By Charlotte Aguilar
Featured in Essentials Magazine, December 2018
His family, says Nick Adair, has come full circle.
Thirty years ago, Betsy and Gary Adair were a young married couple sinking roots in Bellaire with two small children. They had just opened a self-described “mom and pop hamburger place” called Skeeter’s in Weslayan Plaza, near their home, a site that had already seen two restaurants fail in a floundering Houston economy.
But the Adairs were convinced that there was a need for their kind of family-friendly concept (“in a kind of no-man’s-land between Bellaire Broiler Burger and Goode Company Taqueria,” as Gary describes it). Armed with a degree from UT and seven years helping build restaurant concepts at 16 locations “where I made my mistakes on someone else’s nickel” he worked the grill and did whatever else was required of him. Betsy, a University of Arkansas grad, taught school but popped in before and after her day job at St. Vincent de Paul to lend a hand and helped market the place to families like theirs.
Fast-forward to today, and son Nick Adair, 32, newly married and setting down roots in West University, says he sees a lot of his situation in that of his parents in those early days as the family teams up up to bring to life “Betsy’s” in the stylish Big Yellow House on the high visibility corner of Bellaire Boulevard and Newcastle Drive in Evelyn’s Park.
Also a failed concept in its first incarnation, the park café couldn’t have more locally attuned proprietors than the two generations of Adairs, which includes daughter Katie Adair Barnhart, 35. The family has not only grown Skeeter’s into multiple locations, but has owned and expanded the venerable Los Tios Tex-Mex eateries for 18 years (now marking the chain’s 48th year). And they have enjoyed a new wave of success through a younger generation with the gene for restaurant concepts, who have created Adair Kitchen, Eloise Nichols and BEBIDAS — and updated Skeeter’s.
Nick started washing dishes at Los Tios and Skeeter’s at the age of 14, and when he left TCU with a finance degree, he “always sort of figured he would come back to restaurants.” His parents made him work his way up, but it wasn’t until he started conversing with his sister, Katie, about the then-unusual concepts she’d discovered while living in San Francisco while her husband earned a graduate degree, that he thought about creating something outside what the family was already doing.
The younger Adairs’ healthy, sustainable, farm-to-table concepts are not as different from Skeeter’s and Los Tios as it seems, says Nick: “We’re neighborhood restaurants, and we’re family restaurants.”
Adds dad Gary: “We’ve always been about creating family, everyday places, and we’ll continue to run them that way.”
Chuckling about now being able to find kale and craft beers in addition to cheeseburgers at Skeeter’s (and paper and crayons to decorate the tabletops), the elder Adair says: “It’s important to have both. You always try to meet your customers’ needs, and one day I looked around and realized my target market is not me.”
“This will be our first concept we’ll do altogether. If Katie and I were going to do a restaurant by ourselves, we would do it one way,” said Nick, “and my parents would do it another way. In a good way, we all want different things out of it, and by coming together, we can grab and choose all those things and we can get a versatility out of it that you wouldn’t normally.”
(There’s another son, Scott, who works in the energy industry, Nick’s new wife, Alice Johnson, worked in marketing at Adair Concepts when they met.)
That means “great breakfasts and coffee,” salads and sandwiches at lunchtime, pizzas at dinner.
“We see our dining room as the park — we really want to be a place that’s an amenity to the park,” explains Nick, “with stuff you can eat outside, stuff you can eat quickly, a meeting place.”
“Evening happy hours, sit and meet with your neighbors, have a glass of wine or beer,” adds Betsy.
The Adairs had signed on to run the park café and were tossing around ideas for names when daughter Kate surprised her mother at Nick’s most recent birthday. “She gave me a picture showing ‘Betsy’s’ and the design with that name on it. I kept thinking I’d get a grandbaby named Betsy, but I’ve got a restaurant instead,” she beamed.
And naming it after the family matriarch seems fitting. “It’s very much a get-back-to-our-roots project for us,” Nick says. “We grew up two blocks away, and I went to high school down the street at Episcopal and elementary school and middle school down the street at St. Vincent’s.” In addition to teaching at SVDP, Betsy spent 25 years teaching preschool at West U United Methodist Church and sees customers she knew as toddlers bringing in their own toddlers now to Skeeter’s and Los Tios.
“This is what we know,” says Gary Adair.