By Charlotte Aguilar
Despite changes in ownership, menus, and repeated efforts to tie community events to eating and drinking there, the Ivy & James is leaving Evelyn’s Park in Bellaire barely one year into a five-year contract, with one owner describing the situation as “untenable.”
The publicists for the “Big Yellow House” café at 4400 Bellaire Blvd., said today (Saturday, June 30) would be its last day in business and that after closing through mid-July over, it would be operated as a “pop-up” for established food providers for the remainder of the summer.
First up will be the operators of the Korean-Mexican fusion food truck, “Oh My Gogi,” a regular visitor to the Monday food truck nights at the park.
Heights restaurateurs Jamie and Dalia Zelko were handpicked by the Evelyn’s Park Conservancy to run the restaurant, described variously as a “garden bistro,” New American, and American Comfort Food concept. The setting featured limited seating inside the replica of a signature structure on the former Teas Nursery property, and a covered seating area, as well as an events center for which the restaurant was expected to provide catering, as well as picnic food for functions in the five-acre community park.
Right from the outset there were problems. The opening was inexplicably delayed, so the café was not ready when the park had its grand opening on Earth Day 2017. That is when Edgardo de la Garza, described as a longtime friend of the couple, was brought on as a co-owner and -operator. Still, the promised sustainability features, such as gardens for herbs and vegetables for menu items, and classes for residents, never materialized.
In fact, the eatery struggled just to stay alive with negative word-of-mouth about the food and service and erratic hours in the beginning. Jamie Zelko left in November 2017, and Edgardo de la Garza and Dalia Zelko continued to partner.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to offer Bellaire and the surrounding neighborhood communities a shared dining space at Evelyn’s Park, but ultimately the café proved untenable,” said de la Garza in the announcement Saturday. “It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to close the doors at The Ivy and James,”
The conservancy, which received an untold percentage of the profits, continued to do its best to promote the restaurant by promoting it in conjunction with community events at the park. Conservancy leaders, in their most recent quarterly report to City Council, indicated that the restaurant was not delivering the profits that had been expected in their budgeting.
The lack of shade in the park in summer months — even outside the restaurant in the early evenings — reduces the numbers of visitors.
Patricia King-Ritter, president and interim executive director, said the conservancy is seeking a new operator who “is ready to service the wide-ranging demographics of a public park.” In the meantime, she is asking anyone interested in operating the space as a pop-up to contact her at email@example.com.
By Charlotte Aguilar