Jason Howard Brings Inner Loop Eating to Cypress

Tell us about Jaxton’s Bistro & Bar.

It’s fairly new. About two years, so I would say it’s between new and old. I grew up in the fine dining industry. Tony’s is a fine dining establishment in the Houston area. It’s been around since the ‘60s, and it became the crème de la crème restaurant thing—suits, ties, white tablecloth, Frank Sinatra. I started as a host and worked my way through the ranks, ended up managing. I was in front of the house, but I grew up out here in Cypress so I did the whole commute thing.

Why did you do that? Why did you want to work at Tony’s when you lived out here?

I didn’t actually. I was putting myself through school. I was at the University of Houston, and I needed a job. Like many 19-year-olds, I was bouncing around. My mom saw an ad to be a host at Tony’s, and I was like ‘No. What am I going to do at a restaurant?’ I had envisioned myself wearing a suit with a briefcase. But I ended up going there through a connection of my moms and got the job and fell in love with the business. I guess I ended up being a businessman but not in the way I imagined. I fell in love with the business of food and people and experiences.

What about it made you fall in love with it?

I think it was because it’s a business of passion. Everybody has food in their background. But the French culinary history is huge, and food is central to my life and a lot of people’s life. So many major occasions and memories revolve around food and are celebrated around food. Holidays, graduations, getting together the first time you met somebody, falling in love on your first date—so many things. And I became passionate about delivering this experience to people. And I thought this was an incredible business to be in—giving people lifelong experience memories and having that connection. If you get engaged at Jaxton’s, then we’re connected for life.

Has that happened?

Oh yeah. So that’s the more emotional side of it that drew me in. And I’m a numbers guy. I studied supply chain management in school. But if I’m going to do numbers, I’m going to do it for something that I’m super passionate about. I was commuting, and then I kept seeing just a field of grass and I began to see signs: ‘Coming Soon: The Boardwalk.’ And I got excited first as a consumer because it’s Cypress and we need something to do here. And it was a matter of who knows how many times I passed that sign before it finally clicked. Maybe this is a worthwhile business venture. I knocked on the door, saw what they had in mind and went for it. I don’t know if I would’ve done this had it not been for the Boardwalk. I was super content with Tony’s.

So what led you to this design choice and this atmosphere?

It’s based on what I wanted to do. I wanted to bring a finer dining aspect to the suburbs, but I didn’t want it to be Tony’s. That’s very fine dining there, and your average Joe is intimidated. It’s stuffy, and it’s like, ‘Can I touch anything?’ I wanted nice and elegant, but I wanted it to be comfortable—a modern and rustic feel, because we do wood-fired cooking, which is so rustic it’s almost primitive, so I wanted to be current but pay homage to the rustic style of cuisine I have.

As a first-time restaurant owner, what obstacles have you overcome?

Two obstacles have been very significant. The first one is hiring. The labor force in fine dining is limited to none in Cypress because there is no fine dining out here. So the chances you find someone that’s super experienced in fine dining is not probable. Not only because there aren’t many fine dining establishments but also because we’re in a suburb. That means families, and that means the job force is younger, like kids. At Tony’s the servers had been doing it for longer than I had been alive. Here, I’m hiring high school kids and college kids who have never had a job period, much less fine dining. So training people how to be a great server, but also how to work, that’s an obstacle. It’s training people how to have a work ethic and how to be an adult. And I’m so thankful for the crew I have now. In the restaurant industry, there’s high turnover, and I’m so blessed to have the people I have in the kitchen and in the front of the house.

The other obstacle, it’s not so much an obstacle, but it’s just about adaptation. I built the restaurant to be what I thought the community needed, but really what that meant is what I wanted to have in the community. But what I wanted versus what the community actually wants isn’t always aligned. I set out to do fine dining, which is what I’m attracted to because of my background. But sometimes people just want a good burger or pizza or chicken fried steak. So I had to get off my need to do foie gras.

So has the restaurant changed from when it first opened?

Yes, it has. The No. 1 thing is price structure. I started out wanting to do $40, $50 prime-cut steaks, but there are so many options out there that to the untrained palette and even to mine you would be challenged to find a difference between prime-cut and not. So I ended up changing that to finding the best possible meat to the best possible value. So now we have steaks in the $20 range. We literally cut the prices in half. Also, in the beginning, it an was an à la carte menu, which is more of an Inner Loop-ish thing. You choose your protein and then you add sides if you want sides. Now we include the sides, and it’s more familiar with the area. We’ve done cool drink specials and happy hours, and we just started a reverse happy hour. With the Astros—and obviously, I didn’t imagine this being a sports bar—but with the Astros, our bar is packed with people watching the game. It’s people having a good time, a mellow good time. And so I’ve opened up the concept to be more inclusive, of just being more day-to-day. At first, it was more of a special occasion type place, but now I’ve opened it up to be more inclusive. You can come by on a Tuesday to get a pizza. That’s how we’ve evolved over the years.

9955 Barker Cypress Road, #104, Cypress, Texas, 832.653.2297, JaxtonsBistro.com

I set out to do fine dining, which is what I’m attracted to because of my background. But sometimes people just want a good burger or pizza or chicken fried steak.