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The owners took what had been a parking lot in the back and turned it into a kind of multi-level backyard patio space with an area that includes the ferris wheel

Andy Meek
November 06, 2017

There’s something unmistakably Texan about a group of guys coming into ownership of a 50-foot ferris wheel, no real idea where to put it or what to do with it, then leasing some property in a hot Dallas neighborhood—again, no idea what to do with it—where they can at least park the ferris wheel for the time being. Until lighting strikes, and they get an idea: A barbecue restaurant. With a ferris wheel out back.

That’s an oversimplification of the provenance of Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ, which opened in Dallas’ Design District earlier this fall, but the concept is pretty straightforward. Ply diners with assorted meats overseen by a pitmaster who used to work on Wall Street, plus the typical BBQ joint sides. Put it inside a space designed to proclaim the exceptionalism of the Lone Star State, complete with a mural of Chuck Norris against the American flag on one wall. And add a 400 square foot stage for performances, plus a space for games like Jenga and cornhole to give people something extra to do.

Ferris Wheelers co-owner Brandon Hays admits the ferris wheel is a gimmick, of sorts. But you could also look at it as the restaurant just doing what every place else does; figure out how to get people’s attention and get them in the door, so you can do your thing.

“As you pull in, there’s a 3,000 square foot building that’s up front that kind of houses the kitchen,” Hays says. “There’s a smokehouse to the side of that. There’s 7,000 square feet in the back, with about 320 seats. The ferris wheel is tucked to one side of the property opposite of the stage, and when you go up in the ferris wheel, you have this beautiful view of the surrounding area and Downtown Dallas.”

The menu includes BBQ staples. Pulled pork, brisket and smoked turkey sandwiches, plus sides like smoked BBQ beans, potato salad and cole slaw, to name a few. The owners took what had been a parking lot in the back and turned it into a kind of multi-level backyard patio space with an area that includes the ferris wheel. Acts of different sizes can play the stage. The owners want it to be a space that can accommodate everything from people wanting a bite to eat, to anyone looking to have a good time listening to live music to date nights and more.

The ferris wheel, Hays says, is just a tool to help with the bigger mission of giving people “a fun environment and just going to the roots of hospitality—we’re there to serve, nothing more. I think it’s easy to get so caught up in everything that if you just go back and focus on the basics of the business and treat the guests right, people can see rewards from that.”

Meanwhile, they might not have a giant ferris wheel with which to entice guests, but here’s a quick look at some other restaurants with fun or unusual settings.

The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado Springs is just that, a restaurant that occupies the fuselage of a Boeing KC-97 tanker that was built in 1953. It used to refuel aircraft around the world, and in 2002 it got a new mission: satisfy hungry customers with its menu of basic diner-style comfort food.

On a list of spots you’d think would make a great home for a combination bakery and winery, a gas station in a culinary city like Miami wouldn’t likely be among the winning contender. Nevertheless, that’s where El Carajo—which has generated international press for itself for its 24-hour wine shop, bakery and tapas that are regarded as among the best in the Magic City—decided to set up shop in 2011.

Today, diners at The Broker steakhouse in Denver sit in cherry wood booths to order their meals where, decades ago, customers of Denver National Bank used those same booths to examine their safety deposit boxes. The Broker moved into the former bank space in 1972, highlights of which include the 100-year-old bank vault that’s become one of the more intimate places to dine in the city.

Olio is a restaurant in St. Louis housed in a renovated Standard Oil filling station from the 1930s. Chef/owner Ben Poremba describes the food there as “Middle-Terranean” - a mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, with traditional and contemporary influences.

The Grey, in Savannah, Ga., serves a modern take on Southern food—pork shank, roasted chicken and the like—and takes its name from the space it’s housed in. It’s the city’s old Greyhound bus station with an Art Deco design from 1938.

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