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Cover illustration by David Owens.

It seemed like a few people were grousing when Will Churchill and Corrie Watson, siblings and co-owners of the Frank Kent brand, started moving and shaking in the Near Southside three years ago. The pair started their alleged cultural hegemony by opening a slick, nice wine bar.

“But they don’t serve PBR,” local hipsters railed. “Who will nod knowingly at my ironic t-shirt at a wine bar?”

Then the brother-sister duo started buying up commercial real estate in Fairmount, the historic neighborhood inside the Near Southside, anchored by West Magnolia Avenue.

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“Why would Westside business people want to buy real estate in our hood?,” the unwashed beardos screamed to the heavens.

So what’s happened since the “corporate” (read: family-owned) menace has moved onto Magnolia? Well. A lot of good things, actually.

For starters, they’ve brought two excellent local eateries to the properties they bought –– two places that likely would never have made it to the city’s best restaurant row if the Kent company hadn’t hooked them up.

Melt Ice Cream moved from its Rosedale Street location into new digs in a Churchill-owned building. The relocation is definitely a good thing for Melt owner Kari Crowe Seher. The parking situation on Rosedale was terrible. If you wanted Seher’s scratch-made ice cream, you practically had to park a mile away or pray that you wouldn’t get towed out of the lot of the auto body shop next to Melt’s former, really small building.

Heim Barbecue also moved out of its trailer at Republic Street Bar on Hattie Street onto Magnolia into a building owned by the Kent family. And apparently the Heims brought with them their lines of people willing to wait more than an hour for the kitchen’s top shelf ’cue. It’s a lot more pleasant to wait in the building (and under the canopy outside) than it was to wait in the un-shaded parking lot.

While the rental on one of the Churchill twins’ shiny lofts is fairly steep, the family is apparently cutting the locally owned restaurants a great deal.

The people who questioned whether Churchill and Watson get the vibe of the area probably also questioned the existence of the then-flashy Yucatan Taco Stand Tequila Bar and Grill when it opened nearly a decade ago. The restaurant and bar (which at one point attracted a lotta TCU kids to the area) had a totally different business plan and look than, say, the deliciously lardy Benito’s Mexican Food, King Tut Egyptian Restaurant, or Paris Coffee Shop (the three stalwarts that provided sustenance to the community and the folks in the Medical District for a long time).

I certainly understood the unease of some locals when the Kent company started buying up real estate in the Near Southside. Unlike the changes, say, to Sundance Square in the early part of this century or the development on West 7th, the Near Southside was the one area of town where a handful of developers and/or a wealthy Fort Worth family didn’t pull all of the strings. I’m not comparing siblings Will Churchill and Corrie Watson to the Bass bros, but Fairmount ’hood rats didn’t want another downtown or West 7th. The Kent folks have been true to their word about not homogenizing the area. So far.

Most everyone on the business end of these deals seems happy with the turn of events. Not every restaurant on the Near Southside needs to be a Spiral Diner & Bakery. There’s already plenty of variety, although if you’re looking for lunch for under $15, your options narrow slightly (good thing Tina’s Cocina is there).  I, for one, won’t complain about the prospect of walking from drinks at Kent & Co. to a dinner at Heim, followed by dessert at Melt. My pocketbook can’t stand too many of those evenings, but change is good. –– Laurie James

 

Your regular Chow, Baby columnist will return next week.

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