Pitmaster Justin Fourton works the pit during the early days of Pecan Lodge. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

Will Pecan Lodge stay at Dallas Farmers Market?

I have no idea. And neither does anyone else writing on the subject.
My guess is there are two people on Earth who know the answer: Justin and Diane Fourton, Pecan Lodge’s owners.
Even they might not be sure.
As we’ve written before, the Fourtons have kept their cards close to their butchers’ aprons as they weigh their options. They say they’d like to stay at the downtown Dallas market where, in just three years, they’ve built one of Texas’ great barbecue joints. At the same, they know there are landlords all over town, including the suburbs, who would love to have them and the long lines of satisfied customers they attract every day.
Personally, I have no stake in whether Pecan Lodge stays or goes. Like any barbecue lover who’s been there, I’m a huge admirer of Justin’s pit skills. My office is barely a mile away, and I’d probably eat there often if I could. But I can’t. It’s a rare workday that affords me the luxury of spending an hour or two standing in line to get lunch.* Even counting the occasional Posse outing, I visit Pecan Lodge about as often as I visit Snow’s BBQ, 180 miles away in Lexington, Texas.
But for those who do hope Pecan Lodge stays put, Daniel Vaughn had some sobering observations this month. The barbecue editor for Texas Monthly published a long blog item under the headline, PECAN LODGE FRUSTRATED AT FARMERS MARKET.
I’ll get to the details of Daniel’s report in a moment, but first, a bit of background:
For more than 70 years, the Dallas Farmers Market was owned and operated by the City of Dallas. That changed in June, when the city sold the Farmers Market to private developers for a song.
When City Hall ran the Farmers Market, it was nearly run into the ground. It lost money every year — $3.7 million in just the past six fiscal years. It shriveled to a barren hull, with few customers on most days and more empty stalls than interesting vendors.
This happened even as fashionable lofts, condos and apartments went up within walking distance of the Farmers Market, even as thousands of young, affluent residents moved downtown, even as Dallas consumers, like those across the country, began to embrace the value of fresh ingredients, locally grown produce, and well-crafted artisan foods.

 

It was a joyous day when the City of Dallas allowed Pecan Lodge to sell BBQ again in June 2011. Since then, the rest is history.
(Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

The new owners, operating as DF Market Holdings, say they want Justin and Diane to stay. They say that keeping Pecan Lodge – while they remake nearly everything about the market – is a priority for them. And it should be. With apologies to the tamale stand, the fudge shop, the guy selling candied nuts, and the really nice folks with the terrific butter cakes, Pecan Lodge, in the cavernous, largely vacant Shed 2, is about the only thing left at the market that’s worth getting in your car and driving to. I can get fudge and candied nuts at any mall. There are four grocery stores at the corner near my home, and they all sell peaches, nectarines, blueberries, and watermelons. They also sell mealy, flavorless tomatoes. No need to visit the Farmers Market for a bag of those.

Signing Pecan Lodge to a long-term lease would be a PR coup for the new owners. They say they want to make Farmers Market a premiere attraction. What better way to start than by locking in a premiere Texas restaurant, one with a national reputation? As one of the movers behind the venture said in June, “Pecan Lodge is an anchor for us.”
Counting funds from a number of sources, the owners have pledged $64 million to transform the dreary market. There are grand plans to bring in retail and restaurants, upscale housing, a “culinary learning center,” a band shell, a community garden – plus, of course, row after row of vendors selling genuine, Texas-grown, farm-to-table fruits and vegetables.
Right now, it’s all talk.
If I had a peanut for every PowerPoint, consultant’s study, or marketing brochure I’ve seen at City Hall featuring lovely watercolors (“artist’s renditions”) of shops and cafes and condos along shaded streets lined with broad sidewalks where happy-looking couples stroll or relax at small outdoor tables under gaily hued umbrellas … well, let’s just say I’d have a big bag of peanuts.
And if I ate one every time one of these urban Shangri-las actually got built … I’d still have a big bag of peanuts.

Reaching an agreement with Pecan Lodge – right away, before someone else lures the joint away – would help validate the City Council’s decision to privatize the Farmers Market. There’s an ethos at Dallas City Hall – not as dominant as it was 30 years ago, but present still – that if you want something done right, you give a tax break to a wealthy businessman and let him do it. “You see what happens when we get government out of the way and let business people run businesses? Business people know how to make things happen. Business people keep the hardwood logs flying!”

Justin Fourton checks a batch of homemade sausage on the pit. (Photo ©Chris Wilkins/Texas BBQ Posse)

I thought that by now the promoters of the New and Improved Farmers Market would have opened their arms to embrace Justin and Diane Fourton. The business and marketing reasons for doing so seem to me to be as sound as they are obvious.

Which is why I nearly spit out my barbecued tofu when I read Daniel’s article.
It left me wondering whether the new owners are any less tone-deaf, aloof and inept than the laziest, most listless city bureaucrat imaginable.
Why, at a time when they say they want Pecan Lodge to stay, would they:
— Change the hours of Shed 2 in a way that inconveniences the Fourtons’ customers? And do it without showing Justin and Diane the simple courtesy of telling them first?
— Rent space to another barbecue vendor, who’s now got a portable pit not far from Pecan Lodge’s door? When Daniel asked one of DF Marketing’s principals about this, the fellow claimed not to grasp that from where the Fourtons stand, this might be perceived as a slap in the face. “There was a lot of open space, and we’re going to continue to rent them until they’re filled up,” he said. “We are renting spaces. … We put him there with absolutely no consideration of Pecan Lodge or anyone else.”
— Charge the Fourtons $100 an hour to keep the doors open late for a special dinner a few weeks ago? Hell, if anything, the new owners should be handing out $100 bills to anyone willing to venture down there after dark.
— Tow the car of Pecan Lodge’s cashier because he parked in a spot marked “Vendor Parking Only,” not realizing that “vendor” meant “produce vendor”?
— Give the bum’s rush to a guitarist who was entertaining Pecan Lodge’s long line of customers?
I’m not the world’s most effective negotiator. For 10 years I’ve tried to get my son to stop leaving his dirty gym socks on the coffee table, and for 10 years I’ve failed. Yet even I can see ways that the market’s new owners might possibly improve upon their methods of persuasion.
As I said at the start, I have no idea what Justin and Diane Fourton plan to do.
But should they decide to close up shop and move, it won’t be hard to understand why.
And no matter what the marketing brochures say, I don’t think we’ll ever see long lines of customers waiting outside the culinary learning center.
==
*In an effort to shrink its impossibly long lines, Pecan Lodge this month instituted two changes: First, it’s taking pre-orders for bulk purchases: whole briskets, full racks of ribs, and so forth. Call at least two days in advance and you can pick yours up whenever you want between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Second, there’s now an “express line” for walk-up customers ordering five pounds or more. Posse stalwart Jim Rossman tried the express lane this week and pronounced it “a total success.” He got there at 10:50 a.m. and was able to order as soon as the doors opened at 11 a.m. Five pounds of smoked meats may seem like a heavy lunch, but not if you hang with the right crowd. Jim and two buddies ordered “two pounds to go, three combo plates and a bunch of sides. Spent $100 combined for the three of us, including drinks.”


Leave a comment



Burht My Fingers

4 years ago

Mealy tomatoes? When my mom lived in Dallas, she'd always want me to drive her down to the Farmer's Market where she would sit in the car as I collected excellent noonday onions, squash, cream peas and tomatoes from the vendors in the local-farmer stall. Has the new management chased those farmers away?

On the other hand, we always avoided Shed 2: pretty bleak. But that was before Pecan Lodge. I'm looking forward to trying it on a November trip and hope the new landlords don't drive them away first.

Anonymous

4 years ago

Until proven otherwise DF Market Holdings is in this just for the real estate deal. (Isn't everything in Dallas?)
They got prime real estate for a song. They have to build a parking garage for the apartment complex that is going up. Besides the restaurant in the plaza what else will be bulldozed? Not to mention having to rip up the floor of the shed with the restaurants to install new sewer lines.
Leasing space to another BBQ joint is just a way to bring in a little bit of cash at a time when lots of cash is moving out of their account, assuming they actually have enough financing to complete the project.
When all is said and done DFMH would probably be happy to have a Starbucks, Fuzzy's or Torchy's, and a Trader Joe's on their premises.
And Justin & Diane can be running Pecan Lodge somewhere else in a real restaurant environment that will allow them to serve meals more efficiently for longer periods of time.

Anonymous

4 years ago

Anonymous

4 years ago

The farmers selling all the flowers has to leave to make room for a bar.

Bubba

4 years ago

Outstanding article and yet sad at the same time. Maybe it's time for the Pecan Lodge to move on to their own place before they share that same bag of peanuts with you….

Austin Top 5 plus Snow's
Texas BBQ Posse eBook CTA 336x280

Most Shared Posts

Copyright 2017 © All Rights Reserved