Staff, location of Gunsmoke Grill keep four-star momentum going

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    From its location to its staff, the Gunsmoke Grill and Saloon was a four-star restaurant waiting to happen.Owner April Simpson graduated college with a degree in marine biology, but general manager Jude Ross said Simpson runs the restaurant as if she had been in the business her entire life.

    When Simpson opened the restaurant, Ross said, location was key.

    “April wanted to bring a little class to the neighborhood,” Ross said. “She wanted to bring a little bit of downtown to this side of Fort Worth.”

    Since the Gunsmoke Grill opened in July 2004, it has received numerous distinctions, Ross said.

    In the first six months, the Dallas Morning News called the Gunsmoke Grill one of the top five new restaurants in the Metroplex, and awarded the restaurant “Four Stars.”

    The Gunsmoke Grill was also acclaimed a “Beef bull’s-eye” by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    Although the premier of the restaurant was a success, the beginning months were anything but perfect, Ross said.

    “Overcoming the fact that people thought the Gunsmoke Grill was going to be another barbecue or hamburger place was probably the hardest part,” Ross said.

    TCU student Michael Buekers has been a server at the Gunsmoke Grill since it opened and said he agrees that the beginning was rough.

    “It was really cluttered at first and unstructured,” said Buekers, a senior business major. “I didn’t even know who my boss was at first.”

    After receiving two stars for service from the Dallas Morning News, Buekers said, the managers required each server to write an essay about the meaning of four-star service.

    “Now they’re sticklers about little things like serving from the left and clearing plates from the right,” Buekers said.

    It was hard to acclimate to the constant change in the restaurant, said Keith Hicks, the restaurant’s executive chef.

    “Beginning a restaurant is like learning how to fish,” Hicks said. “Certain bait gets certain fish, and you have to learn what fish you want to catch.”

    Ross said the success of the staff comes from how young and open they are.

    “We have an owner and a director of operations in their 20s and a 32-year-old general manager,” Ross said.

    Ross described Simpson as the easiest person to work with. Not only does she pay her employees more than the typical restaurant worker, but she gives them Christmas bonuses as well, Ross said.

    Ross said Simpson is a generous and giving employer, but not without condition.

    “She expects that since she gives the staff a little bit more, she gets more quality,” Ross said. “Simpson expects a positive attitude and integrity in all of her employees.”

    Hicks said Simpson is a very relaxed owner.

    “She’s hands-on, but hands-off,” Hicks said. “She knows what’s going on without having to be here all the time.”

    Hicks worked in the kitchen when the Gunsmoke Grill opened, and worked his way up to executive chef,” Ross said.

    Hicks learned to cook while watching his grandmother, and although he has never had formal training, Ross said about 90 percent of the new menu is his own creation.

    “He was born with the gift to know what something is going to taste like before he cooks it,” Ross said.

    Ross said as the general manager, she has numerous goals for the restaurant, including opening branches of the Gunsmoke Grill in every major city.

    “We want to keep it going and going and going,” Ross said.

    Simpson could not be reached for an interview.