If you count fast-food, coffee and dessert shops, there are more than 60 restaurants framing I-35W between North Tarrant Parkway and Heritage Trace Parkway in far north Fort Worth.
They're mostly in two sprawling shopping centers — Alliance Town Center on the east side of the freeway, Presidio Towne Crossing on the west — that also have a few grocery stores between them. The bulk of the fast-food chains are on the west side, but both centers have a combination of fast-food, fast-casual and dine-in places and a ridiculous amount of options for one of the most booming areas of Tarrant County.
To add one more, you've gotta be confident.
"Well, it's really a shame for them," Cody Gardner, area director and operations manager for Newk's Eatery, says of the competition. He then goes on to say things you expect him to say — Newk's, which had its grand opening in Presidio on Monday, puts a premium on food quality and service — but says them in the voice of a believer.
"I had the opportunity to pick my team," Gardner says. "I've been in the business for 18 years ... and we're going to be in there with our team. There's nothing in this building that we're not going to help you [with] or that we're not willing to do to help make ourselves successful."
Newk's is based in Jackson, Mississippi, but the Presidio franchise has a Texas background. Gardner grew up in Forney and his wife is from Keller. According to his LinkedIn page, his background includes Genghis Grill, BJ's Restaurants, Saltgrass Steakhouse and Landry's.
The franchisee team consists of two father-son duos: restaurateurs Hooshang Naghad and his son Cyrus (who was at the opening), with “capital and counsel” from Alan Ribble and his son Conner Ribble, according to a release issued last year when Newk's announced plans to expand into Tarrant and Denton counties.
Naghad, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute of New York, founded Park Place, a fine-dining restaurant in Texarkana, in 1979, according to the release. Cyrus has been working with him for 17 years.
According to the release, the Ribbles have been “investors in real estate for over 30 years."
Considering that Newk's North Tarrant Parkway neighbors consist of beloved Texas burger chain Whataburger right next door, the more divisive In-N-Out Burger just down the block, and a Chick-Fil-A, which proved so popular in north Fort Worth that Presidio Junction and Alliance Town Center both have one, Newk's has its work cut out for it. And those are only three of the restaurants on that part of North Tarrant Parkway alone.
Here are a few impressions from a visit during Monday's grand opening.
Unpretentious and friendly, but then you expect a restaurant to be on its best behavior during its grand opening. Still, Newk's execs say they're big on hospitality, and the space is welcoming.
It's fast-casual and, in an apparent shot at some other fast-casual places, boasts that it doesn't have the table buzzers that alert you that your food is ready and that you have to pick it up. Order at the register, take a number to your table, a runner will take the food out to you. Ours was ready so quickly that we were still having our brief conversation with Gardner and hadn't taken our seats when it arrived.
Decor was refreshingly subtle, with faux-hardwood floors (a nice change from the concrete that has become so popular), paintings of food on the walls, an energy-generating open kitchen and "The Roundtable," a condiment bar that goes a step beyond with imported pepperoncini, capers, jalapeños, breadsticks, grated Parmesan, house-made croutons, bread-and-butter pickles, roasted garlic and more.
Although the patio looks out over a parking lot and North Tarrant Parkway, at least there's some greenery in view, and in the right spot you might get a long-distance view of the downtown Fort Worth skyline (although eventually, an Ikea could be part of the view). And better looking out over North Tarrant Parkway than over an I-35W traffic jam, as some patios at Presidio do.
Music was played at a tolerable volume (although it's louder at the entrance) and during our visit consisted of a mix of standards and the sort of adult-album-alternative stuff (Amos Lee, Coldplay) that you might hear on KXT/91.7 FM.
The online version of the menu looks overwhelming, but when it's all put in one place — on the wall or at a carry-out menu you can grab at the register — it's a relatively simple rundown of pizzas, salads and sandwiches, with a dozen or so options in each category.
Curiosity compelled me to order the Newk's "Q" sandwich ($8.29), a signature item made with "tangy white BBQ sauce." The sauce had a bright, mustardlike flavor, not that that's a bad thing, and kind of dominated the sandwich, a mix of grilled chicken, bacon and Ammerlander Swiss cheese on Parisian bread. Pretty tasty, but in the land of brisket, the "Q" part might be a little questionable, or at least quirky or quixotic. Sandwiches come with a choice of side; the five cheese mac-and-cheese (available as an entree for $6.79) was terrific.
My wife had the grilled pimiento cheese sandwich, another signature item, with pimiento made with aged yellow and Vermont white cheddar, garnished with tomato slices. Nice melty, slightly spicy sandwich that she kicked up a bit more with jalapeños from the "Roundtable."
Newk's is big on its "dozen-layer cake" desserts (there was even a cake-cutting ceremony at the grand opening), with a regular menu of strawberry, caramel and chocolate cakes as well as a seasonal flavor ($3.99 a slice; $42.50 for a whole cake). The seasonal iced lemon cake was a subtly sweet and citrusy way to end the meal, although between that and the Q sandwich, I'm forcing myself to ignore the calorie counts listed on the menu.
There is a kids' menu, a small amount of vegetarian (but not vegan) items, and a rotating selection of soups as well. "Grab-and-go" items and catering are available.
Last year, when Newk's announced its plans for Fort Worth, it said it planned to open seven locations in Tarrant and Denton counties, but aside from saying that an already-announced location, at Champions Center near Texas Motor Speedway), should open in about three months, execs didn't say anything specific about future Tarrant locations. (Newk's already has locations in Irving, Plano and Frisco.)
The food is good enough for us to return, and we'll check out the pizzas next time. It's a family-friendly place, relatively inexpensive (only the ahi tuna salad and the shrimp remoulade salad cross the $10 mark) with a comfortable atmosphere. It will just have to cut through a lot of competition and mental "Where should we eat tonight that's nearby" clutter to succeed.