They say if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. These Houston innovators and entrepreneurs have taken the bait! Meet the creators, developers, dreamers and doers moving Houston into the future now.
EDGE OF NIGHT
In an era in which craft brews and comfort food are chic, Sean Jamea offers something new in nightlife—glamour!
Nightlife in Houston can be an ephemeral and uncertain industry, not unlike commercial real estate. “There’s a lot of unknown,” acknowledges Shahin “Sean” Jamea, 41, principal of the Oxberry Group development company. The former tax attorney specializing in real estate started Oxberry with his older brother, PJ, in 2004.
Over the years, the Iranian-born brothers amassed assets like office parks, condominium towers and restaurants. And this year, just steps from their Midtown office, an Oxberry-owned block containing two high-end club concepts debuted to great fanfare, promising an exciting future for Houston’s ever-evolving nightlife scene—and bucking the recent trend of beercentric pubs and gussied-up dive bars. The glamorous Clé nightclub—which recently added a Vegas-style pool—became an overnight hit. And Tarakaan, an Asian-themed restaurant with a lively after-hours lounge, is a decidedly upscale addition to the neighborhood.
The Oxberry Group has two other to-be-announced high-end hospitality projects in the works in Midtown. Sean believes in the area, which he says will fare better through a downturn than other neighborhoods and suburbs. “Midtown is on the same city grid as Downtown. It allows extremely dense vertical development,” he says. “It’s a much more resilient market.”
Posh, by Gosh!
At Jamea’s restaurant Tarakaan, which recalls Paris’ Buddha Bar, a fashionable set sips cocktails such as the Red Lantern—a rum and pomegranate drink with black Thai chili peppers. Next door, nightclub Clé pulls in pretty people who lounge in cabanas around the pool; the huge dance floor inside is often packed.
GILDING THE GRIDIRON
New UH coach Tom Herman hasn’t just rebuilt the football team. He’s changing how the city thinks of its university.
Beyond the tasty tailgating and roar of the fight songs, college football is big business. That makes first-year UH head football coach Tom Herman, 40, the CEO of a resurgent brand with immense growth potential.
L.A. area native Herman brings relentless focus to team building, game planning and marketing the game-day experience—to a student body and a city he believes are experiencing a renaissance. Besides putting “a consistently good product onto the field,” the married father of three uses social media aggressively—and spends several weeknights visiting campus dorms, literally going door-to-door to hype up his program to potential fans.
Herman’s explosive brand of offense was integral to the Ohio State Buckeyes’ championship campaign last season—and earned him the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. Now at UH, undefeated through 10 games at press time, the Cougar offense is racking up prolific yardage and nearly 46 points per game while an ever-swarming defense leads the nation in takeaways and turnover margin.
Herman and his confident top-25 squad are now the symbol of what UH administrators hope is a revitalized chapter in the history of an athletic program that has struggled for national relevance since the ’90s—and a university that has blossomed into a Tier One institution and now boasts the second-highest number of on-campus residents in the state, behind A&M. “He changed the culture of our football program,” says Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek. “That’s stretched across our campus, and it’s starting to stretch all over Houston.”
Herman has tasked his assistants to be as dialed into Twitter and Instagram as a Kardashian. “We—and the #HTownTakeover hash tag—need to be visible to recruits and fans wherever we can be.”
A CURE THING
Surgeon and researcher Callisia Clarke is improving the way docs treat cancer.
As a little girl growing up in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Callisia Clarke, now 35, had an epiphany one day at the doctor’s office—when her pediatrician turned out to be female. “I didn’t know women could do that,” she laughs. Now, not only is Clarke doing that herself, as a general surgeon and fellow at MD Anderson, but she’s also a groundbreaking cancer researcher earning national attention for her efforts. The Society for Surgical Oncology recently singled her out for high praise for her studies on how to customize treatment of Stage 4 colorectal cancer.
But rare, extraordinary affirmations are nothing new for Clarke, who won a full ride to medical school at the University of Cincinnati. She steered to oncological treatment because cancer surgery is among the only types of surgery that afford docs the chance to bond with and learn from patients over time, outside the operating room. “You stay with them through their journey.”
Clarke has since added “researcher” to her résumé. Among her innovations, she’s upgraded the way oncologists customize treatment, streamlining how they transfer tumor samples from sick patients into test mice.
The pretty bachelorette—“I’m single as can be!”—says moving to Houston was the best decision she ever made, and she’s proud she was chosen to join MD Anderson. “I knew my research would be encouraged.”
Of Mice and Men
Rather than invasive—and sometimes impossible—surgery to remove portions of a patient’s tumor to implant in mice, to see how the tumor responds to various treatments, Clarke has proven you can achieve the same results in mice with cancer cells found in the patient’s blood.
MAN OF MYSTERY
Houston has become a major food city, so how do we up the ante? Ahrif Sarumi knows, but shhh... It’s kind of a secret.
Houston foodies are spoiled. Haute dining has become the norm, and even the most exotic cuisines and food trends are expected. At least that’s how 31-year-old Ahrif Sarumi sees it. But never fear. His Aces of Taste pop-up dinner series keeps gourmands on their toes, reinventing what gourmet means now.
Sarumi created the concept last year when he determined there was a niche for specialized culinary experiences outside the typical restaurant dining room. So, twice a month, the entrepreneur partners with a local celeb chef to create a menu that’s reflective of their style but seasonal and new. “We want to keep pushing ourselves to always be new and innovative,” he says. The location remains a mystery until just 48 hours before the event, when guests are notified and the spot is announced on social media.
After arriving at one of the eclectic locales—think art galleries, warehouse breweries and posh townhouses—guests are treated to a DJ’d cocktail hour and apps before taking their seats for a four-course meal. Dinner is then followed by a Q&A session that gives inquisitive foodies the chance to pick the brains of talents like Benjy’s Mike Potowski, Cinq’s former head chef German Mosqueda and Sparrow’s Monica Pope. The whole experience is just $75, but with only around 40 seats available, they sell out fast.
One of Sarumi’s recent aces of taste dinners took place on the rooftop of a private Wash. Ave. home. Mascalzone chef Alberto Rosso prepped two antipasti and four main courses as guests enjoyed sunset views of both the Downtown and Galleria skylines.
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
Retired energy trader Dan Martinez is making waves, combining his love of surfing with high-style artistry.
These days, Dan Martinez hangs 10 at his beach house in Galveston, but the surfer actually learned on much bigger waves, having grown up in Northern California. “Back then, you kind of just taught yourself,” the 61-year-old says. “You watched people, they gave you a few pointers, and you just went out and did it.” Diving into the deep is sometimes the best way to learn, but for Martinez’s other hobby, carpentry, mastery took a bit longer.
“I’ve been making furniture most of my life as a hobby,” Martinez explains. When he retired from his oil-biz job five years ago, he turned his garage into a full-blown workshop. In addition to custom furniture, he started making surfboards, intricately pieced together from exotic woods. The result has been wildly popular works of art.
Available at Affaire d’Art gallery in Galveston, the boards start at about $3,000—and look great hanging on walls, adding a masculine touch to studies and libraries. Although they are made to actually work on the waves, they mostly serve as pieces of nostalgia—a throwback to vintage photographs of surfers and their woody station wagons, appealing to people who grew up on the water. “It’s really about loving the beach. People buy them for what they represent.”
Each surf board takes Martinez about 400 hours to craft and includes several different woods. ebony, canary, purpleheart and mahogany are among his favorites. “There’s around 33,000 species of trees all over the world. It’s a question of mixing and matching the colors that go best together.”