Small Business: Converted South Main warehouse restores village vibe

Betty Dillard

South Main Street’s transformation from a jumble of abandoned industrial buildings into a hip, vibrant mix of residential and commercial space has evolved again with the nearly completed renovation of the Supreme Golf Warehouse. Real estate developer Eddie Vanston is putting the finishing touches on the century-old, 14,000-square-foot building located on South Calhoun Street in Fort Worth’s South Main Urban Village. Built in 1913 as Fort Worth Warehouse & Transfer and later turned into the Supreme Golf Warehouse, the three-story brick building is being adapted for reuse as retail/office space and apartments. Vanston, along with architect Bob Kelly of Robert W. Kelly Architect Inc., is a driving force behind the revitalization of several economically disadvantaged inner-city neighborhoods on the Near Southside.

Among Vanston’s restoration projects are the 1910 Markeen Apartments, the 1920s-era Leuda-May and LaSalle Apartments, and the 1909 Sawyer Grocery Store and adjacent 1910 Joyslin Building, both of which have been turned into ground-floor retail/office and upstairs rental lofts. He converted a nearby factory, the Miller Manufacturing Building built in 1910, into 14 industrial-style lofts. Trendy and affordable, they all boast a waiting list of tenants. “I like old buildings. The old buildings serve as a catalyst for redevelopment,” Vanston said. “Historic preservation is what I love to do. I can’t build but I can put pieces back together.”

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Upstairs in the Supreme Golf warehouse are 23 loft apartments ranging from 875 to 1,439 square feet, with monthly rents between $1,075 and $1,800. In true loft style, the apartments feature open floor plans, concrete floors, exposed brick walls, clawfoot bathtubs and historic light fixtures. Some units include the original storage locker doors and several have sweeping views of downtown. Vanston, who uses local, state and federal tax credits on his projects, worked with the Texas Historical Commission to enlarge and upgrade some of the windows. Slated to open in the coming weeks, the Supreme Golf lofts are all leased except one. Downstairs, only one commercial space is still available. The redevelopment already is home to Fort Worth Bike Sharing. Public relations strategist Paige Hendricks is relocating her firm, PHPR Inc., to the building, as is Bob Kelly. A portrait painter will take the other half of Hendricks’ space. According to Vanston, future businesses include a book store, a coffee shop, an ice cream store and a restaurant. “It’s the land of the entrepreneur. The beauty of the neighborhood is being created by these smaller companies,” Vanston said. “These buildings aren’t for everybody but there is a small percentage that is passionate about them and that turns out to be interesting folks who are making this an interesting neighborhood.” A beer garden and event hall, dubbed the Shipping & Receiving Beer Garden, has been added on the Daggett Street side of the building, where there is a loading dock and two roll-up doors. Vanston and his partners, including developer, rancher and jazz guitarist Tom Reynolds, hope the bar will serve as a gathering place for residents and business owners as well as visitors to the neighborhood. The bar will host a grand opening on Labor Day weekend. “You cannot plan this. My idea was to keep it simple and make it interesting. These buildings are the attraction,” he said. “Just clean them up and interesting things, interesting people will come. It’s a fertile ground for interesting people. It’s time to segue into talking about the people and what they’re bringing to the neighborhood – and to Fort Worth.”

Happy tomatoes taking root Lauren Keefe began making fresh, homemade salsa about eight years ago. A homeschooling mom to two young children, Keefe developed interests in natural/organic foods, healthful eating and green living for her family. Last year, she poured those passions – and her Happy Tomato Fresh Salsa – into a blossoming career after her husband, Sean, suggested she sell her salsa at farmers markets. “I hit the ground running to find a way to make it happen,” said the 34-year-old entrepreneur. Keefe locked down some recipes for mild, medium and hot salsa variations, obtained her food manufacturer’s license and began finding sources of organic ingredients: chemical-free canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, cilantro, lemons and limes. The business was officially launched two years ago when Keefe sold jars of the salsa at a fundraiser for a friend’s child battling cancer. Later, the couple sold salsa at Southside Urban Market and the Fort Worth Open Streets festival. Roy Pope Grocery and the Sunflower Shoppe in Fort Worth began stocking the salsa. Along came Funky Farmz in Fort Worth, Green’s Produce in Arlington, HomeStead Farms in Keller, Green Spot Market and Green Grocer in Dallas, and Urban Acres in Oak Cliff. When the wine manager at Fort Worth’s Central Market sampled the salsa at a street fair, he alerted Sondra Hay, the store’s selling manager. Happy Tomato Fresh Salsa is now available at all Dallas-Fort Worth area Central Market stores. As sales grew hotter, the couple sold their house in Fort Worth’s Fairmount neighborhood to invest fully in the company. Last March, Sean quit his job at Safeguard Data Storage to work full time with his wife, washing and chopping vegetables, pouring and sealing the salsa in labeled jars and then delivering cases to stores. Lauren’s 73-year-old grandmother, Cora Vasquez, also spends two days a week helping make the salsa.

“We’re slowly building up. We’re still in an upward trend,” Sean said. The couple first rented kitchen space at Z’s Cafe but quickly outgrew that and are now in a rented church kitchen. This fall, Happy Tomato Fresh Foods will take a 1,500-square-foot space with a loading dock and room to grow in the Supreme Golf building. “We got our start on the Southside with the street festival,” Lauren Keefe said. “There’s such a creative energy there. We want to be part of that. We feel at home there. I can’t think of another area in Fort Worth we’d want to be. “I just love it over there. I’m so excited someone’s taken an interest in that area. It’s crazy to watch how it’s morphed. I like it – it’s funky, new and innovative, and people are very supportive.”

Playing his song Thirty-one-year-old Travis Django Wade, a professional luthier, recently moved his business called Texas String Works into a small, quiet studio in the back of the Supreme Golf building, behind Fort Worth Bike Sharing’s repair shop. Wade builds and repairs guitars, specifically acoustic steel string guitars. He’s been working out of his house in the Cultural District in a one-man shop. He’s building a guitar for Tom Reynolds (“He’s a great guitar player, you know,” said Wade.), who turned him on to the old warehouse. “I wanted to get things out of my house and in a space where I could really focus. It’s a slow-going process to make a guitar. I usually make about 12 a year. I’m hoping moving here will help me speed things up a bit,” Wade said. He’s one of the few guitar makers, and even fewer repairmen, in the area. A 2000 graduate of Boswell High School in Fort Worth, Wade grew up around guitars. His father, Donald Wade, has worked more than 35 years for the iconic Fender Musical Instruments Corp. in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I’ve been around guitars all my life. My dad would teach me this or that. He’s really my inspiration and the one who got me interested in guitars,” Wade said. He got his first job repairing guitars while in high school. Like his dad, Travis Wade studied at Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, finishing in 2005. He took a job at legendary Jackson Guitars in Scottsdale and later worked at Collings Guitars in Austin. Wade moved back to Fort Worth in 2008, started acquiring tools and woods and began making guitars with his name on the headstock. “I do traditional body shapes and sizes with traditional finish techniques. I use mahogany and rosewood and different types of spruce,” he said. “I try to build things well and leave it at that.” Wade’s custom guitars start at $2,800, with prices varying depending on the woods. The guitar maker is just beginning to realize he’s one of the few business owners on South Main who doesn’t live in the neighborhood. “I think the neighborhood is super cool,” he said. “I’m real fond of the fact that Fort Worth is starting to get these neighborhoods that all have their own thing going, like Magnolia and the Cultural District. It’s real neat that some of these neighborhoods and communities are growing the way they are. And this, especially. I’m anxious to see how this develops and grows.” Send small business news to Betty Dillard at