The man who helped transform a taco shop from one little college-student hangout on West Berry Street into 105 chain restaurants in 12 states is partnering up with celebrity chef Grady Spears on something completely different.
Chuck Bush sold his interest in Fuzzy’s Taco Shop a couple of months ago. In November, he bought a controlling interest in Horseshoe Hill, the café in the Stockyards that features Spears’ interesting takes on chicken-fried steak and down-home cooking.
The previous owner, Burt Shield, is moving to Eastland, where he is building a sprawling new truck stop.
“I didn’t need a restaurant in the Stockyards,” Shield said.
Shield backed Spears financially when opening Horseshoe Hill in the summer of 2015. Spears was coming off a couple of failed ventures and was needing a hit (“Grady Spears’ Last Shot?” May 27, 2015). Shield and Spears have been friends for 20 years.
“I basically did that to help [Spears] get back on his feet, and he has done a good job,” Sheld said. “He has taken the ball and –– for a little place that is open only Wednesday through Saturday –– it does really good. I got my money back. I’m moving on.”
Spears appreciates Shield’s assistance and wishes him well. And he is looking forward to working with the new moneyman to carry the restaurant forward. Already there is talk of expanding the hours of operation at Horseshoe Hill and, eventually, replicating the concept in more locations.
Bush is “a great operator,” Spears said. “I’m grateful we have somebody to help us move this thing along. It’s been fun.”
Shield, Spears said, was “ready to go west, and this seemed like the right thing to do.”
Local diners and food critics have praised the restaurant’s simple but sophisticated menu and the dining room’s rustic environs. The business appears to be doing well. Bush, who grew up in Aledo and lives in Fort Worth, does not wish to discuss any future plans that might involve expansion. But he is excited to be working with Spears, a longtime friend, he said.
“Grady and I have a great relationship, and we are going to make some great things happen, not just with Horseshoe Hill but with some other concepts,” he said.
Bush and Spears met about seven or eight years ago and became friends. Later, one of Bush’s old high school friends died of cancer. Spears offered to host a benefit dinner to raise money for the family.
“Grady is a true guy,” Bush said. “He does what he says he is going to do. He has a great product. I’ve always respected the guy.”
While Bush isn’t ready to reveal details about possible expansions and future endeavors, he makes it clear that they include Spears.
“Not only did I invest in Horseshoe Hill, I invested into Grady Spears,” he said. “We balance each other out. I have a different perspective. He is the creative type. I am more the numbers and business side. It’s an awesome partnership.”
Bush, 46, and his father, Alan, bought the original Fuzzy’s in 2001 and turned it into a popular spot for TCU students wanting inexpensive Mexican fare and margaritas. The baja-style tacos caught on, and the company expanded to five company-owned shops. In 2009, Fuzzy’s began franchising. The company reported more than $100 million in sales last year.
Bush wants to take Horseshoe Hill to another level but not that level. He and Spears might expand Horseshoe or partner up on a different restaurant or two in the future, Bush said.
“We will start with Texas and maybe go beyond that,” he said.
Franchising, or allowing others to duplicate your concept for a price, is not in the plans.
In addition to Horseshoe Hill, Spears has been consulting with Majestic Realty on possible restaurant additions to the Stockyards, renovation efforts. The California-based development company is building new hotels, retail shops, and restaurants on the historic district’s east end.
“They are wanting to bring local restaurants into the Stockyards,” Spears said. “They want local people, local food, local flavors. They want to keep things Western and keep things real. I’m helping them make decisions … on food and food ideas. They have fought for two years to get this thing going, and they’re ready to go.”
Spears’ rise to prominence began about 25 years ago after he started working as a cook at the original Reata restaurant, in Alpine. By the mid-1990s he was making a name for himself by serving avocado enchiladas, grilled potato salad drenched in warm bacon vinaigrette, and other country comfort foods with a newfound gourmet sensibility. Cowboy cuisine wasn’t new, but Spears made it famous after Reata expanded to Fort Worth. Lou Lambert, Tim Love, Brian Olenjack, Todd Phillips, and Marc Rose are among the successful restaurateurs who count working in Spears’ kitchens as part of their early training.
Spears’ celebrity was boosted in 1995 after he appeared in a 13-page spread in Martha Stewart Living. By the end of the 1990s, he had earned praise from The New York Times and other national publications. Restaurant & Institutions magazine put him on their list of Top Five Chefs of 1998, and he was pegged the Rising Star of 1999 by Restaurant Hospitality. Network television’s morning news shows loved him for cooking segments, as did Food Network.
The Fort Worth native’s first book –– A Cowboy In The Kitchen: Recipes From Reata and Texas West Of The Pecos –– sold 50,000 copies despite its $30 price in 1999.
The handsome and charismatic Spears worked and played fast and hard. Cracks began appearing eventually. In 2000, Reata bought out Spears and let him go. Spears would have his hand in many ventures over the next decade, including The Chisholm Club, Dutch’s, and Grady’s Restaurant in Fort Worth, Grady’s Line Camp in Tolar, The Nutt House in Granbury, The Roadrunner in Las Vegas, and The Burning Pear in Sugar Land.
Reports eventually began surfacing about unpredictable behavior and unhappy investors. Over the years, restaurants folded, or investors parted ways with Spears. He went through two divorces. Lawsuits. Money problems. But he kept his steady gig as consulting chef for the Houston Texans and NRG Stadium, climbed back in the saddle locally with Horseshoe Hill, and now appears to be heading toward new adventures in the food trade.
“There are all kinds of opportunities with [Bush] involved,” Spears said.