On a rainy night during Halloween weekend, Harvest at the Masonic in McKinney opened its doors to the public to show off the results of its big move. It wasn’t the distance from their original location that was great — the building it relocated a five minute walk away. The scope of their ambitions that was massive. Owner Rick Wells started looking for a bigger location five years ago and tells Eater Dallas he had the opportunity to buy entire city blocks to develop, but it just didn’t feel right.
“Harvest is about restoring and repurposing,” Wells says. It wasn’t until he stumbled on the former Masonic Lodge, also on the Square in McKinney, that he saw the restaurant’s future. However, If you don’t know about Harvest, you must wrap your head around its past to understand why Wells saw this location as its future.
In 2014 when Wells opened the place, the mission was to put things back better than where they found them. That meant creating sustainable menus that highlighted local farmers and ranchers within 250 miles, having a minimal-waste kitchen, featuring the work of local artists, starting an organic farm called Water Boy Farms, and starting the Seed Project Foundation, which funds educational, agricultural, and community initiatives that support sustainability. “We spotlighted that you can consciously source and think about how you spend your money and run your business to make it better,” Wells says. “I think that’s what people should do and what capitalism should do.”
And that’s how the restaurant became Harvest at the Masonic, a three-story restaurant that spans over 10,000 square feet, with a different experience on each level. Wells walked us through re-creating and redesigning Harvest in the Masonic Lodge.
On the vision for the first floor
“Outside the building is [Texas cowboy artist] John Flaming’s mural on the north wall. As you walk into the building, the first thing you see is the buffet from the 1860s [that has been repurposed into a host stand].
“I wanted the first floor to scream ‘old Harvest.’ The booths, artwork, and chairs are the same, while the back bar is new. As you walk into the dining room, you see Rachel Dory’s paintings on the north wall. To the left, are portraits of local farmers. At old Harvest, nine years ago the same artist took pictures of the farms. I want you to connect with the people feeding you at Harvest, and that’s why their portraits are there.
“I wanted a dining bar, so I designed it to be communal. I worked with Greg O’Neil, who has been our designer for 15 years and we’ve worked on over 10 properties together. I like to break up spaces, so the bar is more intimate. I struggled with setting the height of the wall as you walk into the bar. As a team, we nailed it. It’s open enough that you can see the area but tall enough that it feels separate.”
On putting the kitchen on the second floor
“People thought I was crazy, but I felt that if I split the kitchen on the second floor then food could go up to the third or down to the first. It was frightening to do and it was expensive. We had to get the supports right so it could hold the weight and many of them are hidden in the walls.
“I’ve never used dumbwaiters [before], and that scared me. I’m an efficiency guy around kitchens. The kitchen plates food every 30 seconds on a busy day. We have two dumbwaiters, and the one for dirty dishes works great — we figured that out quick. Food is a whole ‘nother ball game. We installed [high-luminosity] lights that the kitchen hits when food is ready. It’s working okay, but we’re still facing challenges. We are running one out of three plates on the dumbwaiter, and using more food runners. We’ll figure it out.
“Chef Andrea ‘Drea’ Shackelford had a lot of input on the building, and we gave her the dining room on the second floor. I wanted it to scream her personality, which is why we built the bookshelves. I needed people to see her small art, collectible plates, and her collection of hats and cookbooks. Chef Drea will pick all the art for the room moving forward. I stumbled on the artist Laura Miller, and encouraged Drea to introduce herself. There are 10 or 12 pieces of her food paintings in that dining room. Drea also liked Carrie Cameron’s art, and so it’s on the wall.”
On creating a vibey third floor
“From the second floor, you step into the dark staircase that feels more narrow — it’s not, but it feels like it because of the dark blue walls on the third floor. The way the building was laid out allowed us to do something wildly different from what you typically see.
“I purchased the first piece of art for [the third floor] in August. I was looking for a year, and I couldn’t pull the trigger. I wanted it to scream music and to pay tribute to the Masons. Then I saw ‘The Lone Rider’ by John Flaming, with its red background and the cowboy on a horse. I felt like that at times. I commissioned an artist in September to paint 50 famous Freemasons. And there’s a piece of glass from a door in the building that marks the Masons’ founding in 1850. We broke the door in renovations, but the glass survived.
“I’ve been doing live music for a long time at other places. You can have a dining and music experience at Harvest and not go anywhere else. It’s a room for the celebration of the arts, birthdays, anniversaries, date nights — so we serve our whole menu there, too.