Gone, but not forgotten: The longstanding Houston-area institutions we lost in 2020

These businesses lasted decades. 2020 saw them closed for good.

(Richard Bord, 2020 Richard Bord)

2020 saw several longstanding Houston-area institutions close for good. Over the course of the year, we lost longtime staples, downtown diners, beloved inner loop locales, once-happening honky tonks and more. These now defunct destinations may have met their end, untimely or otherwise, but they still loom large in the city’s heart.

Listed chronologically by closure date, here’s a look at the legendary Houston-area businesses we lost in 2020.

The Acadian Bakery

Years open: 41 years

Closed: The Acadian Bakery closed on March 18.

Details: Houston’s go-to bakery for Mardi Gras king cakes shuttered in March. On March 18, the Montrose-area bakery announced it would be temporarily closed until March 31. It never reopened.

Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca

Years open: 14 years

Closed: Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca closed May 24.

Details: Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca, formerly located at 550 Westheimer in Houston, served its last pizza on May 24. Owner and chef Marco Wiles said the restaurant was sold to an unnamed investment group.

“I have no idea what the plans are,” he told Houston Food Finder.

Wiles said the 25 percent dine-in capacity rule set by Gov. Greg Abbott’s Strike Force to reopen Texas was “hard enough.”

The artisan pizza restaurant known for its Neapolitan-style Italian food had opened in 2006.

Barry’s Pizza

Years open: 37 years

Closed: Barry’s Pizza closed May 26.

Details: Iconic Houston pizza shop Barry’s Pizza, founded in 1983, bowed out this year after slinging pizza for nearly four decades.

“Well friends, it’s official,” Barry’s said on their Facebook page. “COVID-19 killed Barry’s. We had a great 37 year run. I’ll carry these memories always.”

Bernie’s Burger Bus

Years open: 10 years

Closed: Bernie’s Burger Bus closed all its locations May 31.

Details: Bernie’s Burger Bus first opened in 2010 when chef-owner Justin Turner began operating a food truck out of a converted yellow school bus. During the years that followed, the Houston business expanded to four locations before ultimately closing in May 2020.

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to communicate this, but with accumulating debt, decreased sales, and the rising cost of doing business, we were starting to move into the danger zone,” Turner said. “I was not going to be able to afford (to pay) the remaining 10 of 114 staff I had left, and paying my team was more important to me than anything else.”

According to Turner, paying for the construction of the Missouri City location instead of taking out a loan and keeping the money in the bank was a fatal mistake.

Turner also said “razor-thin” profit margins, food delivery fees and rising meat prices among other reasons for the closure.

Hard Rock Café Houston

Years open: 34 years

Closed: Hard Rock Café Houston closed May 27.

Details: After 20 years in its downtown location, the Hard Rock Café shut its doors for good in late May.

Houston’s Hard Rock Café opened for business on Kirby Drive in 1986. The Hard Rock moved to its Bayou Place location in 2000, near the Aquarium.

Midtown Fiesta

Closed: The Midtown Fiesta locations closed July 10.

Details: The Houston location -- known as “No. 17″ -- is perhaps one of the most well-known Fiesta Mart locations in the area. Thousands passed the store on the highway.

The area is under development as at least one major project at the former Sears location is underway.

Treebeards Market Square

Years open: 40 years

Closed: Treebeards Market Square closed in June.

Details: The well-known Treebeards location on Travis Street permanently closed in June.

“We are heartbroken, but after operating our restaurant at 315 Travis for over forty years, Treebeards Market Square will be closing its doors for the last time on June 26, 2020,” the owners wrote in a Facebook post.

According to the post, the restaurant closed due to a “huge increase in rent demanded by the landlord.” The hike made it “impossible” for the owners to continue operating at that location, the post said.

Wild West Bar

Years open: 40 years

Closed: Wild West Bar closed July 30.

Details: Houstonians poured out memories instead of beer after the owners of Wild West Bar announced they have closed the bar after 40 years.

“Wild West has been a proud host to all types of events imaginable. For me personally, Wild West was where I met my husband and raised my children,” said owner Ticia Sly. “I made some amazing friends and amazing people. So, with a heavy heart I say goodbye to an old friend.”

The bar was first known as Midnight Rodeo, when it opened at the corner of Longpoint and Gessner in 1981. Wild West Bar welcomed many top country music artists such as Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, and George Strait.

Alice’s Tall Texan

Years open: 36 years

Closed: Alice’s Tall Texan closed in August.

Details: 2020 marked the end of an era for the legendary Heights-area bar.

In a statement announcing its permanent closure, the bar blamed its demise on the coronavirus pandemic. “This damn Coronavirus has got us, and got us bad,” a post on the bar’s Facebook page read. “We are deeply saddened to say Alice’s Tall Texan will close permanently at the end of August after 36 years in business.”

Owner Alice Ward said there was just too much working against the business.

“I hate that we have to do but we have to do it,” Ward said in an interview. “I’m going to be 80 years old, and it’s time for me to close it down.”

Firehouse Saloon

Years open: 28 years

Closed: Firehouse Saloon closed in November.

Details: “After 28 years of honky-tonkin, the Legendary Firehouse Saloon has locked its doors...” the honky-tonk said in a statement. “The property owners are moving forward with redevelopment. But wait – The Firehouse will be reinventing itself so y’all stay tuned, you’re going to love what’s coming next.”

The longtime honky-tonk bar had been owned by firefighters since 1992.

In its heyday, the iconic Houston landmark had been voted the No. 1 Honky Tonk in the city, welcoming several performers over the years.

AMC Studio 30

Years open: 27 years

Closed: AMC Studio 30 closed Nov. 8.

Details: AMC Studio 30 held its final showing in early November, welcoming the last movie-goers to the Dunvale Road location after 27 years.

In a statement to KPRC 2, AMC revealed Studio 30 is the only Houston-area theater impacted as a result of a global agreement with EPR Properties, one of its most prominent landlord partners.

“In conjunction with that agreement, EPR made certain rent concessions in exchange for other rights, including its ability to terminate up to seven leases. In conjunction with this agreement, AMC has ceased operations at six EPR-owned theatre locations nationwide,” the statement reads.

Franca’s Real Italian Restaurant

Years open: 50 years

Closed: Franca’s Real Italian Restaurant closed in November.

Details: According to its website, the restaurant opened in 1971 and was the only restaurant in the South Houston area for miles. The restaurant was a family affair for years with the design of the interiors, from murals to sculptures, all done by the patriarch “Papa” Franco. Franca, the youngest daughter, eventually took over the business and is closing it now.

“After 50 years of business in the Bay Area and with the changing times, I have made the difficult decision to not reopen Franca’s Real Italian Restaurant and Dinner Theatre,” Franca said in a statement. “Thank you all for the love, support and loyalty. We will remembering our hearts the laughter and moments we shared. I would like to wish you all the very best. With much gratitude, Franca 2020.”

River Oaks Bookstore

Years open: 47 years

Closed: River Oaks Bookstore will close at the end of the year.

Details: After nearly 47 years, River Oaks Bookstore’s story has come to an end.

According to a Facebook post by a current employee, River Oaks Bookstore will permanently close at the end of this year.

“After nearly forty-seven years in business, River Oaks Bookstore will close at the end of this year. When our doors close, a huge part of my life – all of our lives – will close with it,” bookstore employee Whitney Carson wrote on Facebook.

Jeanne Jard, 90, is one of the original founders of River Oaks Bookstore. Her son and daughter-in-law now run it but Jard is still the heart and soul of the business. Her greatest hope is that her beloved bookstore will be remembered as a haven.

“I’ll miss my friends. My life is here. Leaving it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do but the time has come. When you read a book, whether you remember it or not really doesn’t matter because it becomes part of you,” Jard said.

Luby’s

Years open: 74 years

Closed: While it’s unclear when this chain will cease operating, its closure is forthcoming.

Details: Earlier this year, the ubiquitous Texas-based chain headquartered in Houston announced it was liquidating its assets and dissolving the company. Translation: This might just mean the end of the LuAnn Platter, folks. But in the interim, the Houston-based cafeteria chain is serving up its comfort food as if all were business as usual, even offering its holiday turkey packages and pies. While it’s unclear when this chain will cease operating, its end is forthcoming.

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What do you remember about these recently departed Houston-area institutions? Whether it was a great meal or a special moment, share your fondest memories in the comments below.


About the Authors:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.