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ON THE MENU — Neches River Wheelhouse planning expansion, event center

PORT NECHES — The iconic Neches River Wheelhouse was constructed five years ago as the first commercial business on the Neches River — and it’s been booming ever since.

Now, the owners are looking to increase their service by expanding the outside confinements of the Palapa.

A Palapa is an open-sided dwelling with a thatched roof made of dried palm leaves often seen along the shores of Mexican beaches. The Wheelhouse imitated the Spanish style, adding Southeast Texas flair and turning it into a supreme outdoor venue with food, music and cocktails.

Lance Bradley, co-owner of The Wheelhouse, said the Palapa closed on Sunday to allow the beginning steps of the expansion process.

“The biggest thing is we are going to expand the Palapa towards the water to give more covered seating areas and to have a covered area for the bands that play on the weekends,” he said.

Weather was a large factor in the decision to expand the outside bar, as well as capacity, Bradley said.

“The weather is an issue, especially in Southeast Texas,” he said. “We didn’t really have a plan on where to set up the bands during bad weather or rainy nights. So, we want to fix that.”

The long-term expansion plan also includes installing restrooms outside and bringing the permanent full Wheelhouse menu to the Palapa, which is currently working with limited items.

The Neches River Wheelhouse is expanding its outdoor area, the Palapa, to extend the huts towards the water and add a covered area for bands. The expansion project will be finished by the end of January, weather permitting. (Courtesy photo)

Bradley said the structure is going to look the same, but will be twice its current size and capacity.

“During the summer time, we have picnic tables outside with umbrellas, but that just doesn’t do the trick,” he said. “We want to have shade and a better environment for customers and our bands. We want to continue having great outside service without the weather interfering with us.”

The expanded Palapa is set to open towards the end of January, weather permitting.

Bradley said the Wheelhouse is also looking towards long-term goals such as an adding an event center.

“We want to have somewhere to host larger parties like class reunions or wedding receptions to accommodate a hundred people or so,” he said. “We want to get the Palapa done first and then start looking seriously at the venue towards the end of this year.”

Current talks place the event center on the side opposite of the Palapa.

Bradley said he wants to extend his gratitude to the community and the City of Port Neches, which each an integral part in the success of the restaurant.

“I think everybody is going to be excited about these changes,” he said. “The Palapa has been a hit. On a nice night with a good band, it’s hard to get a spot in there. We are trying to accommodate all of our customers, and we really appreciate the support we’ve got from the community out there.

“The City of Port Neches is also finishing setting up the bulkhead in front of our property to keep the erosion from happening. So we want to thank the city officials for working with us and being such a good partner to us.”

For more information, visit the Neches River Wheelhouse Facebook Page.