May 20, 2024

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Free For All Food

Surprise! More 2020 Fort Worth restaurant finds than flops

If nothing else, 2020 proved that the bigger restaurants are, the faster they fall.

A $3 million craft brewery was among the first and most expensive of a dozen Fort Worth restaurants to close as other eateries downsized to curbside pickup and drive-thrus during the COVID-19 recession.

But more restaurants still opened than closed, with new owners taking over leases at closeout prices and looking optimistically toward 2021 and a vaccine.

The demise of the Deep Ellum Funkytown Fermatorium is the biggest flop of 2020. But it was not solely the result of the coronavirus slowdown — the West 7th area simply grew over saturated with suds. A foolish $2.5 million location of now-bankrupt Punch Bowl Social had closed in 2019.

Bird Cafe and Taverna by Lombardi in Sundance Square were the most noticeable closings, but both changes were part of tenant moves as Sundance switched management briefly to a Dallas company, then switched back to local control.

The most-missed restaurant to close is El Rancho Grande, but the Falcon family retired after 71 years and sold the location for a soon-to-open location of the even older Original Mexican Restaurant.

Other closings in 2020: Southside Rambler, a flash-in-the-pan restaurant on West Magnolia Avenue with a turbulent relationship with neighbors and a toxic hostility to coronavirus risks and state health and safety orders; Cork & Pig Tavern, a chef-driven Crockett Row restaurant that suffered from the influx of nearby bars (a Pig remains open in Irving); Buttons, a soul food and dance club planning a move to Dallas; and Roy Pope Grocery, a 70-plus-year hamburger landmark sold and set to reopen in 2021.

Chain restaurants vanished as quickly as they popped up, including Bartaco, a Connecticut-based taco chain. Older chain locations to close included Pizzeria Uno downtown and an old Fort Worth location of Irving-based Hoffbrau Steaks, which still has locations in Benbrook and Haltom City.

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Enchiladas Ole has a new location in North Richland Hills. Handout photo

How to stay in business

But if 2020 proved anything in the restaurant industry, it proved that smart operators can even survive a shutdown, and by year’s end the business was growing again.

The most successful restaurants in 2020:

Added online ordering to keep phone lines clear.

Reassigned staff to handle, pack and check phone and online orders for pickup or delivery.

Opened makeshift sidewalk dining or patios for safer outside dining.

Offered inexpensive $20-$40 curbside or takeout family meals to help drive business and serve struggling families.

And utilized smart social media promotions to reach nearby diners and specific neighborhoods for deliveries or curbside pickup.

By year’s end, restaurants like Nizza Pizza in Fort Worth were expanding the drive-thru window, and new restaurants like an Enchiladas Ole location in North Richland Hills automatically included online ordering and dedicated parking for curbside pickup.

Barbecue restaurants sell the most drive-thru and takeout meals and were the year’s most successful, with several reaching 85-90% of 2019 sales and a few even beating the previous year.

Tex-Mex restaurants adapted to selling margaritas to go and found strong customer demand. By year’s end, Tex-Mex restaurants following the above formula were also close to matching 2019 sales.

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A Big BnB double cheeseburger at Burger N Beyond in Fort Worth. Bud Kennedy [email protected]

The top openings

At least 25 major restaurants have opened despite the pandemic.

A few of the most notable:

Ascension Coffee, 1751 River Run, a flashy new riverbank location for a Dallas-based chain of Australian-style coffee cafes.

Ático, 2315 N. Main St. atop a hotel, a new Spanish tapas bar by chef Tim Love.

Burgers N Beyond, 1704 Galveston Ave., a family-run grill offering nostalgic charbroiled burgers.

Cane Rosso, 200 E. East St., Arlington, serving pizzas and Italian dishes next door to the new Hurtado Barbecue building.

Carpenter’s Cafe, 1116 Pennsylvania Ave., a leader in a year of focus on Black-owned restaurants, known for smoked-chicken salad and inventive breakfasts and lunches.

Del Campo Empanadas, 10724 N. Beach St., a chef-driven Argentine bakery and cafe with intricate handmade empanadas.

Goldee’s Barbecue, 4645 Dick Price Road, Austin-style craft barbecue from star pitmasters.

Keller Chophouse, 124 S. Main St., Keller, a prime steakhouse from the owners of Mercury Chophouse in Fort Worth.

Provender Hall, 122 E. Exchange Ave., a new Mule Alley comfort food restaurant and bar from Clay Pigeon chef Marcus Paslay.

Rufus Bar & Grill, 4608 Bryant Irvin Road, a new name and location for the chicken-fried steak and barbecue menu from the former Billy’s Oak Acres.

Tinie’s, 113 S. Main St., an upscale interior Mexico restaurant and skyline bar.

Wishbone & Flynt, 334 Bryan Ave., a new Stefon Rishel restaurant and bar anchoring the South Main Village district.

Profile Image of Bud Kennedy’s Eats Beat

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 15 Texas Legislature sessions. Since 1985, he has also written more than 2,000 “Eats Beat” columns about Texas dining, restaurants and food.