Pair a celebrity chef with a restaurant industry icon and what do you get?
A recipe for success.
At least, that is what Grady Spears and Chuck Bush had in mind as they partnered in a venture that has the makings of the perfect pairing.
Just how far the two friends and Fort Worth culinary heavyweights take their joint venture remains to be seen, but both agree that the partnership positions them for solid growth albeit not the type that will result in more than 100 chain restaurants in multiple states.
Bush, the founder of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, has been there and done that and isn’t interested in doing it again.
“I’m not getting back into franchising,” Bush said. “I don’t want to grow at that rate.”
After selling his majority interest in Fuzzy’s, last February, Bush left the company, which reported to the Fort Worth Business Press revenue of $113 million in 2015, to pursue other opportunities.
After announcing his departure from Fuzzy’s in September, Bush bought controlling interest in Spears’ Horseshoe Hill Cafe in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
While the move from running a growing restaurant chain to involvement in a single restaurant with a limited menu and hours might seem like an unlikely move for Bush, both he and Spears agree that the matchup plays to business strengths of both of them.
“I like creating concepts and menus for restaurants and Chuck is good at running them,” Spears said. “It seems like the right thing for us to do together.”
Bush, 46, and Spears, 48, have known each other for about eight years and had “crossed paths all the time,” Bush said.
Despite reports that Spears’ track record with past restaurant ownership and investors has not always ended well, Bush said he is impressed with Spears’ talent and the success he has had with Horseshoe Hill and its former investor.
“To be able to take a restaurant that is only open four days a week and make it profitable in this industry says a lot,” Bush said. “We talked through the issues and by the end of the conversation, we both said, ‘Hell, this is going to work.’
“Grady’s a creative person and we blend well together,” Bush said. “I see this as a great opportunity.”
The two aren’t ready to discuss plans for the future beyond growing operations at Horseshoe Hill, which will likely result in expanding the menu and operating hours beyond Wednesday through Saturday.
“Right now, we can’t take our eyes off Horseshoe Hill,” Bush said.
For legal reasons, Bush can’t discuss the details of his split with Fuzzy’s, but he said he genuinely believes the sale of Fuzzy’s to Atlanta-based NRD Capital Management was the right move for everyone.
“I have full confidence in NRD’s ability to take Fuzzy’s to the next level,” Bush said. “I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to do that.”
In announcing Bush’s departure, NRD Capital’s founder and managing partner, Aziz Hashim, praised Bush as “incredibly valuable in moving the brand from its beginnings in 2001 to where it is today.”
Having spent most of his life in the restaurant business, Bush has learned from experience the right way to grow an enterprise.
Fuzzy’s started out as a student hangout close to the campus of Texas Christian University in 2001. Bush and his father, Alan, bought the place in 2003 with the intention of maintaining it as a hands-on operation dedicated to serving Tex-Mex cuisine and margaritas at a student-friendly price.
One of the first fast-casual restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages, Fuzzy’s is also credited with introducing white queso to the Dallas-Fort Worth market and helping popularize fish tacos. The chain also got in early on the concept of serving breakfast all day.
After Fuzzy’s began franchising in 2009, it grew dramatically under the management of Bush and his partner, Mel Knight, who remains with the company.
Bush said his experience with Fuzzy’s will shape his approach to managing restaurant growth going forward.
“I want to take it slow and steady and do the right thing,” he said.
Spears said he is on board with that approach because he admits the business side of the food industry is not his strong suit
Spears, a Fort Worth native, tapped his flair for food preparation more than 25 years ago while he was working as a restaurant manager in West Texas and had to take over for a chef who quit in the middle of a shift.
Spears quickly honed his talent and developed a reputation as a cowboy chef who created menus for the Reata restaurants he co-owned in Alpine, Fort Worth and Beverly Hills, California, and then later at others such as The Chisholm Club and Grady’s in Fort Worth, The Nutt House in Granbury, The Burning Pear in Sugar Land and The Roadrunner in Las Vegas.
His popularity increased through associations with celebrities such as Martha Stewart and Paula Deen and appearances on TV shows such as Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Rosie O’Donnell Show and various Food Network shows.
He has also written several cookbooks, although he admits he’s never read a whole book in his life.
Aside from serving up his signature chicken-fried steak and other home-cooking specialties at Horseshoe Hill, Spears is consulting chef for NRG Stadium in Houston, where he creates menus for the Houston Texans, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the coming Super Bowl.
Spears said he is extremely excited about the growth potential of his partnership with Bush.
“It’s going to be unbelievably great,” he said.