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Thursday, November 15, 2018

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Overflowing Third Ward church partners with Frenchy’s to expand


Iconic church that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at — Wheeler Avenue Baptst Church — will be expanding onto the Frenchy’s location in May of this year for growing congregation. | Dana C. Jones/The Cougar

A historic Third Ward church — Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church — is expanding.

The church has been a Third Ward staple since its inception in 1962 by 13 Texas Southern University students, a part of the Baptist Student Union that is still active today. Over the years, their congregation has grown and needs more space.

“We have four worship experiences every Sunday, and that’s not sustainable,” said Rev. Alexander Johnson, an associate pastor at the church. “The membership of the church has continued to experience growth. To accommodate the growth, we are building a larger sanctuary.”

Wheeler Avenue Baptist has partnered with another Third Ward icon — Frenchy’s, a drive-thru restaurant almost as old as the church — that plans to move locations in May. As Frenchy’s was planning its move, it entered into an agreement with the church.

Dating back to when both Wheeler Avenue Baptist and Frenchy’s where both young, the two original owners, Rev. William A. Lawson and Percy Creuzot, respectively, engaged in a gentlemen’s agreement. Since then, both neighborhood institutions expanded — Wheeler Avenue into a black historic hub with thousands of congregants, and Frenchy’s into a franchised fried chicken restaurant with dozens of locations.

“As (Frenchy’s) opens their new flagship location, we engaged in a land swap,” Johnson said.

To secure Frenchy’s original location, Wheeler Avenue purchased the land under the restaurant’s upcoming location on Scott Street and Alabama Street and swapped it with the parcel adjacent to the church.

It is only a two to three-minute walk between the old Frenchy’s and Wheeler Avenue.

The expansion will be used as a sanctuary for “worship experiences,” which are the church’s Sunday services.

The new Frenchy’s will remain in the Third Ward, staying relatively close to the original location. From the current location of Frenchy’s at 3919 Scott St., it is a seven-minute walk to its relocation.

Some Houstonians, like former UH student Ashton Watts, are sad to see it go but are glad that the property will be obtained by another black entity. Watt’s first time going to Frenchy’s was with his grandmother, a then-Third Ward resident, when he was 8 years old.

“We passed by the KFC, and I said ‘I thought we were getting chicken,’ and (my grandmother) said, ‘Boy, we are getting chicken,’” Watts said.

Pictured is the meal that Ashton Watts ordered during his first visit at Frenchy’s. A two piece with fries, biscuit, and strawberry soda. | Dana C. Jones/The Cougar

Watts had a two-piece mini meal with fries, a biscuit and strawberry soda.

“I think it’s unfortunate that they are choosing to move, especially because it means so much to the neighborhood and our culture in general,” said Houstonian and current Third Ward resident Bené Vincent. “It’s more than a staple. It’s a sense of home.”

For congregants of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, the expansion is looking to alleviate the church’s overflow.

Frenchy’s will be moving this spring, so UH students better get their last original taste before it’s not within walking distance anymore. “I hope the food will be the same because that’s always been the best Frenchy’s,” said Vincent.

For the community, everyone will just have to travel a few extra blocks.

“No pun intended, but Church’s ain’t giving us Frenchy’s,” Watts said.

Frenchy’s representatives were unable to comment before publication. 

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