The buzz around Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts district just never seems to die down, growing ever stronger with each passing year. But the last twelve months have been particularly good to the neighborhood, not least because of the addition of Oddfellows, a (doesn't it go without saying?) locally sourced, organic-friendly diner serving top-notch comfort food and stellar coffee served from their La Marzocco Strada espresso machine. Brunchers wait an hour or more for the pleasure of tucking into Oddfellows hangover cures, and their macaroni and cheese is widely acknowledged to be some of Dallas' best. Eater Dallas sat down with Chef Brady Williams and co-owner Matt Spillers (of Eno's fame) to debrief on a year in the District.
So many restaurants don't make it where you are. How'd you survive a year?
Matt Spillers: "There’s a lot that goes on inside of a restaurant, and compartments inside the restaurant and each one has to work simultaneously to work. And you’re in the public eye. Everyone’s got an opinion, a voice. It just brings a lot of people into on eenvirnoment and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work. That’s one side of the coin. The other side is that there’s a lot of romance in this business. As a spectator, you begin to have a way that you would do it differently. So it has your own touch and fingerprint on that. If I’m a doctor and I have an opinion about how to run a restaurant, it’s like a restaurateur trying to do surgery on a person. Since it does have that romance quality to it, certain people that might not always be qualified to run a certain type of business, isn’t trained appropriately for it, there’s times it just doesn’t work."
"It’s a collective effort. You have talented people inside of a room. You’ve got these four walls, this group of talented people, it’s just as much of everyone getting on the same page, seeing who fits in an appropriate position to really excel in delivering something to the group. This area, but our company’s magnetized a great group of people. Year one is really about figuring out who goes into what seat on the bus."
Brady Williams: "You said it well. There’s a lot of moving parts, getting things in the right place, that certainly helps things. But I try not to look at ourselves as successful. I try to keep that attitude, that there’s always something you can improve on. That keeps you focused on making the improvements that are necessary. Working hard, keeping your head down and always trying to get better. That’s one thing that we try to do here is not look at ourselves as successful and know that we have a lot of areas that we can improve and try to make those improvements.
Brady, what did you bring to the table when you came on as far as developing a menu?
Williams: "It was a collaborative effort. When I came in, it was breakfast and lunch. Dinner was my initial focus. We collaborated and said this is kind of what we’re thinking. We wanted something that is still approachable to the masses but we wanted to do it really, really well and offer a great value. As far as a single dish, we talked about fried chicken early on just because there wasn’t anything in the neighborhood. Just trying to find out what the neighborhood wanted, what it needed, what the city was looking for. Trying to do that really, really well. But keep in approachable."
Spillers: "To piggyback on that, the approachability is a big thing with the group, so we don’t pigeonhole ourselves as being high end, low end, or anything. Essentially, it’s just can we make something that’s great, and can we make it approachable to people? Does it matter how old you, are? No. Does it matter your ethnicity? No. It’s just the classic elements of doing it great. We spent months on fried chicken. We spent a month on our burger. Figuring out how do you structure this properly so that it’s not just good but it’s really executed on a high level. But when someone eats it they’re not thinking about that, they’re just enjoying it. That’s what gave a lot of success to the dinner program here, initially. It’s well thought-out. Obviously there’s talent behind the thought process and what ingredients marry well together. But it’s like anything, if you have the appropriate amount of time to put into something, you traditionally can do a great job at it."
Williams: "With the fried chicken and the buffalo chicken mac ‘n cheese, we’re continuing to tweak it now, but especially early on, when we were closed for dinner, I was in here every night. Until midnight working on techniques or seasonings and flavor profiles. It was us until we would figure out okay, this is what we think it is, then we would take it to the rest of the group."
Spillers: "It’s our responsibility, you have to see it through. You have to be comfortable enough to tweak your creation to be the right thing for people at that time. Once you tweak it, you can take it amongst yourself, to Brady’s point, you can always make it better. Brady and I would come in and we’d define what we would offer people and really work on it until we were comfortable. And then we let people tell us what they like about it."
What role does Oddfellows play in the neighborhood and in Dallas?
Spillers: "Our focus is in this radius over here in Oak Cliff. We feel like creating solutions for our own neighborhood here, we work, we eat, we sleep, we play here in the neighborhood. That’s it. We want to be a place that definitely started with breakfast, with our coffee and espresso, we want there to be a place we can go and we can have something that’s prepared properly. But the neighborhood doesn’t have this affordable luxury level. Where does that play into Dallas? Yeah, we’re part of Dallas. Our part of town, things go this way. If we can be a complement to the other businesses in town, we’re proud of that. If we provide the inspiration for other businesses out there we feel like that’s a compliment to what we do."
But Oak Cliff and Oddfellows is kind of a destination now, isn't it?
Spillers: "That’s created by the people. They create buzz about it. Somebody walks in, says, let me take you to my coffee shop, that’s the ultimate compliment. Destination spot or anything along those lines, we’re in Oak Cliff."
Williams: "Oak Cliff has become the destination for people. Oak Cliff as a whole, the demographic here is pretty open minded and cultured. Certain people outside Oak Cliff gravitate to that mindset, so it’s attractive for people to come down here. We’re seeing more and more people come from further and further away. That’s a compliment."
With so many locally sourced restaurants, is competition for local ingredients increasing?
Williams: "I think the proprietors, as demand increases they find ways to increase their supply. Steven from Urban Acres is a good example of that. If you need something, he might be short on that or limited, but he’ll find a way to get some alternative. And you’re seeing that demand from restaurants, and that’s great."
Spillers: "Using what’s in your backyard is the appropriate thing. If we can get a product from a neighbor, because if you’re doing well, we’re going to be doing well too. Our coffee that we have now is going in as a test model for Original House of Pancakes. That company services a much larger group than we will, and to make that the norm at Original House of Pancakes , which is a different level, people will expect it. That’s a compliment."
Let's talk about your La Marzocco Strada espresso machine and the quality of the coffee here.
Spillers: "What it is, it’s not only are people understanding it more but our staff is better at making product off of it. To Brady’s earliest point, where we are now is not even close to where we will be months or years from now understanding how to use the tools we have in our tool belt. That’s a great tool. The staff is becoming more acclimated to how to put out a phenomenal product consistently. "
Williams: "The machine’s great, but it’s not going to pour great coffee if you’re not sourcing great coffee beans or you don’t have talented baristas or staff executing the coffee. The machine’s not a miracle worker. You have to do something with it. If anything it sets up an expectation with the coffee and it’s up to us to deliver."
Spillers: "It is this ever evolving part of our company DNA."
And you've partnered with some really remarkable baristas.
Williams: "Last night we had Lorenzo from Cuvee, the original barista champion, our coffee staff, myself and the beverage director, spent like three hours just working on our technique. And that’ll improve the quality whether it’s a Tuesday morning, slower, or Sunday brunch. We’re trying to encourage that education and growth among our staff."
What does the future hold for Oddfellows? Will you expand?
Spillers: "It's year one, so you can’t really know what the future’s going to hold. But we do look at this as, were we to bring someone into the company, can they do what we do? Can we get to that point? It’s easy for someone to put out something great, not to the point of like, push a button, here’s your coffee great, but having it set up to where it’s a well oiled machine. We’ll look at that well oiled machine and say, should we expand on that? Open up a portion of what we’re doing in an area we’re connected to and we feel would be a good move for our company and our group."
Williams: "You’d curate it to what that neighborhood is. It’s a fluid industry so you’re always rolling with the punches, making the changes where you need to make changes. If that ever happened, you’d have to let that neighborhood speak to you and not dictate what you do, but influence."
So in a fight, who would win, Oddfellows elotes or the buffalo mac 'n cheese?
Williams: "I think elotes is a better dish. There’s more going on in the elotes."
Spillers: "Mac and cheese! It’s got bleu cheese and that spicy sauce."
Williams: "I respect his opinion, but I disagree. I like the elotes dish. It would win."