How did you meet?
EMMA: We were at a pool party at River Crest Country Club. I was going into 8th grade, and Travis was going into 7th grade. I remember seeing Travis for the first time and thinking how cute he was! After that, we became really good friends all through middle school and high school. We started dating in December 2011 when I was a freshman in college, and he was a senior in high school. This past July, we celebrated eight years of marriage!
How did your mutual love for barbecue enter your lives?
TRAVIS: I grew up with barbecue, and my granddad would cook ribs all the time. For the most part, I think I really just wanted to emulate him. I remember I was 12 years old the first time I ever cooked a brisket—and it was terrible. I didn’t cook it long enough and everything about it was wrong, but my mom said for the longest time that it was the best brisket I ever cooked. I think she might have said that just to annoy me, though!
Around that same age, I started helping my mom with her small catering business. It quickly turned into an obsession, and I was always trying to tweak everything I was cooking. In college, my roommates and I saved our money for beer and barbeque, and we would cook on the weekends.
After Emma and I got married, my in-laws bought me my first “real” smoker. Before that, I made a smoker out of a trash can. It wasn’t great, but it worked for the time being. Once my in-laws got me the smoker, I would cook for church lunches. That was about the first time someone outside my family said how good the barbecue was. That was definitely encouraging, so that’s when we started doing pop-up dinners before pop-ups were a thing. We moved to a food truck and now we have two restaurants. It’s crazy to think back on it.
How many of the recipes did you have figured out when you first started?
TRAVIS: The rub we use for our brisket has changed a little bit, but the sauce that we have at our restaurants is the sauce my brother and I made when I was 13. We’d find whatever spices we could on my mom’s spice rack and just throw it in. We tweaked it over the years, taking things out and adding things in. It’s weird to think that smoking barbecue with my granddad at 12-years-old is what started all this craziness—now I’m 30-years-old.
When you met Travis, he already had the barbecue bug. Did you have any idea what you were getting yourself into?
EMMA: I knew he loved to cook, and any time I’d go to his house, his mom would always have a ton of food. She’s always been very hospitable towards me—everyone in his family is. His grandmother, his granddaddy, and everyone on his granddaddy’s side. I knew that food was very important in his family.
When we started doing the pop-ups and the food truck, I took it upon myself to learn the recipes and create something that everyone would love. I like to focus more on the customer’s experience at our restaurants. To me, it should be the same as going to your family’s house. I think about how Travis’ mom would treat us with all of this wonderful food, and I want to bring that same feeling to our restaurants. Cooking is not really my thing, but I can do it well. What I really enjoy is the other side of it—being with community and just hanging out with people.
What are your official titles?
EMMA: We’re not really sure what our official titles are! I was General Manager at our Magnolia location and was able to train some key employees who really run that location well. At our River District location, I’m in more of a Customer Experience role being in the front of the house. Sometimes I’m pouring drinks, mixing banana pudding in the back, or Travis is starting a fire. We never really know what we’re going to be doing!
Since neither of you have professional restaurant training, have you just learned along the way?
EMMA: Pretty much! We both served at Joe T. Garcia’s for a while and would help Travis’ mom with serving and catering. Besides that, it was just knowing how we want things, knowing what our standards are, and keeping that line every single day. We have a great team now that we really rely on. With the two restaurants, we glean a lot from their experiences.
When we first started, we were just hoping to pay our electric bill. Now, it’s just become this huge thing. Late at night, we’d get emails from people who were upset that they waited four hours and the person in front of them got the last of the bacon burnt ends that day. We started looking for other places, and that’s when we found Magnolia. Two or three months into Magnolia, we felt like that location was getting too small. We started looking again for other buildings, and that’s when we found The River District location.
How did you decide that The River District was the right place for your business?
TRAVIS: When we moved back to Fort Worth, we lived in the apartments off Burton Hill Road. We were working at Joe T Garcia’s, so we drove down White Settlement Road every day. I always loved the location that used to be Froggy’s, and even thought it would be a great second location for Heim. That ended up not working out, so we ended up talking to Chris Powers, CEO of Fort Capital, who has had a ton of influence on The River District. They had just acquired this old VFW building, and even though it was bigger than what we were thinking, we decided to go for it! We were really impressed by his vision, what The River District was already becoming, and we wanted to be a part of something that was growing. It’s a lot like Magnolia—it’s a really cool, walkable area that people love. Everything The River District has to offer, including being right by the Trinity River, was really intriguing to us.