My Montrose: Staci Davis of Radical Eats
Tell me about Radical Eats
Radical Eats is a farm to table restaurant. I got my start selling tamales and soups in the farmer’s market, and just sort of grew it into what I’ve got now.
What’s your relationship with Montrose?
We lived across the street from Cherryhurst Park when I was a little girl. I remember my mom going to the first Tootsies, which used to be in the Montrose way back in the day. I lived here through college, and I consider myself a Montrosian even though I don’t live here now. So I have a long history with the Montrose. It was really always like “How do I make my way to the Montrose?” because that is where I wanted to be.
You started off with an all-vegan menu, but now you expanded into meat-based dishes.
I started off as all-vegan because I like to eat vegetables, but also to give myself some restrictions to challenge my culinary skills and really hone them in that area. I didn’t want to give my clients any excuse not to eat my food. I didn’t want people walking away saying “I can’t eat that; I’m gluten free,” or “I can’t eat that; I’m a raw foodie.” I wanted to be like, “Okay, well I’ve got something for you too!” So I did that, and when I opened my restaurant, there were lots of vegans who were very excited.
When I started off with vegan food, I met a lot of local farmers who were doing things in a very sustainable way. I didn’t want to support big agra or feed lots. I didn’t want to support these chicken farms. So I found a way to do both [meat and veggies]: I could support local ranchers doing things sustainably, and serve environmentally sustainable meat. But I’m not perfect. The more I learn about things, we change. We started off with shrimp on the menu, but I recently learned from my daughter what goes on when they trawl for shrimp. When they trawl, they destroy the whole bottom of the ocean, so I’m like “Okay, no more shrimp!”
Do you find that since you started out vegan, does that inform your meat-based cooking?
Well, it didn’t at first, but I’m starting to let it more. Because I started out doing a lot of comfort vegan food. Now, I’m kind of getting away from that. I’m trying to go for a lighter, more vegetable-forward menu, whether it’s my meat dishes or my vegan ones. You know, I think that Houston is starting to make room for more vegan comfort food; I want to be more of a farm to table meat-reducer type food. So if I have a piece of meat, I want to surround it with a ton of vegetables. And if I have a vegetable dish, I don’t necessarily want it to be fried seitan. I would like each dish to have a very green element, an element of something that is new and exciting, and then a little element of sin. That’s what I’m working towards.
Do you find that a lot of meat eaters come in skeptical on the vegetables, but turn around once they try them?
Yeah, I got a lot of that when I was a vegan restaurant. That’s always my favorite compliment. “If all vegetarian food tasted like this, I could be vegetarian.” That’s a very nice compliment. But since I am serving meat now, I just want people to say the food tastes good. I do appreciate when people like what we’re trying to do here. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to promote local farmers and ranchers. I want their names to be out there, and my customers to go to the farmers market and to garden.
Do you think this cooperation element is kind of uniquely Houston or uniquely Montrose?
I definitely think from being a chef in this community, I hear horror stories about other cities. But the chefs in this city are nice. They are nice to each other, and help each other out. There is a camaraderie that is super important, and I feel like I could go to just about any chef in town and say, “How do I make pasta, and hold it for the evening, and have it be fresh?” and they’d tell me. Or “Can I come learn how to break down a pig?” “Yeah, come on over.”
I know this used to be Roots. How did you find this space?
I was looking for closed restaurants. We had found something in the Heights, but that wasn’t where I wanted to be. So I took my business plan to Tracy Vaught who owns Hugo’s and Backstreet, and she was really frank with me that my budget necessitated a closed restaurant. And I had just read that Roots was closed. I drove down here, and almost had a deal closed by six o’ clock that night. Almost two years later, we’re still here, and in a restaurant that’s 90% of the battle! Now we’re just focusing on remodeling one step at a time. We do a lot of DIY and local artists; we’d like to bring in local music.
And that’s kind of more what Montrose is about, right?
Exactly. It’s more DIY and more eclectic. A lot of that is going away, but that’s what I grew up with and it’s important for me to try to capture. I grew up with hippies, I came back in the 80s and was hanging out with the punk rockers, and then living here now while the complexion of the neighborhood and the pricing is changing.
But I think it is better environmentally. I know the old houses are cute and quaint, but it seems to me more European to stack them on top of each other and have less people driving cars. But when I went to college and lived here in Montrose, my apartment was $125/mo, so.
So you’ve seen a lot of change in Montrose.
Like I said, I’ve never had an issue with the townhomes. And I think rents are going to go back down sooner rather than later, personally. The only thing I really miss about Montrose is kids, like college kids and younger people. The people moving here are cool, but they’re just a little bit older. I think I would like to see Montrose make way for younger people, but they do seem to be over at Hay Merchant and a couple places, even though it would be difficult for them to live here.
Last question: what do you see for the future of Montrose?
The practical part of me sees a tourist destination, and I like that. I went to Mango’s the other night, and saw an amazing band. It made me think of New Orleans, and Frenchmen Street, and I would like to see us try to do something along those lines here. It’s probably really expensive to live near Frenchmen in New Orleans, but things are still happening there and people come. I’d like to see more live music, more art. I love the murals, and the edgy fun stuff. You don’t come down to an arts district like this to see cookie cutter businesses. You don’t drive from outside the loop to go to Chili’s. What we need in Montrose are unique businesses with a unique Houstonian point of view.