Here’s why a train is attached to Houston’s Goode Co. Seafood


In this day and age, when the camera clicks begin in restaurant parking lots, it’s often because they are in peculiar structures—say, a used shipping container. But back in the 1980s, long before Instagram or TikTok, it was a novel idea.

For iconic Houston restaurateur Jim Goode, housing Goode Co. Seafood in a passenger railroad car was an integral part of his vision. “When my father started to conceptualize the restaurant, he thought of creating something in the era of a 1940s and 1950s coastal diner,” said Levi Goode, president of Goode Co. restaurants and son of the late Jim Goode. “He thought the sleekness of a passenger railroad car would make a fine diner.”

Goode Co. Seafood’s unique railroad car has served as a unique backdrop for photos for more than 35 years.

Goode Co.

A native of Clute, Texas, Jim grew up saltwater fishing on the upper Texas coast. His journey to opening a seafood restaurant of his own was fueled by the lack of options at that time, despite the state’s proximity to bountiful waters. “He noticed that the only options were people serving pre-frozen, breaded seafood out of the Sysco truck when the coast was right down the street,” said Levi.

Jim’s long-running career as one of the city’s storied restaurateurs began in 1977 when he opened Goode Co. Barbecue on Kirby Drive. A few years later, plans were put in motion to expand the company’s footprint. “We had the opportunity to purchase a vacant piece of land on Westpark, which was foreclosed on as a result of the oil bust of the ’80s,” said Levi. “It would eventually be two new restaurants with a parking lot.”

Goode Co. Taqueria opened in 1981, but it was the build-out for Goode Co. Seafood, which opened five years later in 1986, that proved to be more of an in-depth process.

“My father was very resourceful, before the world wide web and Google,” said Levi. “He would visit Bookstop, which is Trader Joe’s now, and read magazines of different trades.” Trains happened to be one of his interests, and he began exploring ways to get a passenger railroad car. A search through the classified ads in one of those magazines led him to a man in the Northeast selling just such a thing.

“He thought the railroad car would be a neat addition to his coastal diner idea,” said Levi. “He got it all figured out, bought the train, and it rolled on tracks all the way to Houston.”

At the time, the tracks were only about 500 feet from the property, but it still required some thoughtful planning to get the substantial structure in its final resting place. Resourceful as he was, Jim sought out a friend in the crane business to assist in lifting it and placing it at 2621 Westpark Drive, where it currently sits today.

The passenger railroad car was gutted and rebuilt to accommodate Goode Co. Seafood.

The passenger railroad car was gutted and rebuilt to accommodate Goode Co. Seafood.

Goode Co.

Much had to be done to the actual functioning railroad car before it could open as a restaurant, on top of the necessary building permits. Levi says they cut off the back to build a kitchen, then gutted it and rebuilt it. The result was a unique and interesting space, which proved to be a great package for a coastal diner, just as Jim predicted. At the time, Goode Co. Seafood was the first full-service restaurant in the group’s portfolio, and Levi recalls it being “a big jumping off point” for the company.

More than 35 years later, the restaurant in an old passenger railroad car remains as charming as ever. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, it gets plenty of traffic for Goode Co.’s signature mesquite-grilled eats, straightforward fried seafood platters and photo ops galore, with few shakeups to the menu along the way. Soft shell crabs are a big hit when they’re in season, and campechana is still the restaurant’s best-seller. “The recipes are all the same today as they were when we first opened,” said Levi. “We try not to fix anything that isn’t broken.”

The famous campechana de mariscos at Goode Co. Seafood.

The famous campechana de mariscos at Goode Co. Seafood.

Greg Morago

Similarly, minor cosmetic changes have been made to the space itself, including adding new tiles and light fixtures inside the car. “We shine the train on a regular basis and make sure it’s got its curb appeal,” said Levi. “The restaurant is visited by lots of tourists and out-of-towners, so we get a fair amount of photos in front of it.”

What was a personal passion project for Jim resulted in great memories for the burgeoning customer base Goode Co. had in the ’80s. What the roaring 2020s will bring is for anyone to say, but it’s safe to assume photos in front of the attractive coastal diner on Westpark Drive will keep on coming.





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