By: Brian Kendall
You could say Ryan’s Fine Grocer and Delicatessen was always in the stars for Brittany and Hunter. They grew up in Fort Worth and come from a family that greatly values good food. It started back in the 1800s when their great-great-grandparents transformed a general store into the White Swan distribution company and marketed a family recipe that developed into a long-time Fort Worth favorite, Ranch Style Beans.
Brittany remembers back to her grandfather’s great friendship with Walter Kaufman of the Swiss House, one of Fort Worth’s first famous fine dining establishments, and how they used to make omelets some mornings in the kitchen. She also was influenced by her father’s cooking and taking trips to ethnic markets.
Continuing with the family tradition of creating good food, both siblings graduated, at different times, from the French Culinary Institute in New York. Hunter graduated with a Grand Diplôme in the Classic Culinary Arts and obtained a certificate in restaurant management. After graduating, he worked at esteemed restaurants in Rhode Island and New Mexico before returning to Fort Worth. He took a position as tournade (senior chef) at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood before accepting a job as executive sous-chef at LightCatcher Winery.
Brittany took a slightly different route at the Institute. Befitting of her perfectionist nature of wanting recipes with exact measurements in grams, she graduated from the Pastry Arts program and then gained her experience working in New York restaurants. Months after learning of Hunter’s job at LightCatcher, Brittany moved back to Fort Worth and worked alongside her brother at the winery, first as a waitress and later as pastry chef and floor manager.
We asked Brittany if it’s sometimes difficult working with a sibling. “We’ve always been close; we’ve always been good friends and don’t really fight…excessively,” she says. Hunter acts as executive chef, and Brittany takes on more of a managerial/front-of-the-house role at Ryan’s.
Inspired to embark on their first culinary venture, Ryan’s was conceived as a means to seriously contribute to the continued revitalization of South Fort Worth. Already heavily populated with popular restaurants, Southside residents wanted a nearby grocer, and Brittany and Hunter took advantage of the fortuitous timing. “Our goal is not to compete with larger grocery stores. I don’t want to be an Albertsons,” Brittany says. It’s meant to be a place for people to conveniently get items but also a place they want to grab lunch or just get a beer with friends.
Emphasis at Ryan’s is on quality rather than quantity. All products are carefully selected, only stocking the best but at varying price points. At approximately 5,000 square feet, Ryan’s offers beer and wine, eco-friendly produce, dairy products including specialty cheeses, dry goods, packaged organic products and fresh breads.
The variety is eclectic to say it best. Shoppers may find Jet Puffed Marshmallow on the same aisle as exotic fruit preserves.
When deciding which items to stock, Brittany researched extensively and was conscious of everyone’s dietary needs. “For instance, I of course have classic potato chips, but I also carry hummus chips, lentil chips, Beanitos and chips made out of pomegranates, which are surprisingly delicious,” she says.
Setting up the impressive professional kitchen took 15 minutes, Brittany joked, but picking out the best toilet bowl cleaner took a lot of time.
Another unique element to Ryan’s is the incredible meat selection. Hunter is a heck of a butcher, we’ve heard. He dry ages his own steaks and cures his own prosciutto and sausage. The custom-built dry ager hangs from the ceiling behind the butcher counter. It is fashioned after the only other one you may find in the U.S., located within Cochon restaurant in New Orleans.
The delicatessen at Ryan’s has 30 seats dispersed throughout a light-filled space, and there is additional seating on front and back patios. Customers can purchase fresh pastries, salads, soups, sandwiches and platters of charcuterie, seafood and caviar.
The Seafood Parade from the deli at Ryan’s is perfect for sharing with friends. It offers a 1 1/4-pound New England lobster, a 1/2 dozen East Coast oysters, a 1/2 dozen Jonah crab claws and four large poached prawns.
Hunter’s signature sandwich is the lobster roll, which is already getting rave reviews. It sets itself apart by featuring a 1 1/4-pound whole lobster covered in yuzu crème fraiche and topped with watercress, tomato, apple wood smoked bacon and Serrano-avocado aioli.
All sandwiches offered are familiar favorites with some special touch that shows Hunter’s skills as a chef. The traditional ham and cheese gets a boost in the Melted Ham and Brie on Ryan’s menu. It is served on a French baguette and made with black forest ham, melted French Brie, fresh arugula and a sweet fig spread. Other sandwich options include Mozzarella and Prosciutto, Mediterranean Tuna Salad and Smoked Salmon Awesomeness, just to name a few.
Brittany also points out that it was important for them to create several specialty salads, which is something she herself is always seeking. “You always feel like you get a salad because it’s healthy and you think you should, and that’s stupid. We have an extensive salad menu that is affordably priced. No one will be disappointed,” she says.
We can attest that the Crab Heirloom and Avocado salad is one of the best things ever put on a plate. No imitation crabmeat here. It consists of Jonah crab claw meat, fresh-cut heirloom tomatoes, sliced avocado, smoked black sea salt, marinated olives and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
While not all the foods at Ryan’s are local, Brittany hopes to evolve over time and change that. “What you see in here today is not what you will see next month or next year. I don’t think I’m doing a poor job, but I think I can always do better.”
For their produce, Brittany chose FreshPointe, with a location in Dallas. As one of the largest produce distributors in North America, it supplies the freshest produce from the field directly to the grocer. FreshPointe also does not use pesticides on the produce Brittany chooses for the store, which was extremely important to her.
Parking at Ryan’s was not at the top of her list, however. “Parking wasn’t a big issue for me, as you can see when you visit. If people want to drive from across town, yay, but this was envisioned as a neighborhood grocer,” she says. Which isn’t an issue for the sibling owners since Hunter and Brittany both live only minutes away from their new “office.”
The sense of community felt at Ryan’s is overwhelming. Many goods sold are produced by neighboring establishments. For instance, Black Rooster Bakery provides a majority of the fresh baked breads, and coffee from Avoca is on shelves at Ryan’s.
Local company PalletSmart made all the tables and chairs from recycled and restored wood. PalletSmart is gaining fast recognition in North Texas for using discarded pallets to make incredible pieces. Its mission is to make responsible choices about the footprint we each leave and build items for sustainable “greener” living.
When Brittany started making calls to set up shop, it turned out that she had some sort of connection with practically everyone she called. “The food scene in Fort Worth gets really small really fast,” Brittany says.
For the beer selection at Ryan’s, Brittany turned to friends at Ye Old Bull and Bush on Montgomery. “I know what kind of beers I like, but I don’t know what the majority of locals drink on a day-to-day basis,” she says.
Brittany’s friend, Lauren Blake Reynolds, did all the graphics for Ryan’s décor. She also created a greeting card line that is sold in the store. Lauren’s inspiration behind the graphic elements throughout Ryan’s was vintage crate labels. She stripped the text from them and replaced it with fictitious labels comprised of combinations of parts of family members’ names. “I wanted the artwork to be meaningful for the whole family,” Lauren says.
As for what Brittany and Hunter envision for the future of Ryan’s, they hope that people will shop and then stay and hang out. Brittany says, “What I really want is a synthesis of all of these businesses and the creation of a walking community. When the water rises, all boats float. None of us are going up against each other. We are all friends and want good things for each other.”
By: Brian Kendall