New restaurants, many touting craft beer menus, peppy patio scenes and scratch-made dishes, keep opening in Fort Worth faster than we can unroll our silverware. But, they all face a challenge ahead. For new restaurants, avoiding quickly shuttered doors, especially within the first three years, is tough. High real estate costs, lack of labor, population density and plain old burnout can all cause restaurants to close. Other reasons include subpar location, parking or building woes, insufficient capital or unsuccessful concepts. Approximately 60 percent don’t make it to year four, according to a frequently cited study on failed restaurants by Ohio State University. In Fort Worth, the cutthroat scene makes it difficult for many to even make it through year one.
While the culinary journey through the city’s newest dining haunts is exciting, there are quite a few gems that closed in the last year. Some, we barely even got to know. Here’s a glimpse of the goodbyes that are leaving a sad taste in our mouth and a look at what led to their demise.
24 Plates was set to breathe new life into the quiet east end of the bustling W. Magnolia Avenue restaurant scene, and it did. Diners from all corners of Fort Worth found their way to the colorful tapas bar and restaurant, despite its abrupt closure after just three months. First-time restaurateur Joel Kleven, a longtime chiropractor, says the experience was a blessing in many ways. “Owning and operating a restaurant and bar had been a dream for many years,” he says. “My son and I not only made a huge financial investment in 24 Plates, but also spent most of our waking hours there. My other sons occasionally bartended and played music on the patio so it became a family endeavor. I wouldn't trade that for the world.” Kleven says cost management and his initial lack of restaurant experience contributed to the quick closure, but when a major financial backer withdrew funding after the first quarter, staying open was no longer an option. Kleven says, “I would not totally rule out another venture into the restaurant business should the appropriate opportunity present itself.” The space is now home to Fixture Restaurant and Social Lounge, which celebrates one year next month.
AF+B’s Duck Pot Pie
Under construction for almost as long as it was open, AF+B, an acronym for American Food and Beverage, closed its 6,000-square-foot West 7th corner space after a little more than 18 months. With a spacious bar, attractive interiors and American dishes done deliciously by former Bolsa chef Jeff Harris, the restaurant drew crowds. But not even family-style “Sunday supper” dinner specials, much less Harris’ mouthwatering chorizo Scotch eggs or three-inch thick, chile-rubbed pork chops, could save the elaborate restaurant. The Dallas-based owners, Raised Palate Restaurants, never gave an official reason behind the closing. Perhaps the concept was too big and too pricey to generate a clientele large enough to sustain the prime real estate costs. It seems their second location in Atlanta wasn’t a good fit either as it closed down in January. The Fort Worth space has remained vacant since AF+B closed in September, but it will be up and running again when Cork & Pig Tavern, yet another venture from Chef Felipe Armenta of Pacific Table, The Tavern and Press Café, opens in May.
Campestre Chula Vista
Meaning “country with a pretty view,” Campestre Chula Vista was named for its rustic, ranch-style Mexican cuisine along with its hilltop views. The massive Northside restaurant was the second concept from Revolver Taco Lounge owner Regino Rojas and drew diners from West Fort Worth and beyond. Patrons especially flocked for Rojas’ open-air Sunday brunch buffet, prepared by his mother Juanita and family. But building issues (the dated space is also a private event venue) led to the restaurant’s departure in January, just less than a year after opening. Many of the brunch buffet items, including guisado tacos and Mexican coffee, can now be found at Revolver Taco Lounge daily during lunch. The small West Seventh taco shop also threatened to close late last year, but after working out a deal with the building owners and renewing its lease, it's set to be around for at least six more months.
Paco & John's Salmon and Avocado Breakfast Burrito
Paco & John Mexican Diner
Opened in 2009, Paco & John Mexican Diner built a loyal following of regulars who visited primarily during the tiny restaurant's breakfast and lunch hours, but that wasn’t enough to warrant renewing the lease at a higher rate, says owner Bernard Tronche. "The location was pretty good for lunch," says Tronche, also owner of longtime West Fort Worth favorite Saint-Emilion. "But we had trouble with parking, and that's crucial for lunch business. You have to have plenty of parking because customers come all at once. Plus, we could never develop dinner.” The BYOB restaurant tried promoting a variety of exquisite French dishes, including mussels, sea bass, duck and pork, to lure evening diners, but the French-Mex cuisine got lost in the busy W. Magnolia Avenue dining scene. “The location was less visible at night, and there's a lot of competition on Magnolia. People pretty much go to that street and then decide where they're going to go.”
Tronche didn’t rule out reopening the concept in a more ideal location and is currently looking. Regulars will be happy to know Paco & John chef Francisco Isla still works for Tronche at Saint-Emilion, and Isla’s amiable son Paco, who greeted and served customers, is exploring the real estate industry.
Salsa Fuego seemed set to establish deep roots in West Fort Worth when it moved to a spacious new location just steps from its hole-in-the-wall original to accommodate larger crowds. The restaurant gained fame for being named one of the state’s five best Mexican restaurants by Texas Monthly magazine and built a reputation for unexpected indulgent burgers, too. Owner Carlos Rodriguez planned to serve an expanded menu focusing on seafood at the new place, which sat 200, as well as introduce a tacos and tequila bar. But things seemed shaky when the restaurant launched a GoFundMe campaign to assist with the opening. Later, locks were changed at the new place due to non-payment of rent according to a letter posted on the door. The restaurant officially closed in November, with Rodriquez tweeting that he needed some rest and relaxation. The new Dive Oyster Bar has since taken over Salsa Fuego’s original space.
Sera’s Biscuits & Gravy
Sera Dining & Wine
“Sera closed because there just wasn't enough traffic, literally, to support a restaurant of that size with the menu I was serving,” says John Marsh, owner of Sera Dining & Wine, which shuttered after just more than a year in business. The concept, which originally stressed Spanish tapas, took over the beloved Sapristi! space on Forest Park Boulevard to the delight of folks in the neighborhood. “Shortly after opening, the city put Forest Park on the road diet, shrinking it from four lanes to two. That drastically decreased the number of cars passing by,” says Marsh, who admits he misses his customers, his staff and the food. “From Brandon Hudson to Jen Williams and Victor Villarreal, I had the best, most creative chefs in the city putting out exactly the kind of cuisine I wanted to serve,” Marsh says. “You can't get anything like it in Fort Worth anymore, and unfortunately it will probably be years before anything like it will be available again.” Marsh won’t rule out venturing in the restaurant business again, but it might not be in Fort Worth.
Tillman’s Chicken Fried Steak
Probably most known for its tableside-fired s’mores, Tillman’s Roadhouse closed its West 7th location in August to become FW Market + Table, which is still owned by Dallas-based Sara Tillman and Todd Fiscus and led by former Tillman’s sous chef Kalen Morgenstern. The change came when owners and management decided the area needed a market and café for healthy grab-and-go items and more casual dining. Although we’ll miss Tillman’s interesting take on comfort favorites, like truffled goat cheese tator tots and venison chili frito pie, solace can already be found in many of the FW Market + Table delicious menu items. The Tillman’s Bishop Arts location in Dallas is still open.
The competitive scene extends beyond just restaurants. The last year also saw two long-standing local bars serve their final round.
Originally The Hi-Hat, the much-loved Berry Street dive bar shut down when TCU purchased the building with plans to knock it down and build a parking garage. The Cellar closed Oct. 31.
Trinity River Tap House
A new name couldn’t save the Seventh Street bar and grill, which originally opened downtown 20 years ago as The Pour House. The owner told Fort Worth Weekly there was too much competition in the area. It closed Feb. 14.