This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables. This installment: Matt Tobin and Josh Yingling of Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger HouseMatt Tobin and Josh Yingling with their logo. [Photo: Merritt Martin/EDFW]
Four months ago, a hole in the wall allowed for burgers and various other bites to fly out of the Good 2 Go Taco kitchen after hours. No one was burgling food -- Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House had opened next door. And to much anticipation.
It didn't disappoint. The bar and restaurant with the welcoming patio has received critical acclaim, earned an army of regulars and often commands a wait of over an hour on the weekends. The neighborhood is happy to wait for the burgers, beer and social activity in what was once a dark abandoned space.
Partners Matt Tobin and Josh Yingling are, well, still floored by the response and are pretty damn happy they could give something so tasty to the neighbors on the other side of the lake.
Once on a Friday night, the wait for a table inside was one to two hours. It was one of the first places I've ever had my name put into an iPad. How did you find that system?
Matt Tobin: Our friend Megan Dennison over at Cane Rosso - She told us about it. When we first started doing this, we weren't sure if we were going to be more of a restaurant or if were going to be more of a bar. We knew that we wanted to be a nice mixture of the two, but we didn't anticipate being as busy as we are for food. Which, it's fantastic that we are but we've had to scale to it.
When we opened we didn't even have a host stand. It was just come in, sit down, because that's what [Josh Yingling] and I are used to -
Josh Yingling: Or bussers, or food runners, or expos...
MT: We literally had to scale to everything, It was crazy and we were like, "We better get on this." So I say we called in the big guns. Megan's an old friend and I know she's like a front-of-house wizard and so I called her. I wasn't even be there, I was working down at Vickery [Park] that night and she said, "I can come over after work and just kind of check it out."
She came in and talked to Josh and hung out for a bit, sort of watched the flow. She told him about NoWait, which is the iPad app we use and we thought that was a great thing to use. So the next day I stole my wife's iPad and that's what we moved to.
JY: And it's so much easier than, "OK, Brad. He's got glasses and a plaid shirt on." And by the time you look up to grab his name there's 30 guys that all have glasses and plaid shirts on. Me walking through a group of people yelling someone's name is worse than getting a text message saying your table is ready.
I've overheard many people who thought it was cool they were at a place that was packed and so clearly a hot spot. Have you had people react negatively?
MT: Yeah. However, I don't know that I've ever had anyone bitch me out - I'm sure that the host or hostess has. I've had people tell me "It's just too long of a wait and we're going to go somewhere else." But typically, when that happens they're like, "We're happy you guys are here. We live in the neighborhood and we're glad you're doing well, we just don't have time to wait." Or "We're really hungry and we wanna take off." So, no I've never had anyone get angry about it.
You'll have some older people who'll look sort of perturbed, but they're like, "look, what're you gonna do. I understand, it's just a wait. It is what it is. You guys sure are doing well." Matter-of-fact. No one angry at me.
JY: No, I've had pretty much the same. I think one thing people don't realize, even though it is such a huge space, is that we only have 15 tables on the inside.
That was clearly a decision made before the overwhelming response to the food, so would you ever consider putting tables in the lounge area?
JY: NO! We definitely want - and I think the neighborhood has grabbed on to it too - say, if there's an hour and a half wait. People will look at you and say, "Cool, we're going to stand over here and drink beers - for an hour and a half." If there were more tables there I think the whole feel would be lost. Because we want it to be a separation there. If you do want to come in and you want to have a little party we can set you up in the lounge and it's very informal. There's a TV there you can watch a game, shoot darts, whatever you want. But if you're there with your lady, or a first date, or want something a little more formal, you can wait for a table where there's no TV over there and it becomes a bit of a more personal experience. It's "Hey, we're partying over on this side and this side's all business."
It's the restaurant mullet.
JY: Yeah. And we've had people ask, "Why don't you put tables over there?" and I think it would lose all the feeling and all the character. When Megan came through and we were looking at tables, we thought about [it]. But at that point when does it start looking like we're just adding tables to take more money out of people's pockets because they're there instead of giving them an overall great experience.
And you do serve at the bar.
JY: Yes, there's 24 bar stools.
MT: And then our patio. I think our fire code capacity is 118. The patio seats more than inside. The way that it's configured and set up, people can sit everywhere out there.
And that's first come, first serve out there. Do you ever see anyone waiting for a table and then someone snipes it from them?
MT: I tell people that it's literally first come, first serve on the patio. You go out there and if you see someone get up and you can get their table, get it. There is no list. There's no rules. I'm not gonna say I'm not gonna feel bad - I'd take it on a case-by-case basis - if there's a family with two little kids and they've been waiting on a table for a long time and then some punk kids shark it. I mean really, guys? But I don't know, still, how much I want to get involved in something like that. Obviously, if there becomes an altercation we're going to intervene but first come, first serve means first come, first serve.
And people do make friends with people while they sit there - probably with the intention of taking their table when they leave but then they end up hanging out.
JY: And that's one of the reasons we did the big tables - you know, the big community tables. Because you might sit next to someone you don't know but by the end of the meal, or you guys are drinking beers and doing shots together, and you realize you knew each other from someplace else.
MT: Dallas is just a big small town. Everybody knows that. Hell, every time the Holstons [well known socially and politically active couple-about-town] are here they make new friends.
So what if you sit with someone you don't know? Who cares? You know what? Maybe you have a great time. If you're on a first date - probably not the best thing. But if you're out with friends or you're here with your husband or wife, why not? They're all nice people. Typically, they're gonna live around here so, if you live around here, you'll meet your neighbors. We've had a lot people tell us they're happy they have some place to meet their neighbors now. And it's cool there's a neighborhood watering hole that you can get some good food at. That's been one of the biggest draws.
Off the wall: Would you ever consider taking reservations? Say even for something like New Year's Eve?
MT and JY (in sync): We're closed on New Year's Eve.
Oh, that's right!
MT: That's a tradition we started the first year. Josh and I have always wanted to be closed on New Year's Eve. We've always talked about it.
Both you guys have been in the service industry forever.
MT: A long time.
Well, Matt, you having once been truly been a gatekeeper at Trees back in the day, do you ever have flashbacks and have to break up an "incident" or here or at Vickery Park?
JY: We'll there's always situations like that if you work in this business long enough.
MT: Yeah. Inappropriate things. Things that aren't really proper for social consumption. Like, "C'mon, guys, what are you doing? I understand you're in a fight but don't do it here." It's such a case-by-case basis, there are no rules for things like that and you can't prepare your staff for things like that. By the time it's brought to your attention, or you realize it, it's escalated. Because now it's starting to get loud.
JY: People around [the incident or fight] are looking at them and starting to get uncomfortable. You gotta look at everyone else around them not having a good time because these people are flipping out.
MT: And that's typically the course of action that's taken. You try not to make it personal: "You're ruining everyone else's time so could you please stop." Not "Hey, man, you don't need to be treating him/her like that." Because then it's personal. It's really none of our business, but when starts affecting business, you made it our business. It's improper and you have to encourage them to stop.
With the bar setting it might happen more often than fine dining, but perhaps with less couples drama?
MT: [Laughs] Yeah, more than likely. Right.
You're in your fourth month. Has response been more than you expected?
MT: More. Obviously - and I tell people this a lot - Obviously Josh and I thought we were going to do well and we thought we'd be busy and that's why we did it. Because it's a risk, just like any other business venture, but I don't think we thought we'd do as well as we're doing as fast. We had some sort of notion of that because our Facebook presence grew by leaps and bounds before we were even open. We had almost 2000 Facebook friends before we even opened the doors - which is unheard of. People just responded to it like crazy and they were all neighborhood people. They just couldn't wait for us to open. We were just hoping they were telling the truth.
The majority of it over here, I think, is that it's just a fantastic neighborhood. If you look at us on a map and draw concentric circles it's ridiculous - there's Lake Highlands and Lakewood...
JY: Little Forest Hills, Forest Hills
MT: There's all these great, established neighborhoods that have been around forever and ever and these people have great jobs, they make good money and they want to go out and they've never had anywhere this close to them to go before, because you have to drive around the lake. If there were a bridge over the lake we wouldn't do as much business as we do, so thankfully there isn't.
And I don't want to take anything away from the fact that I think that the idea is solid, the food that Colleen [O'Hare] and Jeana [Johnson] is putting out is fantastic, our staff are amazing and they're doing a great job. It takes all of those things to work. It can't just be "right place, right time." You have to have some notion of what you're doing and hire well.
And because the world so desperately wants to know: What is the parking situation now?
MT: We're about to sign a lease with the car wash next door. It will be ours after 4. We're not exactly sure how many spaces we can get in there, but we're going to stripe it as best we can and get some signs up. It'll be an odd parking lot but it'll definitely be a parking lot. [Directly] behind our building, street and our front parking lot, which people seem to forget about because it's always full.
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