North America, as you probably have noticed, is a big place. You have probably also noticed that it has a lot of sports bars in it. So it’s pretty impressive that a sports bar with locations only in Louisiana, not one of the bigger areas of North America, won a continent-wide contest for “Best Sports Bar in North America.”
That was in 2012, when Baton Rouge-based Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar was named the Best Sports Bar in North America in a ESPN Mobile poll. According to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story, the finalist were picked from more than 5,000 nominations submitted by ESPN Mobile users (Austin-based Pluckers Wing Bar made the final five).
“The network narrowed it down to 12 restaurant/bars, then into brackets in alphabetical order,” the story says. “Voting whittled the list to the final four. The winner was chosen based on fan voting and "an editorial panel review." (Jeez, and we though our Burger Battles were complicated.)
Now Walk-On’s is ready to move into the rest of North America, including DFW. The chain currently has eight Louisiana locations, but eight more are on the way soon, including locations in Lubbock, Tyler, Houston and Dallas.
Or, probably, Dallas-Fort Worth. Per a release issued Monday, Walk-On’s Enterprises co-founder and owner Brandon Landry announced that the company has executed an area development agreement covering greater DFW market with WO Metroplex LLC, which is owned by Lubbock entrepreneurs Johnny Qubty and Josh Allen, the guys behind the Lubbock Walk-On’s, which is opening soon.
Qubty and Allen plan to open five Walk-On’s in DFW, beginning in 2017. Locations are still TBD, although a Fort Worth/Tarrant location is under consideration as part of the mix.
Although we don’t have exact statistics on size, number of taps, etc., a description of a Walk-On’s scheduled to open in another market in February lists more than 70 TVs, nearly 50 beer taps, custom “pour-your-own” table taps and a beer garden on a large outdoor patio. The beer menu at the DFW locations will include local craft brews.
“Walk-on” is sports term for an athlete who has not been drafted or otherwise invited to join a team, but shows up and finds a slot anyway. Which is how Landry and co-founder Jack Warner met, according to the restaurant’s website: They were both walk-ons for the LSU Tigers basketball team. When they were on the road, they visited restaurants and sports bars in other cities and took notes.
In 2001, they laid out the plans for the first Walk-On’s on the back of a napkin, gave the plan to a professor for a class project, and were even more determined after getting a “C” grade on the project. After six tries at a bank loan, they finally struck pay dirt on the seventh. In May 2015, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and is wife Brittany became co-owners of the chain.
According to Qubty, the team behind the Lubbock Walk-On’s saw it as a chance to get going in a smaller market before taking on a major one. “Josh and I wanted to walk in Lubbock before we started running in DFW,” he says in the release, “and now we couldn’t be more excited to introduce the ‘Best Sports Bar in North America’ to the people of North Texas.”
As befits a Louisiana-based sports bar, the menu features gumbo (duk and andouille gumbo, at that), crawfish étouffée, po’ boys and lots of seafood (and, yes, fried alligator). There are more than a half-dozen burgers, including one with a cheese-and-bacon-stuffed patty, another with a blackened patty topped with sauteed shrimp and, too our mild surprise, a turkey burger and veggie burger.
There is also something called “Cajundillas”: basically a quesadilla, but stuffed with chicken, Andouille sausage, boudin and other ingredients and severved with a side of red beans and rice. And bread pudding — made with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And drinks with names like Death Valley and Strapless Bikini.
The “coming soon” expansion plans are just the start for Walk-On’s. Expect further expansion across the southern U.S. in the coming years.