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Cover illustration by David Owens.

Graffiti wasn’t exactly the warm welcome they were expecting. Two months after opening Kent & Co. Wines, a posh bar/restaurant in the heart of the burgeoning Near Southside, the Historic Fairmount District, co-owners and fraternal twins Will Churchill and Corrie Watson were greeted by “Black Metal” spray painted on the West Magnolia Avenue storefront of their 2,000-square-foot building. Fortunately, for the sake of “the Fort Worth Way,” they weren’t the only victims.

“It happened up and down the block,” Watson said. “It happens every now and then [on our block], but it isn’t a big concern.”

On the surface, the luxury brand-minded business, whose bar is partly designed to resemble a swanky Cadillac showroom, contrasts with the Near Southside’s independent-minded, nonchain-establishment, DIY vibe. But as the neighborhood matures, Kent & Co. seems evermore right at home. The Near Southside, though not as residentially dense as Fairmount or nearby Mistletoe Heights, boasts 1,300 rental units, a number that is expected to double over the next 18 to 24 months, according to Near Southside Inc., a nonprofit whose members promote development in the 1,400-acre district just south of downtown.

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The relatively affordable real estate likely explains only part of the attraction. With regular and extremely popular events like ArtsGoggle and Friday on the Green, and with award-winning bars and restaurants, the Near Southside has to be one of the best places to live, work, and play in all of North Texas.

And Churchill and Watson, as big sponsors of some of the events and as co-owners of one of those award-winning bar/restaurants, probably had a lot to do with that success.

“We have been coming to Magnolia for years,” Watson said. “We love Ellerbe Fine Foods, Cat City Grill … . There are more and more reasons for people to come these days. We love the family atmosphere.”

But not everybody loves Kent & Co.

Churchill and Watson, said longtime Fairmounter Tim Meagher, “didn’t realize this isn’t the old, conservative Cadillac Seville crowd that frequents their luxury car dealership.”

Last October, Kent & Co. attempted to brand its stretch of Magnolia via social media with a fun but somewhat odd hashtag. #Kentrification was intended to contrast with the baggage-laden term “gentrification.” But the idea didn’t go over well with everyone, and it quickly became the brunt of numerous jokes on Twitter and Facebook. Gentrification isn’t a popular word on Magnolia, a local business owner told me.

Though tensions have mostly eased, Meagher said, there is still unrest in Fairmount over the neighborhood’s potential to turn into “Little Dallas.”

Fairmounters, he said, “don’t want cookie-cutter strip shopping centers like they’re going to do in the Stockyards.”

Developers, he went on, “should leave it laid-back here. Enjoy the ’hood.”

Well, if a flurry of real estate activity by Churchill and Watson is any indication, some particularly offended Fairmounters might want to start looking into other parts of town for happy hour or some scrumptious food.

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The Near Southside employs 35,000 people and contributes more than $4.2 billion to the local economy, according to Near Southside Inc. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

Over the past two years, the 40-year-old twins have bought –– with cash –– 13 premium streetside properties on Magnolia and nearby South Main Street under the business name Kent & Co., partly using profits from the 2015 sale of Frank Kent Honda, a car dealership that was part of several Frank Kent Motors dealerships throughout North Texas, all founded by the twins’ great-grandfather, Frank Kent. One lot, simply called The Space (1309 S. Adams St.), has already been renovated and serves as an extension of Kent & Co. Wines. Other properties are under construction.

Many residents and business owners I spoke with are still unsure of the twin’s long-term designs for the historic neighborhood. Despite the co-owners’ efforts to reach out to the community, there have been missteps.

Early last year on social media, Near Southsiders accused Kent & Co.’s co-owners of “pushing out” the proprietor of Mijo’s Fusion, a now-defunct, mostly Tex-Mex restaurant on Magnolia which has since been bought by Churchill and Watson. Connie Sheen, Mijo Fusion’s former owner, approached the Kent & Co. proprietors with an offer to buy her space, according to Churchill and Sheen. As the leaser of the space, she had a “first right of refusal” on the property, meaning her landlord could not sell directly to anyone without her approval.

Sheen said Churchill was never easy to work with. The two regularly fought over use of a partitioning alley they shared at the time and parking space. Kent & Co. employees, Sheen claimed, routinely parked Tex-Mex food trucks near her restaurant, cutting directly into her business. She hopes to return to the Magnolia area in the near future. For now, she manages and operates Mijo’s, a Mexican restaurant in Arlington.

A poster near Kent & Co. Wines gives a glimpse of what Heim Barbecue & Catering will look like when it opens soon. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

The twins are now leasing the building to the owners of Heim Barbecue & Catering, a popular food truck-based enterprise.

The public relations rollercoaster may not be totally unexpected as the two new developers invest heavily in a neighborhood whose inhabitants largely welcome growth but are wary of losing their reputation for putting the “funk” in Funkytown.

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Will Churchill and Corrie Watson now own or co-own 13 properties on the Near Southside. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

Finding Kent & Co.’s Near Southside headquarters isn’t easy. At the moment, the stretch of South Main Street that runs along the family-owned business’ main office looks bombed out. But the mess is evidence of the neighborhood’s recent resurgence. At the urging of local business owners and community leaders, the city (in partnership with Near Southside Inc.) is expanding water lines and overhauling a stretch of road that now needs more capacity.

The office’s interior offers a welcome reprieve from the dusty, cantankerous construction outside.

The twins run a multifaceted operation. As we chatted at a conference table, a dozen or so employees busily took phone calls or typed away on computers nearby. The purple-themed workspace, decked out with Kent & Co. logos, TCU décor, and wine bottles, felt leisurely.

The venture into retail development largely happened by chance, Churchill said. The siblings now split their business (Frank Kent Family of Businesses) into two parts: automotive and nonautomotive. Watson focuses on the nonautomotive areas while her brother manages the several car dealerships.

In early 2013, the twins began looking for a location to open a wine bar in their hometown, where they already had a following. The move might have seemed odd for two car dealership magnates.

The Cadillac dealership at 3500 West Loop 820 began selling choice vinos in-house in 2012 through a retail shop called Cadillac Wines. Soon after, Churchill and Watson began thinking of ways to expand the concept through a separate retail space.

Property managers at West 7th, Sundance Square, and University Park Village were less than receptive to the wine bar concept, Churchill recalled.

Around October that year, Churchill reached out to Near Southside Inc., whose president, Paul Paine, said he loved the idea and pointed Churchill toward a property (then a computer repair shop) for sale at 1101 W. Magnolia Ave.

Pristine Cadillacs reflect Kent & Co. Wines’ automotive roots. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

Kent & Co. Wines, Paine said, “complements the neighborhood by giving customers a place to grab a glass of wine before or after dinner.”

After Churchill and Watson’s flagship wine bar opened on June 6, 2014, they began looking for parking space to minimize vehicle spillover into the surrounding neighborhood.

One after another, the property owners from whom Churchill sought leasing space surprised him with offers to sell their property.

“If you want to lease my property, why don’t you just buy it?” Churchill recalled several landowners telling him.

Being new to the retail development game at the time, Churchill believes that the property owners felt it was a good time to capitalize on their properties while avoiding the millions in investments it would take to renovate the spaces for new use.

“The generation before did a great job of saving Magnolia Avenue, bringing it back, and preserving it,” he said. “And now we’re taking it to the next level. It’s part of the natural growth of an area. When we put in Kent & Co. Wines, we had no intentions — zero— of doing what we’re doing. Now, we have sizable stakes on South Main and Magnolia Avenue.”

Among the Kent & Co. businesses currently open or set to open are the newly remodeled Cartan’s Shoes, Austin-based Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken, the first brick-and-mortar home for Heim Barbeque & Catering, Kent & Co. Lofts, and Melt Ice Creams.

The preference for local businesses wasn’t by accident, Churchill said.

Currently the only residential venture by Kent & Co., the Kent & Co. Lofts, house two luxury apartments that run $1,800 a piece monthly. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

Massive corporate chains aren’t “the right look for the street,” he said. “If we can help someone like a Melt Ice Creams, that’s more important than cashing some check from Brinker” International Restaurants, the Dallas-based company whose employees own, manage, or franchise more than 1,500 Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy eateries.

Beyond bringing in local businesses, Churchill said he is working to balance the neighborhood’s offerings with nonbar retail options.

As the Kent & Co. projects move along, Churchill said he still routinely battles negative posts on social media, primarily through Facebook pages frequented by Fairmount neighborhood residents. A handful of locals, he said, are trying to paint his business as kicking out tenants and making rent unaffordable.

Kent & Co.’s community involvement and support of small, local business is the “part of the story that people don’t know,” he said. “We’ve never kicked out one tenant. They want to bash us with all this negativity. We [aren’t letting] the view of a few sway us in a negative direction.”

The #Kentrification effort was a misunderstanding, he added.

Facebook posts after last fall’s ArtsGoggle ran the gamut from “WTF?” to “Are they trying to say the area hasn’t been gentrified?”

Churchill said his company didn’t come up with the word.

“A bar owner on Magnolia said we’re just Kentrifying stuff,” Churchill recalled. “So we said, ‘OK, let’s change this conversation. Let’s come up with a definition.’ ”

Kent & Co. defines Kentrification as occurring when a “family-owned company invests in a beloved locale to preserve its unique culture while revitalizing the area, providing lower lease rates, and opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs.”

Where do you provide lower lease rates and opportunities for locals?

Melt Ice Creams will benefit from rent “far below” market rate, Churchill said, while Cartan’s Shoes is getting a remodel for free.

That doesn’t mean rent for everyone is cheap. Watson said the streetside Kent & Co. Lofts run for $1,800 a month.

“Gentrification is a bad word,” Churchill said. “It connotes kicking out the old and bringing in the new. They tried to slap us with it. Our goal is to work with the existing tenants.”

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Worse thing in the world for Magnolia, someone needs to take these shiny-eyed, high-dollar brats fishing … way out in the middle of Benbrook lake. The locals should be throwing rocks at these sneering, Westover Hills yahoos. Magnolia is not, has never been, & doesn’t want to be North Side nor West Side. Wise up, leave it the hell alone. Cowtown, our North Side, is now Disney World! Why in pluperfect hell ruin the South Side ? Fairmount needs to rise up and drop the hammer on these greed-head, rich brat, snot-rags. Sweet Fairmount does not deserve to become Six-Flags. This is all about the money, my bird-dog is smart enough to figure this stinking deal out. Don’t go for it. Please. Frank Kent my stinking ass!

  2. I think this article is a bit skewed toward Kent & Co. It doesn’t mention Will’s reluctance to reach out to the neighbors. He honestly thinks every decision he makes is for the community and whines when someone does not agree with him; he is not one for compromise. I’ve personally seen him in action in the Near Southside planning meetings. He refused to even discuss the detailed plans for ‘The Space’ with the community.

    He also wanted to put a multi-story garage behind Carten’s Shoes.

    Also, ask the real estate agent who manages the property for sale just south of The Space. With an asking price that Kent & Co.(Will) felt was unreasonable; he made it perfectly clear how he felt about it.

    I’d be curious to better understand the terms of the sale of Kent Honda as I think that is driving why the pursuit of buying up properties and offering leases under market value. All while the neighborhood is asked to pay more in property taxes.

  3. I was in Dallas last weekend. The southside is coming along nicely, but I wouldn’t worry about it becoming “Dallas”.. It ain’t even close density and crowd wise…sadly, none of fort worth is.

  4. Worse thing in the world for Magnolia, craziest thing imaginable, We locals in sweet Fairmount should be throwing rocks at these sneering, Westover Hills flakes. Magnolia is not, has never been, & no way in the world wants to be West Side nor North Side…Good Grief! Get away from Fairmount you knuckle-head Yuppies. Give it up, leave us alone. Our Cowtown, the Northside is now Disney World. Why in pluperfect Hades ruin sweet Fairmount…this is all about the money, go away, far away. My bird-dog Roxy is smart enough to figure this rotten deal out. You shiney-eyed flakes neither deserve, require, nor merit more money. I’m pretty sure ya’ll are going to find your selves having a bunch of trouble getting into Heaven if you continue this stinking trick. My bird-dog Roxy is smart enough to know you kids are dead wrong. What’s up with you, pull up now, don’t go for it. Please, please.

  5. As a long time resident of Fairmount (as in, someone who lived here when, according to Fort Worth South President states the area was “blighted”) I would just like to interject… They are NOT Kentrifying Fairmount. Magnolia maybe, but not Fairmount. We were a strong united neighborhood (even if our neighborhood FB page does not always reflect this) long before the Kent’s began blessing us with their improvements on Magnolia. I think the “rub” of many “old timer” residents simply lies in the fact that we did not move here to be closer to a wine bar or BBQ joint. (Benito’s maybe though!) We liked the neighborhood, the historic homes, and frankly the houses were CHEAP. Yes, the growth is fantastic, but with growth comes inconveniences such as parking, noise and insane property taxes. Those of us who have made our homes here, and not purchased for investment purposes, aren’t real thrilled that our houses have quadrupled in value, as we chose to make this our home and not an investment. This is just my opinion of course. The manager of Kent has some sort of martyr complex – he frequently interjects the greatness of Kent in facebook conversations – We should be so grateful to them for buying up all these properties to ease parking issues in neighborhood and for improving that “awful Able Office Machines building”. Besides now, we have those big beautiful Caddilacs to gaze upon, how can we not love them?? Although, the turkeys they blessed some neighbors with during the holidays were truly a class act. (sarcasm font)

  6. PS, We would love to see a Kentrification of Marshall Grain Feed Store!!!!!! Maybe it can be moved to the ghastly atrocity they (not Kent) are considering building in the empty lot across from Benito’s!

  7. Gus;s Fried Chicken is not based in Austin. It is from Memphis. There are three owners of the upcoming Gus’s franchise on Magnolia. Two of us live here in Fort Worth.

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