Katrina and Travis Carpenter are a dynamic duo that just celebrated the first anniversary of their namesake restaurant. Katrina, a former dyslexia educator who bakes heavenly surprises, and Travis, who works at a local distributor in North Fort Worth when he’s not barbecuing chicken and brisket, have weathered a succession of storms to bring their unique menu to the Fort.
Tell us how you got started.
“Our business was born from a passion to serve others. We get pleasure from people’s satisfaction with our service. Through that we became masters of chicken salad. We did some pop-ups, then an airstream trailer in the SoMa District in Fort Worth’s Near Southside with Arcadia Coffee where we co-occupied the space for about six months from July to December 2019. It was just me in the airstream serving chicken salad sandwiches, before Hot Box Biscuit Club and Tinies [came on the scene].”
When did you open the restaurant?
“We acquired the space in December 2019, made some minor renovations, and had our soft opening February 16, 2020.”
COVID hit six weeks later. Tell us about that.
“You know, we never made it to the grand opening. Fortunately, we landed a contract with the Facebook Data Center in Fort Worth. They had a café on-site to feed their employees breakfast, lunch and dinner. The café was deemed non-essential so it shut down. They worked with four businesses: Chadra Mezza, [the former] Z’s Café, a scratch kitchen in Alliance and ourselves. We were in rotation two or three days a week. That’s what got us through June.”
What challenges have you faced?
“We haven’t been approved for one loan. We did apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, but we were not successful at getting any of the CARES Act funding. We didn’t have a lot of capital. If it wasn’t for the support from our community and word of mouth – people knowing our story and testifying – I don’t know where we would be. Many months we just broke even.”
“The folks at Near Southside, Inc. encouraged us to apply for the Southside C.A.R.E.S Fund. We received some money from the benefit concert featuring Leon Bridges at Kent & Co. Wines. That, along with $2,500 from the Texas Restaurant Association, has been the bulk of the gifts.”
How has re-opening gone?
“We reopened in June with reduced hours and in July we were on the cover of the Fort Worth Weekly! Shutting down was devastating, but every month something came through that pushed us a little bit further. I feel like we were put in this position for a reason. This is to show other people what can be done even when the odds are stacked against you.”
Tell us about your community work.
“There’s a lot that we’ve done in the past year within the community. When people ask me what makes this restaurant different from the next Black-owned restaurant – we’re Fort Worth born and bred. Not a lot of restaurants are fully locally sourced. We offer a unique menu selection that has something for everyone.”
“In August, we partnered with Near Southside neighbor Kari Crowe-Seher from Melt Ice Creams on a Texas Sheet Cake ice cream. We collaborated again in the fall with "I Scream," an ice cream sandwich for Atatiana Jefferson’s birthday. All the proceeds went to The Atatiana Project. Everything that we’ve experienced on this journey has played a significant role. To be able to give back pushed me to give back more.”
Let’s talk about the The Smoky Chick.
“Our menu is built around it; however, I didn’t always use smoked chicken. One day Travis smoked a chicken, and I made chicken salad with the leftovers and never turned back. There’s something about the smoked chicken that’s special.”
Note: The Smoky Chick has won a few awards and is well known by locals.
Tell us about the Grown Folks No-Nana Pudding.
“Banana pudding is a thing. All the soul food and barbecue restaurants have banana pudding. Some people like just cookie pudding. I’m always thinking about pleasing my customers, and what is going to set us apart. I use banana rum and banana liqueur in a pudding that doesn’t have sliced bananas.”
“It’s all in the flick of the wrist (laughing). I want people to have a lasting impression in a good way when they leave, and see the pride that we have for the quality of the food.”
[Conversation edited for clarity.]