THREE RIVERS – Down a quiet, bumpy road in a neighborhood of modest homes, lunch is served to anyone between shifts in the Eagle Ford shale oil fields.
The buffet includes lamb kabobs on a bed of black-eyed peas with spinach, shrimp étouffée, short ribs with tomato roast pepper demi-glace and smoked tomato chutney, crawfish muffins, stuffed potatoes, pasta salad with garbanzo beans and salami tossed in an herb vinaigrette, parmesan cheese crisps and a spread of homemade desserts: chocolate mouse, cheesecake, pumpkin pie and salted nuts covered with chocolate.
“The food is incredible,” said Freddy Trevino, a hydraulic flowback operator from Alice who a few hours earlier had finished a 12-hour overnight shift.
It’s been notoriously difficult to find a place to stay across the constellation of South Texas towns where oil companies have descended to draw gas and oil from the Eagle Ford shale formation, which lies beneath 24 counties and sweeps from the border across the state to East Texas. Hotel rooms are full, RV parks have sprung up in front yards and amenities are hard to come by.
Now a few enterprising companies are taking both rooms and upscale amenities to the oil patch, offering midnight meals, door-to-door laundry service, satellite cable, WiFi and media rooms to keep oil field workers, and the companies that house them, happy.
At Remote Logistics International’s Three Rivers Lodge, guests receive gourmet food nearly round-the-clock, box lunches to go, boot cleaning and laundry service, and they can hang out and watch movies, work out or play shuffleboard, table tennis or pool in common areas.
“It’s a hotel-man camp with a woman’s touch,” said company President Jenny Savage. “But the culinary side to me is the most important part. It’s all about the food.”
Based in Houston
Savage is the former general manager of Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. She started her career working at Hyatt Hotels and later worked at Aramark. But she grew up in the oil business. Her father was the vice president of international operations at Dresser Inc. and her brother owns an oil field services company.
Savage had the idea for the Houston-based Remote Logistics – bringing upscale hotel amenities to wherever oil companies were located – while studying for her master of business administration at the University of Houston. So three years ago she raised money from investors – although not from her family – and cashed in her 401(k).
Now Remote Logistics has 300 employees throughout the world, from Gulf of Mexico oil platforms to the Middle East and on shipping vessels in between.
The company opened in Three Rivers in July and expects to open a second Eagle Ford shale location in the Carrizo Springs area before year’s end.
Executive chef Will Smith, who worked with Savage at the convention center and later for Disney in California, oversees the menus and training for the company. Smith sweats the details of “simple stuff like kiwi,” which takes two weeks to get to Three Rivers, and making sure that ingredients are as fresh as possible and menus have everything from fried chicken to couscous.
“It’s really different kind of food,” Smith said. And although there are healthy offerings, he admits he’s feeding a meat-and-potatoes palette. “We smoke a lot of meat around here,” he said.
Remote Logistics isn’t the only company trying to make far-flung areas more comfortable.
John Gilmore of the Austin-based Eagle Ford Shale Housing LLC offers fully furnished double-wide trailers that were former model homes. The big attractions of his Carrizo Springs operation are things such as full kitchens, WiFi, satellite cable and TVs in every room.
“So many people are stuck in FEMA RVs and horrible living conditions,” he said. “Our idea is to do it a little nicer. Maybe for some of these guys, it’s as nice as where they’re living at home.”
Bob Zachariah is building a 77-room hotel in Cotulla that will have a pool, spa and playground, 24-hour restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, lounge areas, a gift shop, multiple meeting spaces, a media room for movie watching and a fitness center. People will be able to order everything from towels to to-go lunches from their TVs, and the business center will have fax machines and be like a “miniature Kinko’s” so that people can ship using UPS.
“Basically what we’re doing is taking a five-star hotel concept that you see in New York or New Delhi or any of the major cities and bringing it down in size and converting it into an affordable hotel,” Zachariah said.