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table of

contents

Lake Houston Business Matters is a quarterly publication of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. It is distributed to Chamber members and area businesses. Digital copies are available online at LakeHouston.org. CONTACT INFORMATION

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2019 LHA TOP 4 UNDER 40 Meet the best & brightest of the Lake Houston Area

MOVERS & SHAKERS OF THE LHA Meet the new leaders of the Lake Houston Area

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NEW UNITED AIRLINES HANGAR AT IAH One of the biggest enhancement projects to date

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HOMEGROWN: RAFFA'S & AMEDEO'S No place like Kingwood for community favorites

24

IN THE KNOW: RECOVERING LAKE HOUSTON Learn about the past present & future of the largest rain event to hit the LHA

ON THE COVER 2019 Top 4 Under 40 from left to right, Duane Johnston with Chick-fil-A Wilson, Beltway 8, Emily Stander with Stander & Company, Brittney Mittag with K&S Sportswear and Robert Marmerstein with HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood. Photo by Angi Lewis Photography

Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce 110 West Main Street, Humble, Texas 77338 (281) 446-2128 | LakeHouston.org CHAMBER LEADERSHIP

Chair of the Board Sam Schrade DNA Studios Chair Elect Terry Vaughn Walgreens President & CEO Jenna Armstrong, IOM Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce EDITORIAL STAFF

Editor in Chief Morgan McGrath — mmcgrath@lakehouston.org Contributing Writers Tom Broad — broadtom@hotmail.com Lynne Hayes Director of Production Ryan Moore — rmoore@metromediapublishers.com Photographer Angi Lewis Photography — angi@angilewis.com (281) 224-1542 Robyn Choiniere — pictureitsoldrobyn@gmail.com Picture It Sold Real Estate Photograhy (832) 312-6220 PUBLISHER

MetroMedia, Inc. David Small — dsmall@metromediapublishers.com 4210 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Suite 314A Fairway, Kansas 66205 | (913) 951-8413 To advertise, contact Joshua Rose (510) 734-7028, jrose@metromediapublishers.com

The Chamber is not responsible for advertisements included in this magazine. The information in this publication was compiled with care to ensure a high level of accuracy. Nonetheless, Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce and MetroMedia cannot guarantee the correctness of the information provided or the complete absence of accidental errors. For changes or additions, contact the Chamber at (281) 446-2128. No article may be reproduced without permission of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. 4 | Lake Houston Business Matters


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Photos by Angi Lewis Photography 6 | Lake Houston Business Matters


O

Over the years, the Lake Houston Area community has attracted numerous young professionals to live and work here thanks to our vibrant and welcoming atmosphere. Many have gone off to college or to work in other cities, only to realize there’s really no place like home. We’re fortunate to count so many excellent young leaders among our community members, and since 2015, we’ve recognized the most exemplary young women and men through the Top Four Under 40 awards. To be considered for the award, individuals are nominated by peers and coworkers who recognize the outstanding impact the young professional has had on our community. The four winners are then chosen by a hand-selected committee of community members. The Lake Houston Area Chamber proudly presents this year’s Top Four Under 40. We hope you’ll be as inspired by their energy, passion and commitment to our community as we have been.

DUANE JOHNSTON Owner, Chick-fil-A Wilson/Beltway 8 How do you bring an introvert out of his shell? Put him behind the order counter at one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the country. Duane Johnston says customer service “definitely wasn’t his thing” as a teen, but he needed to earn money and Chick-fil-A needed servers.

The decision to work at the popular chicken spot would ultimately be life- and career-changing for Johnston. Under the mentorship of his boss at the time, Kevin Caddenhead, Johnston quickly learned leadership skills and became a customer service guy extraordinaire. So much so, that after earning a degree in commercial art, Johnston decided sitting at a drawing board just wasn’t for him and he began focusing on moving up Chick-fil-A’s career ladder. In 2003, Johnston reached the top of that ladder when he was approved as owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A in Beaumont. At just 24 years old, he was one of the youngest ever selected to own a franchise, and one of only 60 new operators chosen out of the 20,000 who applied each year for a franchise. After a successful five years in Beaumont, Johnston yearned to be closer to his family in Houston. When he heard the news about a new location under construction on North Sam Houston Parkway, he jumped at the opportunity to buy it. Now in his 16th year as an owner, Johnston, 39, has won several of Chick-fil-A’s yearly sales contests thanks to attaining several million-dollar milestones. This year, his Lake Houston

Spring 2019 | 7


franchise, located off of Wilson Road and Beltway 8, is on track to reach sales of $6 million. The busy franchise owner, who is married with two young children, has made achieving a healthier work-life balance a goal for himself and for his employees. Part of meeting that goal is finding more ways for everyone to get involved in volunteerism. Since returning to the Lake Houston Area, Johnston has done that in many ways. His Chick-fil-A franchise steps up regularly to hold School Spirit Nights, donating 20 percent of the sales back to area school groups. And when Hurricane Harvey hit, Johnston’s franchise was there to help. “While our store didn’t flood, many of our employees’ homes were affected so they couldn’t get in, so we couldn’t officially open,” Johnston said. “But we wanted to do something. I was able to round up family and friends to serve over 3,000 sandwiches to first responders and refugees. It was very gratifying to be able to help that way.” Johnston is extremely active in his church, Second Baptist Church – North Campus, serving as a Deacon and Vacation Bible School coordinator for the past seven years. He’s also a Den Leader for his son’s Cub Scout troop. Johnston also made his mark as a member of the Lake Houston Area Chamber board for three years. He’s an active member of the Chamber’s Leadership Lake Houston Alumni program and Young Entrepreneurs and Professionals program. In addition, Johnston was a founding member of Summer Creek BizCom and has served on its advisory committee since its inception. “As a board member, I was able to support many initiatives that helped move our community forward, including Leadership Lake Houston,” Johnston shared. “I not only graduated from the program myself, I’ve been able to send six members of my franchise leadership team through the program. It’s been great to watch them blossom.” Johnston, who comes from a long line of teachers, including his parents, says his elders taught him the importance of giving back from a young age. “I’m blessed to be able to do that personally, and in my business as well. I want to teach young people that they can come and work here and learn how to be a leader … and be a better person than the examples a lot of society shows them.”

BRITTANY MITTAG Owner, K&S Sportswear When Brittany Mittag took over ownership of K&S Sportswear her parents’ screen printing, embroidery and promotion item business, her biggest challenge wasn’t learning the ropes. It was getting clients to stop thinking of her as “Steve and Katy’s little girl.” “There was quite a while where it was tough,” recalled the 33-year old Mittag. “The 8 | Lake Houston Business Matters

clients wanted … they expected … to deal with my mom or dad. Establishing myself as owner and proving I didn’t just get handed the business was a high priority for me.” Mittag, a graduate of Texas A&M, says she also had a “fear of completely failing,” and felt a tremendous responsibility to uphold the reputation and longstanding customer relationships that her parents had worked so hard to build over two decades. K&S Sportswear, which serves clients locally and nationwide, started in 1995 in the Mittag’s basement. As Mittag explained, it was “a way to build up extra income that would set my folks up to retire someday.” In 2014, when her parents began thinking seriously about their exit strategy, they approached their daughter about coming on board and eventually taking over the business. “It was perfect timing,” recalled Mittag. “My husband and I wanted to start a family and I had decided to leave my HR career. So, I said ‘absolutely’ to their offer.” By 2015, the business relocated to a storefront in Humble, and Mittag was now deep into the steep learning curve of business ownership. “I was strong on customer interaction thanks to my years in HR, but all the stuff you need to know as a business owner … payroll, financial, taxes … It’s a lot to absorb.” Today, Mittag’s parents are comfortably retired and she has hit her stride as boss. “I took the best of what my parents taught me and added a younger perspective,” she said. “I got us on social media and was involved in hiring two employees … we had none before … who have helped tremendously with efficiencies. It’s been all about bringing the business into the next phase.” As part of her mission, Mittag is also deeply committed to upholding one important tradition started by her parents — giving back to the community. “It was a key piece of their business philosophy and I have tried to continue that,” she said. “We’re a big community, but we’re a close-knit one. I think people see me following in my parents’ footsteps of giving back … and that definitely helps build faith in me and what we do in our business.” As her retiring parents began curtailing their community involvement, Mittag said she “ramped it up.” She joined the Young Entrepreneurs and Professionals (YEP) steering committee and regularly helps out the various nonprofits in the K&S customer base by donating items for events and promoting events on their own social media. Sponsoring the Humble Education Foundation Gala is another charitable activity close to her heart. “We invite teachers and administrators to join us at our table so they can enjoy the evening on us … it’s our way of honoring them,” Mittag said. After Hurricane Harvey, she saw another opportunity to give back to Humble ISD. This was especially meaningful since Mittag is a proud product of the school system and it’s where she and husband, Jeremy, plan to send their young son and soon-to-be born baby girl someday. Working with Jen Sitton, chair of the Humble ISD Foundation board, Mittag and her parents helped create, produce and sell


“Humble ISD Strong” T-shirts. Customers in 24 states stepped up to purchase the T-shirts and K&S raised $33,000 for the school system’s rebuilding and restoration effort. “To me it’s so important to give back,” Mittag said. “My family has been blessed both personally and in business … and it’s important to me to give back to a community that has supported our business … they go hand in hand.” Mittag said it’s meant a great deal to be recognized by her peers with the Top 4 award, calling it a huge honor. “Somebody in the community read the award description and I popped into their head. It’s humbling. I’ve had the goal to be part of this for a long time.”

ROB MARMERSTEIN COO, HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood As a youngster, Rob Marmerstein and his family resettled around the country several times for his dad’s career. The 33-year old Chief Operating Officer at HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood said the experience helped him develop his own definition of what “community” meant. With each new city his family called home, the self-described

shy boy had to start a social life over and over again and create a new “community” wherever he moved. Marmerstein said it was a tremendous learning experience, and likely set him on his future career path. “Being exposed to a lot of diversity makes me appreciate different types of people and different ways of thinking,” Marmerstein said. “As diverse as people can be, they can still come together to make a strong community, because a community is simply a group of people with shared goals.” Marmerstein pursued a degree in Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, envisioning himself creating an inviting community among hotel guests and staff. But in his senior year, he realized his true calling was to follow in his father’s footsteps. His dad was a hospital administrator and now Marmerstein was seeing, for the first time, the amazing potential of that career. He earned his Master of Hospital Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University and has never looked back. “I realized a hospital is still a ‘house full of guests’… but it also serves a basic human need,” Marmerstein explained. “It’s fascinating because of the complexities. I get to work with the most diverse kind of work force around.” “When I began working on my master’s, I set a goal to become a hospital COO by 30,” he added. “My 30th birthday was actually my first day in my first COO role … at HCA Houston Mainland Medical Center.” In January 2017, Marmerstein was named COO of HCA Kingwood. Even now, he said his childhood definition of

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“community” still applies since “a hospital is simply many different people coming together for a single purpose.” Listening to Marmerstein expound on what he loves about his job, it’s easy to see why his personality is perfect for the role. He comes across as an incredibly sensitive and caring person, deeply committed to making sure the environment at Kingwood is as healthy for its employees as it is for its patients. “All of our jobs here are incredibly stressful. You need to be able to find personal meaning from it. … you have to love it,” he said . “I get huge satisfaction from having a daily opportunity … I call it a privilege … to help employees progress in their careers and to be a part of helping families get through what can sometimes be the worst experience of their lives. It’s gratifying work.” Marmerstein’s strong sense of community extends far beyond the hospital doors. He is involved in many volunteer positions in Lake Houston. In 2018, he served in several board and council positions, including: The Greater East Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce (GEMCC), the Lake Houston Area Planning Council and the Lake Houston Long Term Recovery Task Force among others. He also makes time to volunteer with several organizations including March of Dimes and the Lake Houston Area Chamber’s Leadership Lake Houston program. “When I think about what I find important, it’s all about people,” Marmerstein said. “I like connecting with people who want to do positive things and I’m always searching for ways to do that alongside them.”

EMILY STANDER Co-Owner, Stander & Company From a young age, Emily Stander’s mom taught her that those who are blessed with not wanting had a responsibility to give back. Stander never forgot the lesson, and throughout her life, she has always made time to give of her time. Time is an especially precious commodity to Stander. In between raising three children, Caroline, 13, Sam,10, and 5-year old Patrick, Stander and her husband, Nicholas, run Stander & Company, a onestop shop providing small businesses with everything from accounting to insurance, tax, payroll and consulting services. It’s a daily challenge on many fronts juggling a growing family and a growing business, but Stander wouldn’t have it any other way. “Managing all the struggles, growing pains and stresses that come along with our business is demanding, but every success gives me a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “I face those demands regularly and choose to come back daily.” 10 | Lake Houston Business Matters

Even with the many hours she devotes to the couple’s business, Stander, 39, is dedicated to giving back to the Lake Houston community. She volunteers with the Humble Area Assistance Ministries (HAAM), serves as president of the St. Mary Magdalene School Board, and sits on the board of directors for both the Lake Houston YMCA and the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce. Stander has two volunteer experiences that are especially close to her heart. The first is volunteering with her daughter through the National Charity League (NCL) which Stander loves because it gives young girls the chance to be leaders within the organization. “I love being able to help shape that quality in Caroline through NCL and show her how leadership roles positively impact a community,” Stander said, “just as my mom set an example for me.” The second is Sam’s Soldiers Fun Run, an event that Stander, her sister and several friends created and held for three years, from 2013 – 2016, as a way to raise funds and bring awareness to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a muscle-wasting disease afflicting her son, Sam, now 10 years old. As of now, DMD is a 100 percent fatal disease, but Stander remains optimistic. “Every person with DMD is different. Some progress slowly, others very rapidly,” she said. “All parents want their children to grow. Sam is on the only FDA-approved drug to slow muscle deterioration, but unfortunately, Sam’s muscles couldn’t handle the strain of gaining height and weight, so he is now in a wheelchair consistently.” Stander has also inspired the drive to give back in her employees, all of whom regularly participate in community volunteering. “Giving back to our community is the best way to ensure the good health of our community and its small businesses,” said Stander. “We’ve been through a lot together, especially when Hurricane Harvey hit.” Stander said some small businesses just weren’t able to recover from the damage and closed for good. Through her work with the Chamber board, Stander said the community, its small businesses, and its residents will be better prepared if a disaster hits in the future. “We’re doing everything we can to drive improvements in infrastructure here,” Stander said. “That’s our big focus right now. If we can do that, then small business growth will follow, and the community will thrive even more. As small business owners, we truly believe that lifting each other lifts all of us to greater success.” As for her Top 4 award, Stander said she’s deeply honored that her Lake Houston colleagues appreciate her contributions to the community. But even more important to Stander is what being a Top 4 honoree demonstrates to her daughter. “Being recognized by the Chamber is most important to me because it shows my daughter, Caroline, that women can really do it all. We can be successful and give back and run a business and have a family. It shows her women can do anything.”


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New names and faces in leadership positions within the Lake Houston Area Dan Crenshaw, US House of Representatives – TX-D2 Dan Crenshaw, 35, was elected into office on Nov. 6, 2018, filling the seat of incumbent Ted Poe, who retired after serving as a congressman since 2005. Congressman Crenshaw is originally from Houston and is a proud sixth generation Texan. From an early age, Dan knew that he wanted to serve his country, so he joined the U.S. Navy SEALs and went on to serve on SEAL teams for 10 years. He left service with two Bronze Stars (one with valor), the Purple Heart, and the Navy Commendation Medal with valor, among many other recognitions. Crenshaw completed his master’s in public

administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government soon after he medically retired in September 2016 from SEAL Teams. He believes in service before self and understands that there is no higher calling than service to the American people. www.crenshawforcongress.com @RepDanCrenshaw @RepDanCrenshaw

Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, 28, was elected into office on Nov. 6, 2018, defeating incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, who had been Harris County Judge since 2007. Judge Hidalgo was born in Colombia, when the drug war still raged and everyone knew someone who had been kidnapped. Her parents had two goals: to make sure she had a good education and to get the family to a safer place. Lina grew up in Peru and Mexico, where her parents were offered job opportunities, before immigrating to America in 2005. Lina is a proud product of Houston-area public schools and, as her

parents dreamed, was the first in her family to attend college in the U.S. She graduated from Stanford University with a degree in political science the same year she became a U.S. citizen. www.linahidalgo.com @Lina4HC @Lina4HC

Adrian Garcia, Harris County Commissioner, Pct. 2 Adrian Garcia, 58, was elected into office on Nov. 6, 2018, unseating incumbent Jack Morman, who had been the Pct. 2 Commissioner since 2010. Commissioner Garcia is working every day to make Precinct 2 and all of Harris County a place where everyone who wants a job can get a job, where everyone can afford to rent or own a home, and where our kids and seniors can walk to church, the park or school without fear of crime. Garcia is the child of immigrants who moved here to build a better life for their family. He is a lifelong resident of Precinct 2 14 | Lake Houston Business Matters

with a 35-year record of distinguished public service. That’s why Garcia has devoted his life to building a Precinct 2 community that honors and celebrates the diversity of our people, neighborhoods and culture. www.adriangarcia.com @AdrianGarciaHTX @AdrianGarciaHTX


John Corbeil CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood John Corbeil started as the new CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood (formerly Kingwood Medical Center) on Jan. 14. He replaced Melinda Stephenson, who retired. Corbeil was the chief operating officer at HCA’s Medical City Fort Worth since March 2016, and while there, he successfully led operational and business development efforts across multiple service lines. He helped the hospital achieve unprecedented growth, has been instrumental in improving physician satisfaction and led multiple operational improvement efforts. Corbeil earned both his bachelor’s degree in business administration and his master’s degree in health administration from the

University of Iowa. He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and Leadership North Texas. He is also a board member of The University of Iowa’s College of Public Health and Near Southside Inc., which is focused on economic development and city planning. www.hcahoustonhealthcare.com/ locations/kingwood @HCAHoustonKingwood @HCAHouKingwood

Carlos Limontes, Senior General Manager of Deerbrook Mall Carlos Limontes was named Senior General Manager of Deerbrook Mall in August 2018. He follows Andrew McKinney, who had managed the mall since spring 2017.

Prior to moving into property management, Limontes spent 12 years in retail, managing stores for Family Christian Stores, Old Navy and Ross. In 2009, Carlos joined Simon Property where he managed centers in Florida. Carlos relocated to Louisiana to join Brookfield Properties in 2016 as general manager of Pecanland Mall. Limontes is a University of Central Florida

graduate and has a Master in Business Management from the University of Florida. Carlos holds the designation of Certified Shopping Center Manager through the International Council of Shopping Centers. Limontes is married to his wonderful wife Jenny and has two children and two dogs. www.shopdeerbrookmall.com @ShopDeerbrookMall

Jeremy Brynes, CEO of Kingwood Emergency Hospital Jeremy Brynes was announced as the new CEO to Kingwood Emergency Hospital on Jan. 28. Brynes brings a wealth of experience to Kingwood Emergency Hospital. Previously, he served as assistant vice president of Health Systems Operations and administrator of the UTMB League City Hospital. In that role, he was responsible for the day-to-day operations and performance of UTMB’s rapidly-growing community-based academic medical center hospital. He also oversaw service line strategic planning and business development for all of UTMB’s hospitals and clinics. Brynes received his Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from SUNY Cortland

and his Master of Business Administration from Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business. Brynes and his wife, Courtney, have three children. His unique background and experience offer a fresh perspective on the patient experience. Together, he and Kingwood Emergency Hospital are changing the definition of emergency care for the people of Northeast Harris and Montgomery Counties. www. kingwood247er.com @KingwoodEmergencyHospital @Kingwood247ER Spring 2019 | 15


BY LYNNE HAYES Images provided by Manhattan Construction

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assengers traveling through George Bush Intercontinental Airport (GBIA) are used to the hum of construction in and around the grounds. After all, you don’t get to be the 10th busiest airport in North America or ranked among the top 20 U.S. airports by the Wall Street Journal without continuous improvements.

16 | Lake Houston Business Matters

One of the biggest enhancement projects, United Airline’s new 332,000-square-foot hangar complex, is expected to open this fall. Formally known as the United Technical Operations Center (UTOC), the new facility, which is now 60 percent completed, will consolidate United’s Houston maintenance facilities, along with a


new warehouse distribution center, technical services The multimillion-dollar UTOC project, which Fuller and administrative offices. framed as “the product of a partnership between United, The hangar area alone measures a whopping 200,000 the City and Houston Airport Systems,” requires not square feet, large enough to accommodate two wideonly tremendous competency when it comes to the body aircrafts and a standard-size aircraft at the same actual construction, but also with managing the massive time. Over 13 acres of airfield is being paved to connect budget. the complex to adjacent taxiways, and for use as exterior “A project of this magnitude is always evolving… part ‘hardstand’ for aircraft testing and maintenance. of our job as a construction manager is to ensure that “There was ground at the airport that was we can react rapidly and incorporate these changes into underutilized and our airport’s anchor airline, United, the ongoing construction while mitigating the overall was experiencing significant growth ... it was the ideal cost and time impact,” Fuller said. “We’re entrusted pairing,” explained Mark Mitchell, President of the Lake with being good stewards of public funds and to get the Houston Economic Development Partnership. “The best value for what is spent.” new UTOC will create tremendous efficiencies, reduce Fuller is especially proud that his company has operational costs and improve logistics.” exceeded the City of Houston Office of Mitchell said the facility will “align Business Opportunity’s MWSBE goals beautifully with the Lake Houston (minority, women-owned and small area’s broader strategy for business enterprises) on this logistics and distribution project. MCC has employed growth and leverages the hundreds of workers since notion that we, along breaking ground. with the metro, are a “We currently average big distribution hub,” around 150 workers and that it will “be on site per day and a major enticement will peak at around for new businesses 250 when systems to locate to our city installation in the and into surrounding hangar is in full swing,” communities.” Fuller said. “Among the The project is being trades represented are built and managed by sitework, concrete, steel the Houston office of erection, mechanical, Oklahoma City-based, electrical, plumbing, President of the Lake Houston Manhattan Construction fire protection, specialty Economic Development Company (MCC). cabling and finishes; and MCC’s Houston team, headed we’ve worked with open shop Partnership by Vice President and Houston and union labor. To date there have Regional Manager Jason Fuller has been 1175 different workers on site.” spearheaded numerous high-visibility As for employment opportunities for Lake Houston construction projects over the years that locals Houstonians once UTOC opens, Mitchell has high know and use, including NRG Stadium, BBVA Compass hopes. Plaza and TDECU Stadium at the University of Houston. Mitchell is excited about the great opportunities that Last year, Fuller’s team was tasked with recovery and the opening of UTOC will bring and is equally thrilled to renovation of Houston’s cultural gem, the Wortham see the project being completed in a timely manner and Theater, which flooded during Hurricane Harvey. also under budget. “UTOC is a cornerstone project for us,” said Fuller, “I toured the site recently and it was looking “and we’re proud of our continued relationship with amazing,” Mitchell shared. “When you consider how GBIA and the city of Houston.” this partnership is working together for the good of the MCC has a long history of working on projects for community ... and how with our centralized location, GBIA and United. Recent projects include United’s great infrastructure, and a tremendous enhancement recently-completed Terminal C North concourse, as like UTOC, we are absolutely poised for even more well as the airport’s automated people mover expansion economic successes here. We can’t wait.” in Terminal A, and the Terminal A-B parking garage.

“THIS NEW UNITED TECHNICAL OPERATIONS CENTER WILL CREATE TREMENDOUS EFFICIENCIES, REDUCE OPERATIONAL COSTS AND IMPROVE LOGISTICS.”

MARK MITCHELL,

Spring 2019 | 17


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COMMUNITY TREASURES – AMEDEO’S AND RAFFA’S For Tony and Leslie Raffa, staying in Lake Houston is the right thing to do BY TOM BROAD Photos by Picture it Sold Real Estate Photography 20 | Lake Houston Business Matters


T

he year was 1984. Tony Raffa was maneuvering his way up Highway 59 to The Woodlands determined to check out locations for the restaurant idea he had in his head and was ready to create. And then he saw it. Right there on the highway. A huge billboard. It read, “Kingwood — the livable forest” with the familiar eye-catching trees and deer logo. “Kingwood?” Tony said to himself, “I need to check it out.” Almost 35 years later, Amedeo’s, the restaurant concept that Tony had in his head as he drove up Highway 59, is more than just Lake Houston’s innovative dining destination; it’s a community treasure. It’s no surprise that Amedeo’s, and its sister restaurant, Raffa’s, are both Lake Houston Area icons. Tony Raffa comes from a family that lives and breathes culinary delight. “Grandma was the catalyst,” Tony recalls. “Her love for cooking, and her special recipes, encouraged us to open our own restaurants.” In fact, if you go to Tony’s hometown of New Bedford, Massachusetts, you can still dine at the family restaurants, Ma Raffa’s and Pa Raffa’s.

Aspiring to break out on his own, Tony ended up in Galveston cooking on an offshore supply vessel and eventually found his way to Mario’s Flying Pizza where he estimates he hand tossed at least 100 pizzas a day. He was then finally hired as a sous chef at a Houston restaurant. “I saw that billboard, drove up and down Loop 494 and found a building that housed a defunct lighting store,” Tony said. “We ‘demoed’ it and built Amedeo’s.” That same building still houses Lake Houston’s best-known Italian eatery to this day. In fact, it’s how he met Leslie. “Her family were customers at Amedeo’s. Good cooking helps you meet the people you fall in love with,” Tony recalls with a smile. Twenty years later, Tony and Leslie Raffa created Raffa’s Waterfront Grill, with its distinctively contemporary American cuisine, in Kings Harbor where the San Jacinto and Lake Houston unite. And it was the restaurant’s 10th anniversary when Hurricane Harvey paid its notorious visit and destroyed Raffa’s. “It was devastation,” Tony recalls, “the beautiful armoire in our entry was gone, probably down the river. The hostess

Spring 2019 | 21


After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, Tony and Leslie station was wedged in the kitchen door. Booths turned upside were enticed to leave their two locations. down, if we could find them. Leslie and I knew it would be “Restaurants are our living,” Tony said. “We could have bad — but it actually was 10 times worse.” given up and moved. We certainly had other options. Leslie and After viewing what was left of Raffa’s, Tony and Leslie’s first I thought long and hard about it but, frankly, re-opening Raffa’s thoughts were “… to clean it up.” at Kings Harbor was just the right thing to do. It was important And Lake Houston came out in force to help. to be back with our neighbors, The first day of clean up, 40 in our neighborhood, showing people showed up to help. The our commitment to our next day, 50 people showed. community.” Later, current and past Most Friday and Saturday employees and friends held a nights, more than a thousand special dinner fundraiser at people are dining in the Amedeo’s coordinated by Chef restaurants of Kings Harbor David Welch. Houston Chef and while they’re not ruling Chris Shepherd awarded them out opening a third restaurant, a grant. Tony’s cousin back Tony and Leslie are focused home started a GoFundMe. now on burnishing the tradition Oneida Limited and Gordon Foods gave them a grant to Tony Raffa (right), with his General Manager, of Amedeo’s and growing Rachel Wolfe and Executive Chef, Martin Reczek. Raffa’s into one of Houston’s help purchase silverware and best restaurants. china. “We have a great product,” Tony said. “We’ve been blessed “I can’t stress how helpful Mark Mitchell and the Lake with a staff that’s been with us from the beginning of both Houston Area Chamber were in getting us back on our feet,” restaurants. Leslie has had to make a lot of sacrifices because Tony said. “His seminars helped us look at ways to use different of the hours I work, but fortunately, we have incredible grants and loans and take advantage of the tax laws.” community support. Our customers are the best.” Tony and Leslie’s landlord, Midway Company, stepped up To sample what’s on Tony and Leslie Raffa’s unique menus, as well. check out Amedeo’s Italian Restaurant and Bar at 22704 “Midway helped big time in getting us up and running,” Loop 494 across from Lowe’s, www.amedeos.net, and Raffa’s Tony says. “They really were our ‘big brother’ helping us get Waterfront Grill in King’s Harbor on West Lake Houston started again.” Parkway, www.raffas.net.

22 | Lake Houston Business Matters


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WRITTEN BY MORGAN MCGRATH

24 | Lake Houston Business Matters


O

n August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Record breaking amounts of rainfall caused the flooding that plagued communities from one end of the Texas coast to the other. One of these communities was the Lake Houston Area. Encompassing Kingwood (City of Houston), the City of Humble, and other large portions of unincorporated Harris County, the Lake Houston Area is a large, diverse and unique suburb of Houston. Three county precincts intersect in the area. With two city jurisdictions and multiple county commissioners, navigating day-to-day issues like transportation or economic development are difficult enough. When the hurricane flooded the Lake Houston Area, all these different entities, and then some, were forced to work together for the betterment of the businesses, schools and residents in the LHA community. First, it is important to understand the different entities that come into play and will be further brought up in this article: City of Houston — The City of Houston annexed Kingwood in 1996 into their city limits. This is important to know because the city has jurisdiction over the tax base and regulations, as well as management of streets and drainage projects. City of Humble — A large position of the City of Humble was damaged after the Hurricane and previous rain events. Resiliency efforts affect them as much as they affect the rest of the Lake Houston Area. Harris County Precincts 1, 2 and 4 — The Lake Houston Area contains parts of three different precincts, which has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, its in our best interest to have three of five leaders on the commissioner’s court that will most likely vote in favor of helping the areas they represent. On the other hand, coming to common ground with so many jurisdictions, can sometimes be challenging. Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) — Under management of the Harris County Commissioners Court, the HCFCD is a special purpose district, created by the Texas Legislature in 1937. Their current primary functions include devising flood damage and reduction plans, implementing the plans and maintaining the infrastructure within the limits of Harris County. San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) — Created by the Texas Legislature in 1937, the San Jacinto River Authority is a government agency whose mission is to develop, mitigate, conserve, protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin as well as flood prevention. The SJRA manages Lake Conroe. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality strives to protect the state’s public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Their goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste. Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) — The Texas Division of Emergency Management coordinates the state emergency management program, which is intended to ensure the state and its local governments respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters, and implement

plans and programs to help prevent or lessen the impact of emergencies and disasters. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror. Coastal Water Authority (CWA) — The Coastal Water Authority is a conservation and reclamation district created by a Special Act of the 60th Legislature of the State of Texas in 1967. CWA provides untreated surface water to the cities of Houston, Baytown, and Deer Park; all for municipal purposes. The Authority is governed by a Board of seven directors, three appointed by the Governor of Texas, and four appointed by the City of Houston. CWA is the entity that manages Lake Houston. Small Business Administration (SBA) — The U.S. Small Business Administration helps Americans start, build, and grow businesses. The SBA was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of our nation. LHA Long Term Recovery Task Force — This committee was created following the flooding in the Lake Houston Area from Hurricane Harvey. The purpose is to bring community stakeholders together to evaluate the community’s needs in order to prepare and execute a long term recovery plan. The Task Force is a concerted effort of municipalities, schools, colleges, employers, nonprofits, neighborhood councils and social service organizations to work together to assist in recovering the Lake Houston Area.

The Past – Though Hurricane Harvey was a 5,000 year flood event, there were many preventable occurrences that, if addressed sooner, would have prevented much of the flooding with in the Lake Houston Area. Lake Houston is a man-made lake, owned and operated by the City of Houston. Construction began in the fourth quarter of 1951 and it’s single dam was completed two years later. It was created for municipal, industrial, recreational, mining, and irrigation purposes, according to the Texas State Historical Association. Lake Conroe is also a man-made lake, and was a partnership project between the San Jacinto River Authority, the City of Houston and the Texas Water Development Board to serve as a water supply reservoir, which was completed and filled in 1973. The headwaters of Lake Conroe, formed by the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, are located about 17 miles west of Huntsville in western Walker County. The river flows southeast for about ninety miles through Montgomery County to its confluence with the East Fork of the San Jacinto River on the northern rim of Lake Houston in northeastern Harris County, according to the SJRA’s website. Spr Spring p ing g 20 2 2019 19 9 | 25 25


Unfortunately, in the more than 40 years that both lakes were constructed, neither of them, along with the river have never been dredged, meaning that half a century of rain events, hurricanes and more have filled both lakes and the river with sand, debris and sedimentation. Throughout history, people naturally gravitate toward large bodies of water. For Lake Houston and Lake Conroe, this is no different. Housing communities, businesses, office buildings and other giant developments quickly started to appear along the river banks and along the lakes. Though these developments made living along these waterways desirable, this construction also made it so instead of a river naturally moving vertically, it forced the water to move laterally. Also on these river banks was sand. This sand is one of many materials that is used in fracking to extract oil and natural gas. Due to the strong uptick of fracking in Texas and surrounding areas, the sand mining industry has also seen an increase in demand. Luckily for them, the river banks of the San Jacinto river contains the perfect kind of sand for fracking. Unfortunately, the regulations put in place for sand mining were not affectively enforced for a prolonged amount of time by appropriate government agencies. This caused even more sediment to fall into the river. These are just a few of the major factors that caused the flooding in the Lake Houston Area. Paired with a lack of communication with many different entities and jurisdictions, plus water, debris and sediment flowing from eight creeks and rivers into Lake Houston, Hurricane Harvey was the ‘perfect storm’ which put into perspective the neglect that the rivers and lakes had undergone throughout the decades. Unfortunately, to this day, there is still no maintenance plan in place for the San Jacinto River or any body of water near the

26 | Lake Lake ake Houston ak Houst uston on Bus B Business ine ess Mat Matters tte terss ter

Lake Houston Area. There are also no development restrictions or more strict sand mining regulations in the pipeline, either. After the hurricane hit, and subsequent flooding, fingers were pointing in all different directions at jurisdictions, entities and state officials. The Lake Houston Area was the third most affected region in the Houston area, but our case was so much more unique than any of the other hard-hit areas.

Current – The issues that the Lake Houston Area face are extremely fast-moving. New developments on projects happen every day, for the betterment and resiliency of the Lake Houston Area. Immediately after the hurricane hit, the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce orchestrated the Long Term Recovery Task Force, inviting more than 20 area officials to convene. This task force currently meets monthly to discuss plans and recent developments towards a more resilient Lake Houston Area. Luckily, with the campaigns the Chamber has hosted, everything the task force initiated has been brought to light by our actively involved elected officials, like State Representative Dan Huberty and Houston City Council Member Dave Martin. The Chamber’s work within the community has enabled name recognition at the state level. To name a few accomplishments, the LTRTF has assisted in initiating emergency dredging of the San Jacinto River, recently including the large blockage on the east fork of the river (also referred to as the ‘mouthbar’ by local recovery information specialist, Bob Rehak), temporary seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe for the past nine months, LHA residents appointed to the SJRA board by Governor Abbott and advocating for the approval of the Harris County Flood Bond.


With several timelines at work that include FEMA’s, Harris County Bond Project’s, and mother nature, to name a few, it’s apparent that we all must work together to mitigate catastrophic flooding the Lake Houston Area. Though we cannot predict the weather, we can be proactive and mitigate to strengthen our resiliency. A great example of this is Houston City Council Member Dave Martin’s proactivity in lowering Lake Houston ahead of heavy predicted rain events. His office has done this six times now, and it has been successful in flood prevention thus far. Though we are in the process of dredging the river, there is still a lot of work to be done. The Harris County Flood Bond approval included a partnership project with the City of Houston to add 10 additional gates to the Lake Houston dam, which according to Dave Martin’s office is a top priority for preventing future flooding. To view the current status of all bond projects, visit: www. harriscountyfemt.org/cb

Future – The bond projects within Harris County will not be completed overnight. It’s likely that it will be at least 10 years before all remediation initiatives are complete, so in the meantime, it’s important to be prepared. Here’s a few tips to ensure the safety of your business and your family: Get flood insurance — Even if you don’t own the building that your business resides, inquire with your landlord about purchasing flood insurance for your business. It may be possible that you can purchase insurance only for your storefront to ensure that your business is protected. If your home lies within the newly-drawn floodplains, or even if it doesn’t, flood insurance is something to always have and hope never to use. But if you do have to use it, it could save families like yours tens of thousands of dollars if your home is flooded. Eighty percent of the homes that were flooded during Hurricane Harvey in the Lake Houston Area did not have flood insurance. However, please note that you are only able to purchase flood insurance for your home or business 30 days prior to a named hurricane. But before you hit that ‘purchase’ button on your new flood insurance policy, make sure you read it at length or ask your insurance provider to go over it with you with a fine-tooth comb. A great place to start is by asking, is this policy named peril? Or all risk?

Also be aware that you can get the flood history of a home from FEMA before you purchase a home. Make a plan with your business and with your family — It’s highly recommended that your business and your family sets a plan for any natural disaster that may come your way. Many entities offer disaster preparedness seminars and workshops, like the Minority Business Development Agency, or your local Chamber of Commerce. For businesses, www.ready.gov/business is a great resource for your business to create a plan for when disaster strikes. If that means moving your network to a cloud based server, so no information is lost, or preparing for a complete loss of all your equipment and inventory, it’s important to have a plan of action. www.ready.gov is a wonderful resource for concise information on how to prepare your family for all kinds of natural disasters, floods included. Know your resources — If your home and/or business does end up getting damaged by any kind of natural disaster, it’s important to know what resources are out there. Communities like the Lake Houston Area are lucky enough to have many local organizations that can assist in short and long term needs of affected families. Your local Chamber can most likely direct you to the correct resources. FEMA does have financial resources to help your family recover, but claim times and services are can sometimes run at a snail’s pace and typically don’t cover the value of the personal property lost. Know who represents you — Your elected officials work for you, and you’re encouraged to contact them if you feel as if an issue, like flood remediation, is not being properly addressed. Take advantage of local elected official receptions and candidate meet and greets to voice your concerns directly to those currently in office and to those who may be in office in the near future. If you’re unable to attend any of those events, call, email or send a letter to their office. If you’re not sure who represents you, visit: wrm. capitol.texas.gov/home Invest in your community — Whether you buy a coffee at a local coffee shop, a blouse at a local boutique or invest in your local Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce, you are pouring money back into your community. When you do this, you are helping small business owners send their kids to college or helping your local chamber send legislative delegates to Austin or Washington D.C. to advocate for your community or host seminars about disaster preparedness.

“IT’S APPARENT THAT WE ALL MUST WORK TOGETHER TO MITIGATE CATASTROPHIC FLOODING THE LAKE HOUSTON AREA. THOUGH WE CANNOT PREDICT THE WEATHER, WE CAN BE PROACTIVE AND MITIGATE TO STRENGTHEN OUR RESILIENCY.”

Spring 2019 | 27


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Lake Houston Business Matters Magazine Spring 2019  

Lake Houston Business Matters Magazine Spring 2019  

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