By: Courtney Dabney
Big changes are coming quickly at the fast-growing Heim’s Barbecue, the business that Travis and Emma Heim started in February in a food truck and trailer on the parking lot of a bar on Fort Worth’s Near Southside.
On Oct. 22, Heim’s will add Thursdays to its current three-day-a-week, Friday-Sunday service at the food truck, 201 E. Hattie St. Then on March 3, it’s scheduled to move to its first brick-and-mortar location in the former Mijo’s Fusion restaurant space, 1109 W. Magnolia Ave. on the Near Southside.
Will Churchill and Corrie Watson, Fort Worth auto dealers and entrepreneurs who recently purchased the building and are renovating it, will add a small 800-square-foot retail space in the building next to Heim’s that will sell YETI coolers, Big Green Egg cookers, Maui Jim sunglasses, and Kent & Co. grills.
It’s the latest move Churchill and Watson have made to "Kentrify" their increasing real estate holdings on the Near Southside, which also include the Kent & Co. Wines and Cartan’s Shoes buildings on West Magnolia and another building that will be home to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken.
The Heims have entered a partnership under which Churchill and Watson have taken a minority stake in Heim’s. The Heims will run the restaurant, and Churchill and Watson will use their existing office capabilities to provide accounting, purchasing, and other support, and lever their advertising and public relations relationship with Fort Worth’s Hutson Creative. Churchill is searching for a seasoned general manager to work with the Heims.
“We don’t want Travis caught up in the nuts and bolts of food costs,” Churchill said. “Travis needs to make sure the product is great, and he’s the face of everything.”
The Heims and Churchill declined to disclose terms of their deal.
“It’s a vast minority share” that Churchill and Watson are taking, Churchill said. “We’re just the financial horsepower.”
The deal results in a “dream restaurant” for the Heims, Travis Heim said in an interview.
“It’s like winning the lottery,” Heim said. “There’s not a lot of spaces on Magnolia,” and rents are high.
The Heims opened their business with a smoker they already owned and a food truck they leased from the bar.
“When we opened the trailer, we had $100 in the bank,” says Heim, who’s been smoking meats since he was 12, trained with Aaron Franklin in Austin, and honed his cooking skills hosting pop-up “T&E Meat Club” dinners for friends with Emma in their West Fort Worth backyard. “Initially, we were looking to pay the bills. It just kind of blew up from there.”
Heim, 26, who had been working security, left his job to go into the business. Emma, 27, left her job at an oil and gas firm and joined the barbecue business full-time three months after it opened.
Since he and his wife opened their food truck, serving wood-smoked brisket, pulled pork, bacon burnt ends, ribs, and sausages and sides to long lines each day, the couple has received an increasing number of pitches to draw them into brick-and-mortar locations, including one that would have put them in Carrollton.
But those would have required significant sacrifice.
“A lot of equity,” Travis Heim said. “We turned down a lot of stuff because it felt like somebody swooping in on what we had going on.”
And those proposals didn’t fit what Heim wanted in a neighborhood restaurant. “I grew up in Fairmount,” and Emma on Fort Worth’s East Side, he said.
The break came when Churchill’s wife, Rachael, a vegetarian, was preparing to host a wedding shower to be called an “I Do Barbecue.” She asked Heim if he’d ever considered moving onto West Magnolia, and then told her husband.
“We closed this deal before I ever tasted the barbecue,” Churchill says. His wife still hasn’t tasted it, he said. “Well, no, she’s a vegeterian.”
Churchill and Watson wanted a barbecue restaurant - there is none other on the Near Southside - and a high-quality one; Heim is known for using the highest-quality meats he can find.
“You can strictly run this on a P&L with cheap beef and a gas smoker, and you can get away with that, but it’s not Travis and Emma, and it’s not who we want to be involved with,” Churchill said.
The project architect, 97w of Fort Worth, is redesigning the West Magnolia frontage to make it more friendly to passersby.
The 3,500-square-foot restaurant will have seating for about 80 inside, and 40 on the rear patio.
The restaurant will have market-style service, with a bar built into the serving line on the east wall.
A prominent feature of the dining room will be community tables. “At least one long community table,” Heim said. “One long piece of wood. We’re working on a piece of wood.”
The restaurant will have two 1,000-gallon smokers and an Oyler smoker at the rear of the building.
The restaurant also will have a smoke-scrubber system that will capture smoke from the grills, scrub it, and release it into the air aroma-free, Churchill said. “That’s just a courtesy to the neighborhood,” Heim said.
Heim and Churchill did not disclose the cost of renovating the building.
The restaurant will open with a limited Friday and Saturday lunch and dinner service, and gradually move to a full seven-day-a-week lunch and dinner schedule by July 1, Heim and Churchill said. It also will serve brisket, pulled pork and sausage kolaches seven days a week, they said.
Besides the Heims, the restaurant currently has one employee, the noted Southside bread-maker Rowdy Dugan, who comes on at 4:30 a.m. Dugan will stay on as an assistant pitmaster, and Emma Heim will become the kitchen manager.
The restaurant will look to hire 30-40 people, including “barbecue guys,” kitchen staff, bartenders and bar managers, Heim said.
Heim and Churchill want the restaurant to mentor, develop, and spin off new restaurateurs, in much the same Fort Worth’s Reata restaurant has, they said.
Churchill and Watson - the twin 39-year-old grandchildren of the Fort Worth auto dealer Frank Kent - have been able to develop strong opportunities on their Near Southside properties because, using cash profit from the sale of their Honda dealership and another piece of property on West Lancaster Avenue downtown, they’ve been able to buy their new real estate holdings for cash, Churchill said.
“Corrie and I have been blessed,” Churchill said “We’ve had opportunities growing up; it’s just our giveback to the community that’s supported us forever.”
One example of a potential restaurateur they want to develop: Dugan.
“His true passion is bread, naturally leavened bread,” Heim said. “If he wants to open a bakery, all he’s got to do is knock on the door, and we can help him out.”
Heim is also looking to find a new operator for the food truck he’ll leave behind at the Republic Bar.
“We have our eyes on a couple of people,” he said.
Most importantly, Heim and Churchill want to take the growth of the new restaurant slowly and cautiously. Heim will go from serving 300 or 400 pounds of meat today to 1,000 or more daily in the new restaurant. The restaurant also plans to add catering, something the Heims do rarely today.
“The thing we have to remember is Travis and Emma have been doing this since February,” Churchill said. “And we’re taking it to a full-blown restaurant.”
Asked if multiple locations are a possibility, Churchill said, "we've definitely had those discusisons down the road, but that's years down the road."
On a typical day at the trailer, Heim gets there at 7 a.m., where he checks in with Dugan, who’s been in for three and half hours doing the ribs and sausage.
They prepare sides, and all meats come off the barbecue by 10 a.m., in time for the truck’s opening at 11 a.m. Then they put the briskets on for the next day. “All in by 11,” Heim said.
They complete serving by 1:20 or 2 p.m. - whenever the food sells out - clean up, and then finish the next day’s briskets by 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.
“I’m there the whole time,” Heim says. “Get home by 3. Rinse and repeat.”
Rendering 97w, photos by Brian Hutson and Greg Cella
By: Courtney Dabney