The SCENE Magazine received an email from Sandra and Kevin Munz this morning (Wednesday, April 6, 2016) announcing the couple have entered into an agreement to re-purpose the Cullen’s complex as a health care facility. “Work on this reconfiguration will begin immediately,” the message stated.
The beautiful, massive (38,000 sq-ft) and “Certified Green” facility opened in 2008 and was positioned as the centerpiece of a very ambitious Clearpoint Crossing development that would “offer residents of Clear Lake, Pasadena and Deer Park upscale and casual dining, top-quality medical services and luxury apartments without the lengthy drive.” But the timing turned unfortunate and the development stalled during the down economy and never completely recovered. Although reviews and experiences at the restaurant remained relatively strong, there were many changes made and efforts to re-position parts of the gigantic complex made along the way.
Soon after opening, the down economy forced Cullen’s to compete on price and section off part of the facility into a casual “Grill” with lowered priced menu items.
The club section of the restaurant was re-branded many times starting as the upscale “Cullen’s Live” music venue before pivoting away from upscale to “BigShots,” with female staff outfitted in skimpy and aesthetically unappealing brestaurant-style outfits which struggled to mesh with the high end dining and banquet hosting happening within the shared building.
Then came the addition of an upscale whiskey bar and redneck-themed ‘Merica Beer Bar which seemed to double down on the contrast of themes with in the venue.
There were also changes in the kitchen. Cullen’s opened with highly regarded Executive Chef Paul Lewis, who provided kitchen stability for years before moving on. Many talented chefs followed including the equally-as-highly regarded Executive Chef David Coffman, who brought his fast-casual affordable Italian food concept to Cullen’s with “Bravissimo!” early last year.
But possibly the biggest positive impact on Cullen’s since day one was general manager Ryan Roberts who passed away last year. Roberts was a consistent force at Cullen’s over the years and dedicated to providing top notch service and experiences. The Munz admit that “his shocking and unexpected passing prompted Sandra and I to reflect on the brevity and uncertainty of life, and to reexamine every aspect of the work we do and the time we spend together,” today’s statement read.
“The loss of our beloved friend and trusted colleague Ryan Roberts last fall created a deep and irreconcilable void in our hearts and in the spirit that has fueled the success of Cullen’s American Grille and Whisk(e)y Bar since its inception. His shocking and unexpected passing prompted Sandra and I to reflect on the brevity and uncertainty of life, and to reexamine every aspect of the work we do and the time we spend together. After hours of discussion and prayer, we have decided to focus on those business endeavors which will most dramatically enhance the quality of our lives and maximize the time we have with our son and daughter, Cullen and Macy.”
In the end, many fabulous dinners, events, concerts and parties were enjoyed in the Cullen’s complex. The Munz family fought hard to make an ambitious concept born during the pre-2008 boom period work despite opening just as the economy stalled, resulting in struggles that were likely impossible to overcome even as the economy bounced back. Ironically the location, which many including this writer questioned since the start, does not look near as questionable as it once did thanks to the upcoming massive planned development next door on Space Center Blvd. of the new Houston Spaceport as well as significant residential growth in the area including The Reserve high-end residential housing development along Clear Lake Center Blvd. just a few miles away.
Just as the timing of Cullen’s opening during the economic collapse of 2008 was unfortunate, so is the timing of it’s closing considering all the positive development planned next door and nearby. But no one can suggest the Munz family gave it anything less than their best.
“We wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to our employees, our vendors, and our guests for their contributions to the growth and culinary achievements of our award-winning restaurant. It has been a source of great pride for us and, hopefully, for the entire Bay Area community. We wish you all the peace and happiness that life may afford, with whatever path you choose, and ask for your support and understanding of the path we have chosen. With deepest appreciation and thanks, Sandra and Kevin Munz.”
- John Ennis