fitting right in with the Houston audience because of his attentiveness.
“I notice I’ve had a little bit of a challenge finding servers here,” admits Edwards. “Obviously, Austin is a college town, so you have a lot more people that are in between jobs. Over here, we have a very large young professionals population, which is very different from Austin. Austin is a very fast growing city, but it is still very much a college-driven city.”
While Houston’s smaller student population makes staffing more difficult (though not impossible — a recent lunch there proved the current staff to be gracious and efficient), Edwards also notes that valet is a touchy subject around these parts. He thought it’d be a necessity given Doc’s modest parking lot, but was surprised to find it was more of a turn off to Houstonians than a convenience.
“When we first opened, we tried to give valet a whirl, and that felt like it was kind of pushing people away rather than helping them,” says Edwards. “So we did away with it, which I think has helped us. I’m wanting to see once we pick up in the warmer months, if that’s still the case. I thought it would be the opposite.”
In any case, Edwards appreciates the contrasts he’s discovering. Citywide, he enjoys getting to know the little “pockets of identity” throughout the region.
“For example, in Montrose, there’s a lot of bars and restaurants and we’re really wanting to add to this community,” says Edwards. “This is one of the destination areas. Then you also have Washington Avenue, you have the Rice Village area, you have Midtown, Downtown and even the Heights. That’s something I’ve noticed over here. I find it very cool.”
Other than the community of service industry businesses in Doc’s newest neighborhood, Edwards says Montrose was chosen as their first site outside of Austin because “everything just clicked,” mentioning the comparable vibes between here and their original Congress location in Austin. However similar the locations’ vibes are, there’s still one last big difference in perception Edwards is trying to remedy: Relaying the fact that Doc’s offers service directly to every table in the venue.
“A lot of our customers are used to counter service and getting everything from the bar themselves,” he says. “It’s been a learning experience for us to teach our servers and customers that we do offer table service. I notice a lot of the places I like to go here, the bartenders are also the servers, and that’s fine, but we like to keep it old school and give more one-on-one attention if we can.”
That old school approach extends to groups, where Edwards wants to make it clear service will be personal and attentive. In fact, Doc’s focus on groups — social, business or otherwise — is so strong, they have a whole group of large-format tables in the front of the bar dedicated to the pursuit.
“If two of us came in, it might be the two of us, but we may want to join up with six people,” conjectures Edwards. “We might not have known each other when we all sat down, but by the time we leave, we’re friends. That’s kind of our whole thought process behind the front area: You can come as one, or you can come as a huge group. We’re trying to grow that mentality between our customers. I think not only a lot of individual groups, but a lot of business groups appreciate that and want to know that if they do come to a place, their group is going to get taken care of.”
Continuing their dedication to the neighborhood, Doc’s will host a Montrose District mixer March 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. with a focus on their Texas beer selection, which is one of the largest concentrations in the city. 38 of 50 beer taps are dedicated to Lone Star State-produced brews, including plenty from the city of Houston. Representatives from Houston-based Karbach Brewing Co. will be in attendance to talk about beer, the brewing process and answer any heady questions from attendees. All those 21-and-up interested in getting to know more about the Montrose District, or to mingle with local residents and business owners, are invited to the event. See flyer below for details.