How Richard King Brought the Farm to Your Table

Meet the co-founder of one of the first farm-to table restaurants.

Ellerbe Fine Foods, the creation of chef Molly McCook and longtime business partner and operator Richard King, celebrates its 10th year in business next year. The restaurant, its farm-to-table concept focused on foods purchased directly from local producers, made Bon Appetit’s 10 Best New Restaurants months after it opened on Fort Worth’s Near Southside. The magazine likened it to going home to dinner at your grandmother’s.

Not satisfied, McCook and King are adding new flavor to celebrate Ellerbe’s birthday. They’re going to give the West Magnolia Avenue restaurant a freshening, including new paint. And they’re expanding their wine offerings, hiring Kent & Co. sommelier Chester Cox this summer to augment the restaurant’s offering of wine dinners and expand into businesses like personal wine buying for retail customers and in-home events led by Cox. “We’re going to elevate our wine service in-store and outside,” King, a member of Fort Worth’s Entrepreneurs’ Organization chapter and the restaurant’s sommelier to this point, says.

Bon Appetit: “We got a really random phone call that there was [to be] a photo shoot, and you are going to be recognized in a national magazine. We were getting lots of [local] kudos. They came in for the photo shoot. We still didn’t know what it was.” Bon Appetit’s editor called later for an interview, but McCook and King thought it was for a blurb. “We found out a couple of weeks before it came out that we were Top 10 new restaurants. A lot of tears of joy. We’ve made our parents and our partners very proud.”

Your parents were investors? “We didn’t want to go to the bank. Molly and I were of the attitude that if we used our own money and our parents’ money, we’d have a lot more passion. We paid our parents back in one year. Molly and I didn’t take hardly any pay until we got our parents paid back.”

High points: “We’ve had very little turnover in our company. We were able to alleviate some issues [in getting established] that way. Your guests notice.”

Challenges: “Our personal lives got involved. I lost my parents and my aunt and my grandmother all within 12 months. Molly lost a child [in pregnancy] as well. It really makes your partner step forward for you. We had to keep it going. And, competition. We definitely saw a drop in sales [from new restaurants on West Seventh Street]. We know that was another step in putting Fort Worth on the culinary map. And that puts us further down the road.”

Why Chester Cox: “We’ve been getting requests from customers” for expanded consumer events. “You’re going to have your own wine somm. Chester and I have been friends for a long time. His pedigree is outstanding.”
How about new restaurants? “Molly has been thinking about it. We both have two girls, so our family has come first the last several years. We were one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in 2009. Now you see a lot of localvore movements. Molly has that passion. I think she’ll be working on that. I’ll be working on the wine.”

Bringing the scalability EO preaches into their business: “We can’t grow the footprint of our restaurant. Catering is another option. Farm-to-table fine dining is a small niche for catering. Our catering business is there, but we can’t grow it considerably because of our philosophy and our evolving menu. So, there’s different profit centers [like wine], and that’s what we’re working on now.”