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Best of the Fort: Travis Heim is Hustling

The gold standard of Fort Worth BBQ has been a leader when it comes to curbside dining in Funky Town under quarantine.

Nobody is going to outwork Travis Heim. That’s been true since the first time he and his wife Emma parked their BBQ truck outside of Republic Street Bar and it stays true today in an ever-changing climate as we endure the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Anxious, even desperate, to keep the lights on and his employees paid as things get bleak for the restaurant industry, Travis has been not only one of the most creative restaurateurs in Funky Town, but among their most vocal. He has not only campaigned for stricter rules and guidelines at the state level in regards to the Shelter in Place order, but has been among the first to figure out ways to get his five star BBQ in the hands of his patrons in a safe, convenient way.

To be great at BBQ in the state of Texas is no small feat; the competition is fierce, and competitors numerous, and the standard high. But Heim has managed to stand out in a crowded field thanks to using the highest quality meats and coming up with a game-changing menu item: the often duplicated but never truly replicated bacon burnt ends. If you’ve never been to Heim before, go ahead and go RIGHT NOW (we will wait), you’re missing out on one of the most incredible eating experiences available not just in Fort Worth, but anywhere. A lover of smoked meat going back decades, I have eaten at some of the most venerable BBQ restaurants in the south; from Memphis to Carolina, from Pecan Lodge in Dallas to Franklin’s in Austin. Heim’s quality and craftsmanship aligns with the best of the best, and they have the awards to prove it — regularly found on the Texas Monthly Top 50 list, they have grown from a simple truck to a brick and mortar on Magnolia Ave, to a soon-to-be three restaurant conglomerate with two locations in Fort Worth and one in Dallas.

But as much success as they have had so quickly, they were not prepared for the effects of COVID-19 and Shelter in Place and what a government mandated quarantine would do to business — not just the bottom line, but the day-to-day operations. Travis was vocal on twitter early on, not just in continuing to promote his business, but in wanting to be a leader in how Fort Worth responded to its effect on the city. “Everything that I saw said the only way for this not to be a complete disaster is for everyone to quarantine and help prevent more people from getting it. As difficult as it was, we decided to shut down our dining rooms before the City of Fort Worth mandated it. My hope at the time was that others would shut down too and we would be able to get through this sooner, but it took a while for that to happen,” Heim said in an interview over email this week.

Making the decision to shut down the dining room wasn’t an easy one, but Travis and his people quickly adapted and found ways to keep the smoker full. They created and sold an employee fundraiser shirt, with 100% of the profits going to support those working at both restaurants. Travis got created in the way consumers ordered and picked up food as well, “switch[ing] to using only our to-go window at Magnolia, and turned our River location into a giant drive thru. We changed to limits and order times on our online ordering and started taking phone orders to do anything we could to help get folks the BBQ they need.” In addition to being able to order any of their menu staples, including their famous bacon burnt ends, they added family packs and raw meats — including access to full, uncooked CAB Prime briskets and steak and pork boxes from Lone Star Meats. Priced cheaper than what you can get at the store — just $5/pound — the briskets and other meats take the worry out of going to crowded super markets and ensure you get what you want, when you want it (including today, Saturday, right in time for Easter!).

Heim also got a nice bump this week when their beloved BBQ sauce turned up at Bucee’s — a deal that had been in the works but came to fruition early than expected.

I ordered a family pack from Heim a week ago, and was impressed with the quality, service, and ease of the new system. Ordering online is simple, and calling in works just as well. Employees are gracious and cautious, and patrons were aware of social distancing as they waited outside at the Magnolia location. I can report that the brisket was as good as ever, while the pulled pork, sausage, and sides (green chile mac and pinto beans) were also outstanding. Everything was wrapped up for easy transport and storage, too. Keeping the service and quality up to standards is something that is important to Travis and his people, even as things continue to change almost every day. “​I think the biggest challenge has been trying to be flexible with all the crazy changes. Our goal has always been to serve our customers the best BBQ and food we possibly can, so that hasn’t changed, but the hard part is maintaining our quality of food and level of service with all the new and different challenges. Our team has been doing a great job so far!”

The Fort Worth community — and beyond — has stepped up to support Heim BBQ and other local establishments, regularly selling out the meat boxes and the Magnolia location. Travis says, bring it on. “​The support we’ve received from customers and the Fort Worth community in general has been unbelievable. I know we’re in a crazy time and a lot of folks don’t/can’t leave the house, so the fact that they’re supporting us still is incredible. It’s nice to sell out during these weird slow times, but I’d rather cook more food and serve more people than sell out.”

If you need a reason other than the outstanding food to support Heim BBQ, it’s worth noting that both TCU Basketball and Football have made a meal there one of their priorities when hosting recruits. It’s a secret weapon, and it works. “A lot of them ended up signing, so I guess they enjoyed the BBQ.”

In these challenging and uncertain times, it’s tough to prioritize. But if you can, be sure to support local businesses as much as you can. And restaurants need our love as much as anyone, especially the family operations like Heim BBQ. You can eat well and do something awesome for the community, too. It’s been really incredible to see the way the different neighborhoods have rallied around each other, not just promoting themselves, but encouraging folks to help others, too. Travis may have said it best. “Support your local restaurants. If you love a restaurant or business, I can promise you they are struggling to stay a float right now, anything helps!”