THE SCOOP: Drini owner confident new Freeport restaurant will succeed | Business Weekly

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With the success of its pizza-focused restaurant in West Columbia, Ermir Metaliaj saw an opportunity to move into a ready-made, sit-down space in Freeport with an expanded menu and took it.

Drini Italian Grill opened last week next to the Red Top along Brazosport Boulevard in an outlot of the Arlan’s-anchored shopping center. That two restaurants had tried and closed in the spot that once housed a video store doesn’t concern Metaliaj, who instead welcomes the space already having what he needed.

“I believe in my food and I know what I’m doing,” he said. “That’s why we’re going to try. Sometimes you lose, but I thought the building was already set up for the restaurant, so I took my chances to try it.

“I’m doing well at my store in West Columbia so I see no reason why not to do well here. It’s more population, more workers.”

Metaliaj’s optimism is understandable. Drini isn’t his first foray into the restaurant business, having operated Italian cuisine eateries in LaPorte, Round Rock and elsewhere.

Unlike the takeout-focused operation in West Columbia — the pizza place at 636 W. Brazos Ave. has only one table inside — Drini Italian Grill will have 80 to 90 places to sit. It’s not a full-service restaurant; people order first then find a seat instead of having a wait staff take orders tableside, Metaliaj said.

“They have to preorder before they sit; some people they sit before,” he said with a chuckle. “But we want to make it easy on everybody.”

Freeport certainly can benefit from an Italian restaurant that serves more than fast-food pizzas and calzones. The former Bella Roma Express, which struggled then closed around the pandemic, is the only recent Italian restaurant in the city. Some chicken francaise, shrimp florentine and lasagna definitely are a step up, and its much-loved pizzas and calzones also are on the menu.

“We make sure everything we cook, we’re cooking for ourselves,” Metaliaj said. “We make sure we treat all the customers right and make sure the pizzas are the way we want it. When you work for yourselves it’s different.”

The business had its best lunch crowd Tuesday, Metaliaj said, a good sign word of Drini’s quality food is getting around. Sample it from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday or 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Takeout and delivery are available in addition to enjoying it in the restaurant by calling 979-665-0648.

Mike Segall has been there before, and like those who love his “real down-home Texas” barbecue, he keeps coming back.

Segall has set up his Smokin’ Mike’s trailer in the 2100 block of FM 523 across from the Domino’s in Oyster Creek, continuing a winter tradition of giving the community a meal alternative. He’s set up his trailer for several years during the offseason of his charter fishing business, Segall said.

This is his second year setting up in Oyster Creek, and his homemade meals are something not readily available in the small city.

“There’s really nowhere to eat unless they want to go to Buc-ee’s,” Segall said. “Some lady was going to Buc-ee’s a minute ago and she never knew we were here, but she stopped and I said, ‘We might be a little more expensive, but it’s going to be better.’”

The trailer has everything expected of a barbecue business, including brisket, ribs, pork and sausage. Its barbecue sandwiches are especially large, Segall said, stuffed with up to a pound of meat, and his brisket nachos are a customer favorite.

“It’s a lot of hours, and get up at night and 4 in the morning,” he said of his methods. “I use real wood, no charcoal; everything is smoky-flavored, cooked to perfection.”

A special treat is the charro beans made by his wife, Daisy, a native of Mexico who brings a cultural expertise that sets them apart.

“I have people who come back and forth just to eat the beans,” Segall said.

The trailer is open from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Hard to believe having written 1,500 words for Tuesday’s front page story about all the business activity in Freeport that I had to leave a bunch of stuff out, but that’s actually the case.

The number of new businesses recently opened or in the process of getting there is astounding — having lived in Brazosport for more than two decades now, including 12 years as a homeowner in Freeport, it is a level of activity unseen in the city since its pre-Brazos Mall heyday. Especially impressive is a lot of the investment is coming from established entrepreneurs, not just dreamers with aspirations that might exceed their ability to run a business.

It’s a wonder Kasey Roman doesn’t have carpal tunnel from pointing out all the “over there will be” projects during a tour of the city Monday morning.

In addition to some of the incoming businesses highlighted in Tuesday’s story, here are some other things in the works or already open:

Keeps Tattoo at 1100 N. Brazosport Blvd. No. 5. Owned by Antonio Mendez, the artists’ work there is getting high marks.

Sin-Tex Tacos and Mariscos, 321 N. Gulf Blvd., opened in June and serves lunch and dinner. Owned by the people behind Phat Boyz in Richwood, its Mexican food highlights include barbacoa, menudo and lengua tacos.

The Beaumont Inn, a franchise of the Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, ran into some supply issues, but the hotel at 320 S. Gulf Blvd. should be ready for guests in about six months, Roman said.

Texas Rivers Distillery and Tasting Room at 202 S. Gulf Blvd., a business we’ve written about several times in the last year, finally opened its doors with a soft opening Friday. Plans are to have live music, more outdoor seating and other additions in the near future, but its beautiful handcrafted bar and in-house libations are plenty to entice folks for now.

A to-go daiquiri business is moving into a small storefront next to Buc-ee’s on Gulf Boulevard, offering a menu similar to Shaka Shack, Roman said. The alcohol permit already is in the window, so it shouldn’t be too long.

Mist Lounge, from the same people behind The Lounge, Downtown Tacos and Backyard Patio in Lake Jackson, is moving into a space in the strip center at 1100 Brazosport Blvd. It will serve alcohol along with its food menu.

Again, without a doubt, this is not an all-inclusive list of what is being pitched and built in Freeport. We’re with Roman in being excited about what the city will be five or 10 years from now as this boom in businesses big and small takes root.

It’s been 40 years since Arch Aplin III and Don Wasek opened a small convenience store in Lake Jackson branded after Aplin’s nickname, “Beaver.”

Since then, Buc-ee’s reputation as a must-stop when the smiling beaver is spotted off the highway has grown, and the same is true of what now is a chain of massive travel plazas.

And one of its iconic locations is about to get massiver.

Buc-ee’s will break ground next week on its largest travel center in the country off Interstate 10 in Luling. The city is home to the chain’s first family travel plaza, but this one will dwarf it.

The 75,000-square-foot facility — almost as big as the Lake Jackson H-E-B — will be stocked with the usual Buc-ee’s favorites available at its newer family travel plazas, including a fudge shop, made-to-order barbecue and fresh pastries. Outside the building will be 120 fueling stations, which should help lower the blood pressure of people waiting for those parked at the pumps to come back out of the store (really, folks; pull into the parking lot when you’re done pumping your gas).

There were a lot of unhappy Texans who take pride in Buc-ee’s as their own when the company announced it would be building the world’s largest convenience store in Sevierville, Tennessee. No one ever says everything’s bigger in Tennessee. This should soothe those hurt egos.

Buc-ee’s now has 43 stores across the South — 34 of them are in Texas — after starting its multistate expansion in 2019, including travel centers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina. It also has broken ground in Colorado and Missouri.

Happy to announce that The Facts has promoted Gayla Murphy, who joined our staff in March, to be its new assistant managing editor.

We hired Gayla initially to handle some editorial assistant responsibilities and contribute as a writer and copy editor. The longtime Lake Jackson resident has proven herself invaluable beyond those tasks, serving largely as my right hand and sounding board in providing the best product possible for a community newspaper.

It’s especially rewarding that, given the transient nature of journalists, we’re able to have someone who knows and understands our communities and their residents contribute to the decision-making on a daily basis.

Join us in congratulating Gayla, who will add being an outstanding leader in our newsroom to the quality person people in the community already know her to be.

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