Steve Zimmerman’s impact on the Houston dining scene isn’t just a reflection of his business savvy; it tells the story of the culinary evolution—and continuing growth—of an entire city. Brooklyn born and New Orleans raised, Zimmerman moved to Houston to open a law firm in the 60s. Confronted with the dearth of culinary options in his new hometown, Zimmerman quietly pined for New Orleans’ rich dining culture.
In 1972, he sprung into action. Sure that the people (and beautiful women) of Houston would embrace Big Easy-style dining, Zimmerman opened Zimm’s, the first wine bar in Texas and Houston’s first sidewalk café. Zimm’s is still around nearly three decades later, and those beautiful women are still dining out in droves in a restaurant scene fueled by Houston’s riches, low start-up costs, and an exodus of talent from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Even as the city erupts with new culinary fervor, Zimmerman’s influence on Houston’s dining scene and the hip Montrose neighborhood still looms large. After introducing al fresco dining and wine by the glass, Zimmerman brought Houstonians French bread, croissants, espresso machines, and the smallest luxury hotel in the world—La Colombe d’Or, which houses his fine-dining restaurant Cinq. Zimmerman is both catalyst and witness to the evolution of the Houston dining scene—from a land of steak and potatoes to a city that has fully embraced fine dining, Creole cooking, and ethnic cuisines of all types.
And it turns out, the Houston of today is a great city to be a young chef, according to Zimmerman—there’s money to be had. But he also cautions chefs from jumping from one money-making project to the next, which he sees as one of the few downsides to the free-flowing moola the city throws at its restaurants. Zimmerman advises chefs to “know who you are.” It’s advice that has served his own Houston empire well—all of his projects are French and New Orleans inspired, and in a nod to his second city, they have a decidedly Texan twist.
In this video interview, Zimmerman shares his Houston story with Will Blunt.