When Taste of Texas relocated to its current location nearly three decades ago, owners of the massive steakhouse were certain the 20,000-square-foot space would be more than adequate for the Texas-sized indie.
Turns out, the operation—consistently one of the country’s top-grossing independent restaurants and No. 58 on Restaurant Business’ 2018 rankingof the top 100 indies—needed even more space to keep up with consumer demand as well as current trends.
The restaurant recently unveiled a $2 million, two-and-a-half-year renovation that features a variety of upgrades, most notably a retail area selling full, ready-to-grill meals to go. The meal kits include bread dough and steaks, to be cooked at home, along with a choice of sides. They come packed in microwave- and oven-safe containers, along with seasonings and a meat thermometer.
There’s 10-minute parking available for grab-and-go customers. Increasingly, though, guests who’ve just finished dinner in the restaurant will “swing through the gift store and get steaks for the following evening,” says Nina Hendee, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Edd Hendee. “That’s been the most surprising.”
The meal kits required the addition of one prep cook, she says. The retail operation, too, forced Taste of Texas to update its employee training process. Servers had the option to be cross-trained to work in the retail shop during a three-day training session, learning how to properly pack the to-go offerings and sell other wares, including the restaurant’s popular steak knives, which workers have been trained to personalize with a laser-engraving machine.
Front-of-house staff who opt to work in the gift shop do so because they like the shorter shifts and earlier ending hours, and also have a desire to learn about inventory, marketing and other topics they wouldn’t encounter waiting tables, Nina Hendee says. “Most of our servers are students,” she says. “This is great training for them in supply chain management.”
Taste of Texas has operated an online retail store for 14 years, but that business is very much tied to holidays and summertime. Hendee hopes the gift shop will boost sales year-round.
The renovation also included a full-scale kitchen reconfiguration in which a 9-by-120-foot area of outdoor walkway was added to the kitchen to make space for a new walk-in freezer and cooler, blast chiller and salad reach-in. The bread production area moved closer to the serving area. “Now, you don’t have to cross traffic with hot pans,” she said. “You can go straight from the oven to the bread warmer.”
To add to the efficiency, a dishwasher joined the prep area, and there’s a new pickup window and larger prep table for desserts. The shipping office for its online retail store was also moved from upstairs to downstairs near an exterior door to simplify delivery pickups. “It’s a much more efficient layout,” Hendee says.