Features

All in the family

By July 2, 2019 September 10th, 2019 No Comments

By June Naylor
Photos by Joyce Marshall

The Gentrys (Kincaid’s) and the Smiths (Tommy’s) have served countless burgers to generations of customers. And they’re working as hard as ever to attract new fans while maintaining family traditions.

Traditions tend to run deep in families. It’s particularly true for the Gentrys, who have owned Kincaid’s Hamburgers for 55 years.

Ron Gentry, who turned a very youthful 70 earlier this summer, likes his burger dressed with run-it-through-the-garden standards. Mustard, of course, is the topping preferred by most Texans, and it certainly is Ron’s condiment of choice. “Adding cheese is as fancy as I get,” he says with a grin.

Older son Christian, 42, who’s helping run the business handed down from Dad and Granddad, likes another Kincaid’s standby: “Make mine the bacon cheeseburger with mustard all the way.”

Brother Jonathan, 36, smiles and says, “Yeah, I like our bacon cheeseburger — with mayo.” Wait, what? Heads turn in astonishment. Ron shakes his head in wonder. “I’m glad my dad’s not here to hear that.”

Ron Gentry with sons Jonathan, left, and Christian: Together they manage to keep Kincaid’s relevant in a burger-saturated market. The Camp Bowie location is part restaurant, part museum.

Ruston Asfar of Fort Worth gives daughter Jane, 4, her first taste of Kincaid’s. The picnic tables, installed in 1991 where the grocery’s cash registers once stood, are where family and friends meet to eat.

The late O.R. Gentry bought the corner grocery from Charles Kincaid, his employer and the store’s founder, before turning it over to his son. There’s no doubt he would be proud knowing that a rather untraditional burger created by Jonathan won Kincaid’s the fan favorite prize at the Burgers, Brews + Blues event at the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival in April. Jonathan’s Texas Firecracker — now offered daily at Kincaid’s — features a burger patty loaded with bacon and jalapeno-spiked cream cheese and drizzled with a little honey that Jonathan infused with habanero chile.

Perhaps flirting with intriguing flavors is a new burger tradition in the 107. Across Camp Bowie Boulevard’s bricks, Kelly Smith, 52, mixes it up with traditional and more gourmet options at Tommy’s Hamburger Grill, a family operation begun by her parents, Tommy and Glenda Smith, in 1983. Old favorites like the bacon cheeseburger and the mushroom-Swiss burger remain in demand, but now the burger topped with creamy goat cheese and chopped freshly roasted green chiles is a big hit. Kelly’s favorite is a burger loaded with bacon and brie, added to the menu when she opened the Ridgmar location called Tommy’s Burgers + Brews two years ago.

“It’s really about quality ingredients,” says Kelly, who uses Texas-grown Nolan Ryan Beef and premium kinds of cheese, even if the latter wouldn’t have shown up on her parents’ menus. “We still grill the burgers just like my parents did.”

Both Tommy’s and Kincaid’s are go-to favorites in the neighborhood. They also are two of the better-known home-grown operations in the city. At either place on a given day, you’re likely to see three generations of families sitting at tables, digging into handmade burgers, fries and onion rings. And at Kincaid’s, there’s a telltale sign of customers who grew up eating at the old corner grocery.

“You see kids standing up eating at the old grocery counters, and you know their families have been eating here for generations,” says Jonathan, pointing to the shelving that still holds canned goods serving as decor. “Some regulars will never get away from eating at those counters.”

Though such habits remain, as does O.R.’s sign hanging above the old butcher case proclaiming “This is Where Friends Meet to Eat,” other elements have changed. Ron Gentry added picnic tables and benches for seating in 1991 and did away with plate lunches. Deviled eggs and jalapenos stuffed with pimento cheese are holdovers from the old days, while cold beer is a recent addition.

Glenda and Tommy Smith first cooked Tommy’s burgers on a portable griddle in a mini-mart. Their daughter, Kelly Smith, center, and her wife, Holly Edwards, run the restaurant locations.

Tommy’s locations are noted for murals, such as the Fort Worth-iconic one on the Camp Bowie restaurant’s wall.

Jonathan, who remembers working the milkshake station as a kid, says he always knew he’d go into the family business. Wanting to learn more, he earned his degree in hotel and restaurant management at Texas Tech, where brother Christian earned his degree in graphic design. Ron eventually left his work in the pharmaceutical industry to focus fully on Kincaid’s while waiting for the boys to finish college. Once they did, the family grew the stores to six, from Southlake to Arlington to Weatherford (the last closing just recently).

Likewise, Kelly Smith basically grew up in the restaurant. She was 16 when her mom first whipped up burgers on a portable pancake griddle one day at Tommy’s Mini-Mart, just off Loop 820 near the Lake Worth bridge. Sales were brisk and a bigger grill was added, followed by a real kitchen; mom Glenda says, “We thought, ‘What is going on here?’ But we used ground brisket and everyone loved it.” When Kelly’s parents opened a place on Eagle Mountain Lake near their Azle home, she found herself hooked.

“My brother Thom and I worked there; I always loved it, and he didn’t,” says Kelly, who worked at a Tommy’s location — there were three during her parents’ tenure — through college. Thom found success in real estate. After she earned her undergraduate degree at Texas Wesleyan, where she played tennis, and her master’s in political science at TCU, Kelly taught school but worked at Tommy’s on the side. “I realized I liked my second job a lot more than my first.”

Jumping in with both feet in 1995, Kelly eventually opened a Forest Park location and another by Ridgmar Mall, the latter scoring big with its craft beer taps. Wife Holly Edwards came aboard a couple of years ago, bringing with her 20 years of retail experience. The menus evolve here and there, and there’s talk of adding wines on tap, too. Kelly keeps the restaurants relevant through social media and has hired on with Favor to get into the delivery game in order to stay competitive in an ever-growing market.

“We love to eat and shop local, and we hear our customers say that’s important to them, too,” says Kelly, who admits to a passion also for whipping up fried chicken and fried green tomatoes in her cast-iron skillet at their home in Ridglea. “I’ve always wanted to do a small Southern bistro, if I found just the right space.”

Jonathan finds Kincaid’s demands suit him well; he likes being on the go, problem-solving, moving among locations each day. He also finds its consistency comforting — jalapeno-infused cream cheese and habanero-honey notwithstanding: “As fads come and go, I love seeing old places like ours survive.”

And though one son cops to a questionable preference for mayonnaise on a burger, Ron Gentry thinks their grandfather would be pleased today. “My dad’s dying wish was that his grandsons would one day come into the business. It makes me feel good that his wish was fulfilled. There’s nothing like family legacy — you can’t beat that.”

In a tongue-in-cheek twist on the famous chain serving chicken sandwiches, the pig at Tommy’s recommends ordering beef, as in burgers.

The Timeline

1946 Charles Kincaid’s Grocery and Market opens

1964 O.R. Gentry, head butcher, begins cooking burgers in back for neighbors

1983 Tommy and Glenda Smith begin making burgers at their mini-mart in Lake Worth

1990 and 1992 Tommy’s locations open on Green Oaks Road and Eagle Mountain Lake (now closed)

1991 Ron Gentry takes over Kincaid’s, ending the grocery business

1995 Kelly Smith joins her parents at Tommy’s, full time

2005 Kincaid’s begins opening more locations, starting in Southlake, eventually growing to six locations over the next few years (five remain)

2006-2007 Christian and Jonathan Gentry join their dad in running Kincaid’s

2013 and 2017 Kelly Smith opens Tommy’s locations on Forest Park Boulevard and near Ridgmar Mall

THE DETAILS

Kincaid’s Hamburgers 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-732-2881, kincaidshamburgers.com; four other locations in Tarrant County

Tommy’s Hamburger Grill 5228 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-569-1111, tommyshamburgergrill.net; two other locations in Fort Worth

Family Affairs

Here are five other restaurants in the 107 that have kept it all in the family.

Angelo’s BBQ Opened in 1958 by Angelo George, the landmark has been run also by Angelo’s son, the late Skeet George, and now the grandson, Jason George. 2533 White Settlement Road, c332-0357, angelosbbq.com

Blue Bonnet Bakery Owners Mike and Jennifer Hart took on the bakery that his parents bought from the Harper family in 1993;
it has been open since 1934. 4705 Camp Bowie Blvd., 817-731-4233, bluebonnetbakery.com

Fred’s Texas Cafe Owned since 2005 by Terry Chandler, the cafe was begun by his parents, Gari and J.D. Chandler, in 1978. 915 Currie St., 817-332-0083, fredstexascafe.com; two other Tarrant County locations

Swiss Pastry Shop Opened in 1973 by Hans Muller, it’s owned and run today by son Hans Peter Muller. 3936 W. Vickery Blvd., 817-732-5661, swisspastryonline.com

Tokyo Cafe Jarry and Mary Ho assumed the business in 2003 from Jarry’s mom and dad, who opened the Japanese restaurant in 1997. 5121 Pershing Ave., 817-737-8568, tokyocafefw.net