Corbin & Kristin Blackford, Directors for Taste of Texas cover various areas of operating the creative marketing aspects of the largest independent Texas restaurant.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Jay W. Curry: Hello, Texas. Welcome back to Texas Business Radio. We’re going to have some fun in this segment. I’m Jay Curry, your host. Matt had to step out, but this is going to be a dandy. You’ll want to stick around for this. Before we get started, let me remind you, texasbusinessradio.com, that’s where you need to go. Anything, you want to see the videos of our guests, you want to learn about Matt, our host, myself. You want to learn about our sponsors, it’s all right there, high definition color, texasbusinessradio.com.
Now, we do monitor #tbr, if you want to send us a tweet, and we have our famous 24-hour line, 844-814-8144. All right, we’ve got all of that behind you. If you didn’t write it down, just go to texasbusinessradio.com, right? It’s all right there. We’re talking restaurants and we’re talking creative restaurants in this segment. I have here in the studio with me Kristin and Corbin Blackford, from Taste of Texas, one of my favorite restaurants in all of Houston.
Wow, I’m excited to have you. Corbin, thank you for joining us.
Corbin Blackford: Thank you, Jay.
Jay W. Curry: Kristin.
Kristin Blackford: Thank you.
Jay W. Curry: Well, let’s get with a little bit of history, ’cause this is a pretty famous restaurant in the Houston area. Kristin, why don’t you give us a little background?
Kristin Blackford: Our family owns and operates The Taste of Texas, we’re the largest independent restaurant in Texas now. My parents, Edd and Nina Hendee, met in the ’70s working for Norman Brinker at the Steak And Ale restaurants, they would-
Jay W. Curry: Oh, remember the Steak and Ales, yeah, absolutely.
Kristin Blackford: And they married and moved from unit to unit, fixing failing units, improving sales, hiring great people and fixing units. And the Steak and Ale wanted to move them to Missouri, and they said, “No, thank you, I think we’ll start our own business.” So they borrowed from my grandparents and started The Taste of Texas in 1977 with eight employees on the back side of Town and Country Village and we’ve grown and it’s 41 years later.
We’re known for perfectly aged steaks. We see a thousand customers a day, wash 10,000 dishes a day and we’ve employed over 15,000 young people now. So it’s a good business to be in.
Jay W. Curry: That’s amazing. 41 years.
Kristin Blackford: Yes, sir.
Jay W. Curry: And you’ve grown and now you’re serving a thousand people a day. I imagine Christmas you’re packing ’em in on top of each other.
Kristin Blackford: Yes, sir. Probably about 1300 guests during Christmas and we decorate the restaurant beautifully for Christmas. My mom decorates it top to bottom and has a warehouse of beautiful decorations. So it’s a lot of fun.
Jay W. Curry: Wow, that’s very impressive. I’ve gotta tell you folks. It is one of the finest restaurants I’ve ever eaten at, and I’ve eaten all over the United States.
Corbin Blackford: Thank you.
Kristin Blackford: Aw, thank you.
Jay W. Curry: It’s fantastic. So Corbin, you two represent the next generation coming around and you’ve been doing some pretty unique stuff. What’s been doing on lately?
Corbin Blackford: Well we have. It’s been a lot of fun. So in 2005, the restaurant began selling steaks online. Kristin’s brother, Ed, was at Harvard Business School and came up with the idea as part of a class project, so he helped Edd and Nina start that. Then Kristin’s sister Lisa ran it for a number of years as well. And she’s a Cordon Bleu trained chef, so she also focused quite a bit on the kitchen, and then when Kristin and I joined, we sort of took on eCommerce as well, and we’ve loved it.
We grown it … We grew it 30% last year and again 30% this year. Then in addition to the eCommerce side of things, the restaurant underwent a million dollar renovation this summer and added a retail store, located just inside the front door called the Grill At Home store. You can come in and choose your cuts of beef, just like you would when you’re dining at the restaurant and then Kristin and her parents engineered sides. So they’re the same sides in the restaurant and they’re par-cooked, so they only take about 20 minutes when you get home.
So while you put the steaks on the grill, you put the sides in the oven and 20 minutes later, you’re ready to eat.
Jay W. Curry: Okay, so what I heard is not only a fabulous place to go have dinner, or lunch, but also you now have the online store, so you can get online at?
Corbin Blackford: Tasteoftexas.com.
Jay W. Curry: Tasteoftexas.com.
Corbin Blackford: And you can also stop by and pick it up anytime that the restaurant is open during the day.
Jay W. Curry: So now you implemented, what did you call it? Grill at Home store?
Corbin Blackford: The Grill at Home store.
Jay W. Curry: Actually there within the restaurant, right?
Corbin Blackford: It is. So you walk in the front door of the restaurant and it’s just on the right, or we actually have a couple dedicated parking spots and a separate side entry for the store, so you don’t even need to go through the center, you can just walk in right on the side.
Jay W. Curry: It’s fabulous, folks. I went to see this new facility and everything you have that has such a reputation in the restaurant is right there and you can pick it up, take it home.
Corbin Blackford: Yes sir, I mean, we’ve seen, especially I think in our generation, we’ve seen a shift to to-go food and to also having the experience of getting to cook it yourself at home. So this was the The Taste of Texas’ way of catering to that need. We also want to do what our customers want us to do, and this was something that they asked for.
Jay W. Curry: So let’s take a minute, okay? You go there for dinner, you can stop by, and pick it up and take it home, including the sides, everything.
Corbin Blackford: Everything, yes, sir.
Jay W. Curry: Yeah. And then you can … So order online, eat there, but you can also ship, right?
Corbin Blackford: So we do. You can order at tasteoftexas.com and we will ship it to you via FedEx, or if you’re within the Houston … Within certain zip codes in Houston, we’ve partnered with an online grocery delivery service named Shipt, shipt.com, and I think it’s about $100 a year, but if you join Shipt, you can then have The Taste of Texas delivered to you in as soon as one hour, completely free. So that’s been super exciting as well, because you can get essentially high quality groceries from us. I mean, steakhouse quality, it’s the same exact type of meat and beef that we serve in the restaurant, on your doorstep, within an hour.
Jay W. Curry: This is amazing. I love it.
Corbin Blackford: It’s been a lot of fun.
Jay W. Curry: Online, I assume you ship all over the United States?
Kristin Blackford: Yes, sir.
Corbin Blackford: We do. And since I think 1984, we’ve served certified Angus beef exclusively. We’ve served now more than five million pounds of it. We’re the largest independent restaurant user of CAB beef and in addition to CAB specifications, we also have our trim specs on top of that, and we age 40+ days.
Kristin Blackford: It’s just amazing. It’s melt-in-your-mouth. It’s just incredible beef. You can’t get it anywhere else.
Jay W. Curry: It’s just the quality. I attended an opening house, or I’m not sure what it was I attended, but you had the people there that produce the steaks for you and they are the absolute best, right?
Kristin Blackford: It is.
Jay W. Curry: I mean, it’s all moleculerized and they figure out how to …
Corbin Blackford: It is. It’s incredibly genetic. I’m not very good at science, but … But they are. I will say, the great thing about CAB too, is it’s a national brand, but the producers are all family farms, so they’re family farms that elect to participate in the Certified Angus Beef Program. And they elect to hit a number of specifications beyond prime. So it includes the upper third of choice and all of prime and then an additional CAB specification. And what’s great about that is it’s a USDA inspector that regulates it, so I often say it’s the only thing government does well, but …
Jay W. Curry: Well, they’re pretty good in the military-
Corbin Blackford: Exactly.
Kristin Blackford: Yeah.
Jay W. Curry: … but that may be the only other thing.
Corbin Blackford: That as well. Yeah. No. Good point. But as a result, it’s gotta meet the level and there’s an independent third party who polices that and makes sure it does.
Jay W. Curry: And that’s all you serve?
Corbin Blackford: That is the only beef we serve, yes. Certified Angus Beef.
Jay W. Curry: So it is going to be the best, cooked to perfection.
Corbin Blackford: Yes.
Jay W. Curry: Now, if I order this, or I go buy and pick it up, how am I going to know how to cook it like you guys do?
Corbin Blackford: Well, I brought one that I can show you if you’d like.
Jay W. Curry: Yeah. For those people, if you’re hearing this, you have to go online, because we have some very interesting things to see.
Corbin Blackford: We did. So I brought a number of things for you, Jay, here. Let me pull out the Tomahawk first.
Jay W. Curry: This is amazing.
Corbin Blackford: This is our biggest, yeah, 38 ounces.
Jay W. Curry: And they call it the Tomahawk. Take a look at this, folks. This is … It’s … 38 ounces?
Corbin Blackford: 38, yup. 38 ounces.
Jay W. Curry: It has a huge arm on it, I mean, it could be a tomahawk, right? I mean, it’s got a handle and the whole thing.
Corbin Blackford: The handle and the whole thing.
Jay W. Curry: Then you’ve got the filets down to as small as what?
Corbin Blackford: Down to the smallest, which is the six ounce, which we also brought and you can … We provide, like we do in the restaurant, you can always get a filet bacon wrapped, complimentary, and so we have your own bacon-wrapping kit that comes with it. With the strips of bacon as well as the steak tag, so you can even do the steak tags at home.
Jay W. Curry: But what if I’m interested in some of the sides that you guys have that are so well-recognized?
Corbin Blackford: Sides? So, thanks to Kristin, she experimented with and created these. So these are the same sides that we use in the restaurant. This is, for example, the jumbo asparagus, all with cooking instructions. The olive oil, the salt, everything you need to make the same asparagus that we do in the restaurant at home. Here’s our Asiago cheese bread, which is par-cooked, so it only takes 20 minutes in the oven.
Jay W. Curry: I gotta show this, folks. This is amazing. So literally everything, including the spices that you have.
Kristin Blackford: Yes, sir.
Jay W. Curry: But still I gotta put it together. Do I get a recipe?
Kristin Blackford: You do.
Corbin Blackford: You do. Oh, Kristin you go.
Kristin Blackford: Oh, it’s all right. So we include gourmet grilling instructions with every meal kit.
Jay W. Curry: There, you got it.
Kristin Blackford: And it just goes through step by step the preparation, the salting the meat, and making the beautiful cross hatches on your grill and we also include a grilling thermometer so that you cook to the perfect temperature every time.
Jay W. Curry: And they can buy these too?
Kristin Blackford: Yes, sir.
Corbin Blackford: They can, or they come complimentary with steaks that are picked up in the restaurant.
Kristin Blackford: That’s right.
Jay W. Curry: Now, this is what’s appealing to me, though. Is this the spice you guys use?
Kristin Blackford: Yes, it’s so-
Jay W. Curry: ‘Cause it’s fantastic.
Kristin Blackford: So good.
Jay W. Curry: So I can get the spice, I get the steaks, it’s all there. And then there’s a little addition that you’ve done recently.
Corbin Blackford: Yeah, Kristin, it was your idea, so do you wanna talk about it?
Kristin Blackford: Oh, sure. So we have always sold our steak knives that are made by our friends at Tramontina, the Galafassi family in Sugar Land has a million square feet of manufacturing and distribution space, so these are beautiful steak knives made of high carbon stainless steel with solid wood handles and we have bought a laser engraver, which Corbin says is the price of a sports car, but-
Jay W. Curry: I can imagine.
Kristin Blackford: And then we built custom software and a customer jig to easily engrave the blades of the knives with people’s names, initials and company logos. It’s been a customer favorite. We ordered five times the number of knives that we did last year and we sold out within two weeks over Christmas. So it was big hit and paid for the engraver in six months.
Jay W. Curry: Let me see one of them.
Corbin Blackford: Yeah, paid for the engraver in the first year, which we never thought maybe it would ever pay for the engraver, right?
Kristin Blackford: Right.
Jay W. Curry: So you can order these and they’re reasonably priced and they are high quality, right?
Corbin Blackford: They are. So four is $25.95 and then we only charge $5.00 total per set for the engraving.
Jay W. Curry: Folks, you’ve gotta to Taste of Texas. Speaking of which, we’ve gotta go and pay some bills. But this has been fun. Thank you, Kristin. Thank you, Corbin-
Kristin Blackford: Thank you.
Corbin Blackford: Thank you very much, Jay. Appreciate it.
Jay W. Curry: … Blackford, for joining us and telling us about one of the finest restaurants in the state.
Kristin Blackford: Thank you [inaudible].
Jay W. Curry: Folks, we’re going go run, pay some bills. This is Jay Curry. Don’t go anywhere, because we’re going to be right back.
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Jay W. Curry
Along with hosting “Texas Business Radio”, Jay is a Professional Certified Coach and Master Chair facilitating four Houston-based Vistage peer groups. In addition to being a best selling non-fiction author, the 2015 release of his award winning novel, Nixon and Dovey: the Legend Returns, adds novelist to his title. Jay holds a BS in Mathematics from Oklahoma State and an MS in Computer Science from Kansas State. You can learn more about Jay HERE.