Tuesday, August 3, 2021
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Heim brings the heat – and the barbecue – to Magnolia

🕐 7 min read

Heim Barbecue

1109 W. Magnolia Ave.


You might consider Heim Barbecue’s swanky new brick-and-mortar opening on Magnolia Avenue a modern-day fairytale of sorts. The story of Travis and Emma Heim took a page from Jack and the Beanstalk and one from Cinderella, then smoked them both low and slow to achieve the perfect result.

It all began with a well-seasoned smoker that Heim inherited from his uncle. After investigating a possible move to the Austin area to work with some of their barbecue mentors, the Heims decided to make a go of it in their hometown of Fort Worth instead.

They hosted a few pop-ups around town to gauge their audience and get feedback on their recipes, and they just barely managed to cover expenses. Then Travis Heim was unexpectedly downsized from his oil and gas job and knew it was time to focus 100 percent on his barbecue ambitions.

This was their Jack and the Beanstalk moment – just like the boy who sold his family cow for a handful of magic beans. With their savings dwindling fast and only $100 left in the checking account, the couple chose to go all in. “We spent everything in our savings for a down-payment on the food truck,” said Emma Heim, “and used the last hundred in our checking to buy bacon and brisket.”

They opened for business during the blizzard of February 2015 and were amazed that anyone showed up. That bacon and brisket turned out to be truly magical and soon a line was forming daily.

During the past year their food truck was parked at the Republic Street Bar on the corner of East Hattie Street. Word about their amazing ‘cue and wildly popular burnt bacon ends (chewy nuggets of candy-like pork belly) spread like wildfire. Lines of ravenous customers began forming earlier and earlier as the very real threat of selling out loomed.

“It’s an 18-hour process to smoke our brisket. We serve craft barbecue. It’s not like we are selling burgers here … where we could just throw another one on,” said Travis Heim. The intention was never to sell out, but Heim Barbecue was limited by both location and smoker capacity, which could never keep up with the growing demand.

Heim Barbecue started with only “Roger” − the nickname Heim gave to his uncle’s hand-me-down smoker. “Roger” only had the capacity to smoke 9 to 11 briskets. It was soon joined by another 500-gallon smoker, which doubled the output. Then, a Kickstarter campaign helped fund the massive upgrade to a 1,000-gallon smoker with a 34-brisket capacity. How could life possibly get any better?

Meanwhile, on Magnolia Avenue, Kent & Co. owners Corey Watson and Will Churchill had been considering many possible tenants to fill the adjoining property they owned just across an alley from Kent & Co. Wines. You guessed it – this is the Cinderella part of the tale, but mostly because of the all the cinders and hard work, with only a brief appearance by a fairy godmother.

Watson and Churchill took notice of the feeding frenzy at the food truck and were impressed by the Heims, who had already been approached by at least six other hopeful “investors” wanting to carve out a slice of their growing business. “Our first meeting actually took place the same day we launched our Kickstarter campaign, and ended with a full tour of the space, where I was already able to envision exactly what I wanted to do with it,” said Emma Heim.

“My sister and I have been given a lot of help along the way and we feel obligated to help other entrepreneurs with our experience,” Churchill said. “We actually hashed out the entire deal with Travis and Emma before ever tasting their barbecue! Once we tasted it, we knew their product was truly superior and knew we had made the right choice.”

“Unlike the others who wanted to snatch up half our business, Will and Corey just wanted to help us get to the next level, but they also loved the street so much they wanted to find the right fit for their empty spot,” Travis Heim said, “It is a great partnership.”

Without actually waving a magic wand, their Kent & Co. landlords have assisted the Heims with marketing, public relations and even transportation. Perhaps you have noticed the new Heim-skinned truck tooling around town. “They are successful restaurateurs who have helped us get the right team in place, so we are free to do what we are good at,” said Emma Heim.

“We are leveraging our assets to help them with challenges like accounting and direction, to help the Heims avoid the usual pitfalls of most first-time restaurateurs,” said Churchill. “You cannot train work ethic, and Travis and Emma have surely got that.”

The Magnolia neighborhood will really be smokin’ when Heim Barbecue gets its three new 18,000-gallon Oyler smokers kicked into high gear. “These are simply the best high-volume, rotisserie-style smokers money can buy,” says Travis Heim. “Now we have a ton of capacity.” They sit under their own protective wooden awning out back.

The new smokers will give Heim Barbecue five times the output it could originally serve from the food truck. That means no one should go away hungry. “Roger” been officially retired to the family farm in Marshall, and the Kickstarter 1,000-gallon smoker has become Heim’s catering and Texas Christian University tailgating unit.

While many North Texas barbecue joints use the more readily available mesquite or hickory wood to smoke, Heim sticks to central Texas-style post oak instead. “We cook ours low and slow, and post oak gives our barbecue a milder, less harsh, flavor.”

Heim’s new location will be open for lunch and dinner and will allow for expanded offerings. It is adding new meats such as turkey, chicken and even huge and meaty beef ribs. The addition of a new indoor wood-fired grill will also expand the daily specials.

Along with the sour cream-based potato salad (like a loaded baked potato with all the fixings), you can now opt for brisket baked beans with chopped meat in the mix, classic marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole, old-school collard greens that are both sweet and savory, and green chili mac and cheese made in fresh batches throughout the day. “We wanted to showcase our family recipes,” said Emma Heim.

Travis Heim is excited about the addition of his “Brown Bar,” which will be stocked with 150 varieties of both familiar and some hard-to-find whiskeys and bourbons. “This is something I have always wanted to do … whiskey and bourbon pair really well with smoked meats. We will have some flights and rare bottles, but also want to keep it affordable for our customers to sample something new,” he said. They plan to feature only local beers, along will classic Miller on tap, along with other bottled or canned domestic selections. “There are a lot of quality beers in our area that we are excited to promote,” he said. You will also find about nine new cocktails to choose from, including a margarita.

The circa 1921 building has incorporated original tin ceiling tiles and wood reclaimed from Cartan’s Shoes down the street, with just a hint of mint green in the old wood. The tone in that weathered wood, which now wraps the bar, has become the main color scheme for the rest of the project.

When there is a line down the side of the building, you can order a drink from a pass-through window in the bar. It will be counter order and customers will get a pager to alert them when it’s time for pickup. Cognac-colored booths will mix with high tops at the bar and long communal tables. There will even be a wall counter to accommodate stand-up lunches.

“Throughout the design process, we wanted to flip the script on what most people expect a barbecue restaurant to look and feel like,” Churchill said. “Our plans include not only getting this first Heim Barbecue off and running, but also on expansion of the brand throughout the state in coming years.”

Travis and Emma Heim say, “If we could have designed our dream restaurant, this would be it!” What you will find at Heim Barbecue is a family-friendly yet polished interior with a nod to classic barbecue joints around the state. What you won’t find are tons of antlers and taxidermy or walls of license plates. “It would be a crime to make it too cliché,” said Emma Heim. “The interior will be a reflection of my taste and style, but it was really a great blend of the two of us.” The entire journey has been a team effort after all.

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