We turn to a lot of things when times are tough, but nothing soothes the soul more than comfort food — at least in my opinion. And no one does comfort food better than the south, where there’s nothing a little fried food and fluffy biscuits can’t fix.
If you’re looking for the best that Fort Worth has to offer on both of those accounts, you can’t find it in one location — Hot Box Biscuit Club, a one time pop-up brunch destination that opened their brick-and-mortar restaurant on Main St just six months ago.
I mean, just look at this:
(it’s called the Paris Hilton and I want to go to there)
Once a pop-up brunch destination that met in a series of restaurants, warehouses, and other nondescript venues, co-owners Sarah Hooton and Matt Mobley opened a place of their own last October on Main Street in downtown, an up-and-coming area full of awesome places to get a bite to eat or a delightful beverage. Considered one of the cornerstones of that revival, the shop did great business early on, luring customers in with salty, buttery, fluffy as a cloud biscuits and some of the best damn fried chicken you can find anywhere in the south — and that’s no small feat. Add on creative side dishes like miso corn, house-made bacon, and a smattering of homemade jams and compound butters, and you have a recipe for success.
But, less than half a year into their journey, everything changed, when Tarrant County ordered dining rooms shut down amid the Coronavirus threat and spread. We chatted with Hooton to see how HBBC has managed to adjust so quickly and how the Tiger King (Casserole) has come to save us all. Sarah made it simple: it hasn’t been easy, but the Fort Worth community has made it worth it.
When the news came out, Hooton was celebrating another Fort Worth chef, Bria Downey of Clay Pigeon, who had recently been one of two local chefs to be nominated for the coveted James Beard Award. Gathered with a handful of up-and-comers in the industry, she realized things would have to change, and quickly. “I arrived at work around 6:00 am,
stole (borrowed) some traffic cones from the construction site two blocks down the street (shhhh) and created a curbside pick-up lane for us in front of the restaurant. We printed a basic sign to hang on the windows indicating the pick-up, moved tables around and placed chairs on top of tables to indicate the dining room had shut down, and then kicked it into gear.”
Despite little web experience, she added online ordering overnight, and while the restaurant dealt with SquareSpace issues, “countless wrong orders, sales being cut in half, and just generally stress and confusion”, they managed to keep finding a way to make it work — though they were plenty of tears and a lot of leaning on others going through the same thing. But Sarah, Matt, and HBBC powered on despite the struggles because of a simple thing: “we just really love food and love to have fun with it.” But it wasn’t enough to just do comfort food, they want to do it the best. And in my opinion, they do.
As the situation in the country and across the globe got worse, folks looked for joy in simple things. Often, that became food. “We recognized that family comfort food was becoming important. I think it’s the type of food we were craving at that time too, and with everyone in the same boat, it just made sense that Chicken & Dumplings might make someone else feel just a little bit better too.” But it’s not just comfort food that they’re serving up, everything comes with a side of laughter. And that’s how Joe Exotic got involved. “I don’t know how proud I am of this. I got sucked into that show like everyone else. One night while I was working on the menu for the week — we knew we wanted to do king ranch casserole but with a biscuit twist — and I just looked at the King on King Ranch… and thought… oh no.” 15 minutes later and with some help from Amber Caldwell of Anchor Marketing, this beauty was born:
To no one’s surprise, it sells out every time.
In addition to Hot Box’s own hard work, it’s been a lot of restaurant folks working together that has helped everyone survive, according to Hooton. Partnering with Mac Truck, Gypsy Scoops, Melt, and more, they’re “offering kind of a one stop local shop. It really seems to help everyone. No brainer. They would all do the same for us, and have.” In addition to restaurant partners, the community has been great, too. “This has absolutely been THE hardest month of my life. We are constantly re-inventing the entire system, changing about every 18 hours. We started out taking it day by day. Now we try and focus on getting through the week. We have made countless mistakes I can only imagine. But let me tell you, every single person that has ordered from us has been NOTHING but gracious. I feel like we have been incredibly fortunate with really the absolute greatest customers in the greatest city ever.”
Hooton is, an absolute hoot (sorry). Quick to deflect praise, she mentioned the work that Kevin Martinez of Tokyo Café has done, offering up his Yatai food cart to Downey to do MatZo Ball soup pop-ups (every Thursday in the Tokyo Café parking lot — I hear it’s delicious and will be checking it out soon) as well as organizing 150 grocery bags of food for furloughed service industry workers. “Every Sunday, from noon to 2:00 pm, they can pick up food. He’s enlisted the help of chefs in town, Acre Distilling donates hand sanitizer, Magdalena’s will make the rice, Panther City BBQ will make tacos, and so many more. My friend from Mac Truck, Lee Pedone, graciously donated 150 pounds of his awesome Mac & Cheese one Sunday. It’s just an awesome thing to see.” Additionally, patrons can access the Virtual Tip Jar at https://hotboxbiscuitco.com/ to support employees or buy a “Support Our Fort” t-shirt with all proceeds benefiting those in the industry.
“Mayor Price called me a few Saturdays ago and asked, “How are you doing? How’s the business?” I said, “Shoot lady, how are YOU doing?? How is it to run a whole city?” She and her husband Tom dropped by later that afternoon and picked up a box of chicken for dinner. That’s what Fort Worth is.”
Hey, if it’s good enough for Mayor Price, it’s good enough for you. You can get your own taste of comfort Thursday through Sunday, 9:00 am - 3:00 pm (but be sure to check their website for updated days and hours). Hot Box Biscuits Club is selling family meals, a la carte, items, desserts, take and bake, and more. You can also schedule neighborhood deliveries! Simply order online at www.hotboxbiscuitco.com. You won’t regret it.
Oh, and one more thing that feels important, Hooton is working on a new cocktail, called “That bitch Carole Baskins”.
As if you needed another reason to support HBBC.