– Lake Houston’s favorite bistro set to open in late August –
Everybody wants to know. When will Raffa’s reopen?
For anyone new to Lake Houston, Raffa’s Waterfront Grill at Kings Harbor Shopping Center is Lake Houston’s own unique “bistro.” It has classy architecture, an open and roomy interior, towering ceilings, and windows overlooking the point where the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston unite.
And the cuisine? Distinctively contemporary American. Texas blue crab cakes, signature seafood gumbo, Amalfi shrimp, stuffed flounder, and chicken-fried steak; too many favorites to mention them all.
Raffa’s website, though, says it all in bright red lettering just below their logo, “Temporarily closed due to Hurricane Harvey.”
“We’re in the early, early days of our construction phase,” said owner Tony Raffa, who spends his days putting up new sheetrock and waiting for Houston’s city inspectors to scrutinize his new plumbing, electrical outlets and all of the other things that city inspectors must approve before he can finish up and begin work on a fresh new look for Raffa’s.
With all that’s left to do, when will Raffa’s reopen?
“Probably late August, maybe mid-September,” Raffa said wistfully. “I feel realistic about that time of the year. We’ve got flood permits, which are express permits to rebuild Raffa’s the way it was. The flood permits allow us to speed up the permitting process from Houston.”
Raffa’s had just celebrated its 10th anniversary when Harvey paid a visit last year.
“Leslie [his wife] and I were the first to go in after Harvey,” Tony said. “We promised each other we weren’t going to cry.”
They had to park a good mile away and walk in waist-high water to get to their picturesque bistro that overlooks the waterfront and the plaza. What they found would have made any grown man or woman cry.
“It was devastation,” Tony recalled. “Customers will remember the beautiful armoire in our entry. It was gone. No doubt down the river. We found the hostess station wedged in the kitchen door. Booths were turned upside down, if we could find them at all. We knew it would be bad – but it was 10 times worse.”
Tony and Leslie’s first thoughts were “…to clean it up.”
They couldn’t believe what happened that first day of “clean up.” Forty people showed up to help. The next day, 50 people showed up. Over the next few weeks, folks from as far away as Austin, Dallas and Los Angeles came in to rip out sheetrock and do all the things that need to be done when you’ve been under water.
“Some were friends and family who drove in, and a lot of customers,” Tony said. “We even had three guys from a church in Oklahoma who drove here to help. They stopped at a sister church in Kingwood and the minister there directed them to us. For three days they helped us, especially with all the heavy jobs.”
Insperity brought in a crew to help. Tony cites Nate Olsen and Joe Price, who put in eight-hour days.
“The support was amazing,” Tony said. “Very heartwarming.”
No business at Kings Harbor had flood insurance. They weren’t in a flood plain. The center was built 25 feet above water level.
“I’ll bet 95 percent of the businesses between here and Town Center didn’t have flood insurance,” Tony said.
The Lake Houston community took the Raffa dilemma to heart.
“Tony and Leslie are what make Kingwood a special place to live and raise a family,” said Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, who represents the Lake Houston area.
“The compassion they have shown, in spite of losing their valuable possessions like Raffa’s Waterfront Grill, illustrate what kind of relationship they have with not only the people of the Lake Houston area, but with our solid waste workers from San Antonio, and the ‘send off’ Tony and Leslie helped organize in recognition of their efforts in our recovery process.
“The Raffas are a special family, and friends like those are hard to find,” he said.
With Tony and Leslie facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, current and past employees and a group of friends launched a special dinner fundraiser which was held at the Raffa’s first – and dry – restaurant, Amedeo’s on Loop 494.
Calling themselves “Raffa Strong,” the Good Samaritans asked Kingwood Chef David Welch to create a menu and vendors to donate the food and auction items. Lake Houston turned out in force to support the event. A Raffa’s cousin, Timothy Trahan, created a GoFundMe page and, combined, the two fundraisers will put a dent in the cost of rebuilding.
The Raffas, besides rebuilding their bistro at Kings Harbor, continue to operate Amedeo’s, their original restaurant located on Loop 494 since 1985.
“The community support has just been amazing,” Tony said, “and so has Midway, the developers of Kings Harbor.
“While none of us had flood insurance, Midway had insurance policies and endorsements which were helpful in getting us back up and running.”
Once Raffa’s passes city inspection, Tony and Leslie can concentrate on the new look they’re creating for their bistro, a look that will cost almost half a million dollars to achieve.
“Our cuisine will pretty much be the same,” Tony said.
“We’ll tweak the menu a little and add some new items, but what our customers will notice will be our new look. New colors, new flooring and, of course, new furniture.”
As he and Leslie put their restaurant back together, Tony said what so many others who lost homes and businesses have been pondering over the last few months.
“What people don’t always realize is that no one in Lake Houston was prepared for what happened,” he said.
“It took several months to sort it all out, how to move forward. We were thinking, ‘What’s the next step?’ And all the steps we had to take to move forward were so painfully slow,” he said.
Fortunately, Tony and Leslie have that Lake Houston “Can Do” attitude.
“This was a major disaster, of course, but frankly, after 30 years in this business, you just go through a lot of stuff,” Tony mused.
It continues to be quite a journey for Tony and Leslie Raffa.
Thanks to family and customers, friends really, and people they never knew, they’re moving forward together, planning an even better Raffa’s.
Their only disagreement? Tony would be happy with a little “flood” wall marker to commemorate their Harvey ordeal.
“Leslie,” Tony sighed, “well, she wants something big that everyone will notice.”