Business Profile: Shandy’s Cafe
Just when you think Houston can’t get any friendlier, it can. Remember Boston’s fame with the original Cheers – where everyone knows your name? Granted, H-Town may have little in common with Boston but at the ripe age of 16, a painfully shy, determined young girl envisioned that very same concept right here. We know it as Shandy’s Cafe and heaps of regular customers have been celebrating with Shandy Shade for 15 years now.
Born in London, England to Nigerian and Jamaican parents, Shandy’s family moved to Los Angeles, California to start a new life there. One holiday during high school, Shandy visited her cousin in the Houston Heights area and loved it so much, she decided to stay. Permanently.
Having gained the building blocks of cooking and layering flavors from her Nigerian mother – and knowing she had some talent in the kitchen – Shandy set out to open her own cafe one day. “My mother is an exceptional cook and I learned so much from her – especially how to combine spices and prepare sauces from scratch,” Shandy says.
To gain experience, she worked at Wendy’s and various places but also wanted to pursue academics. So off to the University of Houston she went, earning a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Over the next few years, Shandy began putting the pieces of her “Cheers” venture in place and in August 2005, Shandy’s Cafe was born. She had no money. In fact, there was only a cent in the cash register. But there was fierce determination and oh, how Shandy was about to need that!
The very week Shandy’s Cafe opened, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, decimating New Orleans and subsequently tearing through Houston. Our businesses and restaurants were closed and our streets were barren but Shandy grabbed two friends, Lisa and Angie, and decided to “just get in the kitchen, cook and hope for the best”. She didn’t think anyone would actually show up but word spread quickly throughout Rice Military of a new cafe on Memorial Drive – nestled between Specs Liquor and the Valero gas station. Before Shandy knew it, there were lines out her door – for days. And everyone soon knew Shandy’s name! As a result of this unusual entree into the local restaurant scene, word of mouth has continued spreading…from neighborhood to neighborhood and these many years later, the ‘regulars’ are from different generations of devoted families.
Fast forward to 2020. It’s 11:00 AM and Shandy’s Cafe is opening its doors. And where is Shandy today? She’s still cooking in the same kitchen, still waitressing to all 14 tables and now taking a plethora of “to go” orders to boot. She busses the tables and handles the cash register, as her friends and patrons leave with new memories. Shandy remains that shy, passionate young woman who may not have time to chat with everyone during peak lunch and dinner hours anymore but she’s always there doing her best to juggle many plates, as the saying goes.
Just what makes Shandy’s Cafe the place everyone wants to be and everyone knows your name? It’s a cozy nook without pretention. It’s the aroma of fresh food filled with spices (from her native roots) like cumin, cayenne, paprika, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves and habanero peppers. It’s the fullness of families, friends, many local celebrities and even passers-by from Memorial Park and Specs. It’s the idea of relaxing and dining in a casual atmosphere, albeit no rush or fuss.
Shandy’s loyal following in the community is evident and no one can get enough of her delicious, homemade food that looks fancy. Try the Half Roasted Chicken slowly simmered in Herbs de Provence with meat that falls off the bone (perfect for ‘finger lickin’). Or her Shrimp Fresca: first there’s an oven roasted sauce of Roma tomatoes, garlic, red peppers and balsamic vinegar. It is then puréed and sautéed with fresh spinach, tossed in linguine pasta, topped with grilled shrimp and Parmesan Cheese and served with homemade pesto sauce for an added kick.
Shandy’s new logo, and her most popular dish the Half Roasted Chicken. Served with French green beans and couscous. Photos: Logo by LIMB Design; Food by Margil Villarreal Digital Design
“Besides Rice Military neighbor and friend Orlando Sanchez, my favorite local celebrities include Rosie and Johnny Carrabba, Dominique Sachse, John Eddie and Sheridan Williams. Like everyone else, they stop by the cafe to grab a bite and say hello,” Shandy says.
Shandy has always wanted to expand her Houston footprint and that dream is about to come true! A second location, Shandy’s Heights, will be opening in the fall and located at 315 West 19th Street. There will be an expanded menu, a pizza oven and a full bar. “The concept for my second restaurant is much the same with clean, healthy comfort food and in addition, we will be open late at night for live music and cocktails at the bar,” Shandy states.
Shandy lives in the Acres Homes neighborhood and has planted a substantial garden there on the three acres of land she owns. She’s filling the garden with seasonal fruits and vegetables for her restaurants. Shandy envisions a future of creating and serving dishes focused only on what’s in season and in her garden.
When Shandy isn’t working (we don’t know when that is exactly), she spends free time with her two-year old son, Jacoby, who is her inspiration for life. Shandy loves meeting new people and is forever grateful to the Rice Military community for their continued support and inspiration these many years. She is especially indebted to Vic Sanchez of Magna Flow, Kenny Duncan of U.S. Coins and Jewelry and Cardiologist, Dr. Stanley Duchman. Shandy treasures the friendships that have been developed along her journey and looks forward to forging new friends at Shandy’s Heights.
No doubt, Shandy’s Café is now a name everyone knows, where everyone knows one another and where there is daily cheer. “Like my food, my philosophy is simple: just treat others as you wish to be treated and remember that you are what you eat. So eat fresh!”, Shandy exclaims.