The southbound creep of a Denton-based restaurant group is turning the sleepy yet fertile ground of Argyle into another foodie destination along U.S. 377, just 12 miles north of Roanoke, which was appointed “the unique dining capital of Texas” by the Texas House of Representatives in 2009.
John “Sparky” Pearson and his Radical Hospitality Group helped revitalize Denton’s downtown square with LSA Burger in 2013, then Barley and Board two years later. But at the same time, Pearson had plans for his new stomping grounds, after moving from Denton to Argyle — with its population of under 4,000 — eight years ago.
“We were going eight miles in any direction to go out to eat,” Pearson said. “I just thought, ‘Why in the world don’t we take what we’re doing and bring it into our own community?’”
But it’s not just convenience for family, friends and neighbors that led to Radical’s development of a budding food scene south of Denton. Things are changing rapidly in the southern part of Denton County — with the help of the restaurant group, which also includes entrepreneur Steve Watkins and financier Earl Herrington.
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Growth now looms around what were previously low-traffic farm roads. High-end residential development is already moving in along the corridor where Argyle meets Flower Mound, Northlake and Justin, and Pearson’s background in commercial real estate was a big part of his company sniffing out a foothold in the new marketplace
“I play the game of ‘follow the roads,’” Pearson said. “When you’re located in a growth plain, you play bigger than the size of the town of Argyle suggests, because the thoroughfares of 35W and 377, and even [Farm Roads] 407 and 1171 are growing up. You don’t just see Argyle. You see Flower Mound and Northlake. It will allow for us to build a culinary scene that says, ‘Hey, come see us.’”
Radical’s footprint in downtown Denton continues to grow, as the group expects The Park on Oak, a new sports bar, to open in the first part of 2018. But Radical’s satellite campus to the south is exploding, with three destinations added this spring that happen to be near its Earl’s 377 Pizza, which opened to rave reviews for both its pie and its patio in 2016.
Bumbershoot Barbecue has filled the tree-lined picnic space behind Earl’s with its trailer, its Oyler smoker and its aromas of hickory, pecan, and slow-smoked beef and pork since April. A month earlier, Kimzey’s Coffee went in, also tucked into the treeline like a whimsical secret, with its dripping roof that looks like something out of “Hansel and Gretel” or “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
But the newest addition to the Radical family is a hilarious take on snow cones that could only have come from a college-aged mind. It’s Gnome Cones, the brainchild of 2016 UNT graduate Bret Hawkins and his friend Alex Sparks.
The Gnome Cones episode seems to exemplify the unique culture at Radical Hospitality. An off-the-wall idea. A vision. Rapid execution and implementation, and then, on to the next off-the-wall idea.
The Hawkins family and the Pearsons knew each other, but it wasn’t until Bumbershoot was looking for graphic design help that Sparky and Bret came to know one another. After Hawkins turned around the vintage-looking pig with an umbrella dining spot, he showed Pearson a design project based around snow cones in cups with illustrated gnomes, where the ice, colored by all-natural syrups, acted as pointy gnome hats.
“Gnome cones. How does anybody think of that?” Pearson asked. “I told them, ‘I’ll bet on this with you guys. We’ll be a small minority owner in what you’re doing, but we’ll set you up. [Executive chef] Chad [Kelley] helped them on the culinary side to develop all-natural syrups. Four weeks later, these guys can’t make ice fast enough.”
Teaming with outsiders, be they unknowns like the Gnome Cone team or already established, usually Denton-based brands, is central to what the Radical group has been about as it has started to expand.
Kimzey’s Coffee retains its own culinary team and serves Denton’s West Oak Coffee alongside its pastries. One of the group’s forthcoming expansions of its Argyle base is a second location of another Denton favorite, Hoochie’s, a fast-casual Cajun concept whose first location sits just east of the Denton square.
Pearson even got his start in the restaurant business through franchising Fuzzy’s Tacos locations. Technically, Argyle’s Fuzzy’s was the first Radical location to open in the town, in 2014.
That was a year after executive chef Kelley came on board, after previously redefining bar food at Dallas’ Meddlesome Moth. Kelley developed the menus at Barley and Board, Earl’s 377, Bumbershoot and will do the same for a forthcoming fast-casual burger concept the group has planned for Argyle along with Hoochie’s.
Though Pearson & Co. isn’t ready to announce opening dates for Hoochie’s or the new fast-casual burger option, if past rollouts offer any clue, the team won’t keep greater Argyle waiting any longer than it has to.
Kelley was an all-star at In-N-Out Burger in his 20s before his first executive-chef gig at the Dallas’ Oceanaire Seafood Room. The lightning-paced rollout of new concepts at his current gig has kept him more than engaged enough to stay nonstop at his creative peak.
“I’ve opened several new concepts now,” Kelley said. “There is more anxiety with opening [Bumbershoot] than any other concept, because Texas barbecue is a religion. There’s that element of if we miss this, we’re going to have to leave town. But then there was this other side that, ‘Oh, my God, what if we nail it?’”
For a guy from Southern California who has been in Texas for fewer than 10 years, his brisket screams Lone Star State as loud as his thin crust pizza screams Positano, Italy.
“I weighed 150 before we opened [Bumbershoot],” Pearson said with a laugh. “This guy is trying to kill me.”
The Argyle gang
427 U.S. 377 S.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
421 U.S. 377 S.
11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m. until sellout Tuesday-Sunday
429 U.S. 377 S.
6:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
421 U.S. 377 S.
11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (open summer only)