3 business partners buy the 2 iconic hamburger restaurants, promise no changes

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer

Three business partners have purchased Hunky’s on Cedar Springs Road and its second location in the Bishop Arts District from Rick Barton, who founded Hunkys with his brother David in 1984. Jeffrey Yarbrough, one of the new owners, said he’s been eating at Hunky’s since the 1980s when he worked at Women’s Wear Daily at the Apparel Mart. And while he was joking when he declared, “We’re not turning this into McDonald’s,” he wasn’t really joking at all.

He and his business partners are promising nothing will change with the iconic restaurant that has been a Cedar Springs landmark and a haven for LGTQ people for decades.

Yarbrough has had plenty of experience as a restaurant and bar owner, having previously owned Art Bar and Club Clearview in Deep Ellum. He also noted that his Deep Ellum businesses tended to cater to a counter-culture crowd, so he understands why Hunky’s is so important to North Texas’ LGBTQ community.

When Yarbrough left the Deep Ellum scene, he took a break from the club business for several years to raise a family. Bars that are open until 2 a.m. aren’t a conducive lifestyle to raising children, he explained.

So he started a boutique commercial real estate company that specializes in the restaurant industry.

“We find and sell businesses,” Yarbrough said, but not to sell off the assets. He’s looking for businesses that are successful to sell to buyers who want to continue their tradition.

Since the pandemic, Yarbrough said, he’s seen what he calls a silver tsunami: Owners who’ve built successful businesses, he said, are saying, “To hell with this. It’s too hard. Business is too challenging. I want to sell and enjoy my life. We have management in place. I want to enjoy my silver years.”

Aaron Evans, one of Yarbrough’s partners, had met Barton, who had started considering selling his restaurants. Evans told Barton, “I love the company. Let’s see if we can find you the right buyer.”

Finding someone who wanted to buy Hunky’s wasn’t a problem. There were, Yarbrough emphasized, “a lot” of people who were interested. The issue was finding THE RIGHT buyer for the landmark burger joint.

“We found a buyer Rick loved,” he said. That deal was progressing, but then it stalled before they got to the finish line because of something going on in the buyer’s life.

That’s when Yarbrough and Evans were sitting at a table discussing the sale with Sejal Tailor, their third partner and Yarbrough told his partners, “Hey, he’s out.”
Evans responded, “We should buy the damn thing.”

Yarbrough hadn’t owned a restaurant in 10 years at that point, but, he said, “We love their culture. We love the neighborhoods. We love their staff. We love the management team.”

So they called Barton, and Barton loved the idea. After 40 years with the company, the founder said, he believes he has found a team that will honor what he’s built.
Barton created Hunky’s with his brother David and opened the hamburger restaurant across Throckmorton from its current Cedar Springs location in 1983. When

David died of AIDS in 1993, Rick became the sole owner.

Jeffrey Yarbrough

Barton opened the Bishop Arts location after buying the building on the corner of Bishop and West 8th Street in December 2005. Hunky’s opening a location a block from what was then the main cross streets of Bishop Arts is largely responsible for the expansion of the shopping district into what it is today.

In 2009, the landlord of the Oak Lawn location planned a huge jump in rent; it was part of his effort to force Barton out for some reason, Barton said. He was worried he’d have to close or find a space off of Cedar Springs Road. Then the old Crossroads Market space became available. Not only was the indoor space larger, but the patio area was double the size of the patio in front of the original restaurant.

Asked why he decided to sell, Barton’s answer was similar to Yarbrough’s silver tsunami explanation:

“I’m getting older, and I feel like by passing it on to younger hands, it will keep going and create some new energy,” he said. “What a restaurant needs is youth and vitality to keep things going.”

And what is the secret to its success? “Try to always have consistent product that’s good,” Barton said. “Great staff — we have people who’ve worked here 20, 30 years.”

And presence of the owner has been consistent over the years. In addition to everything else he’s been responsible for in maintaining the business, during a busy lunch rush, he’s likely to have been behind the counter taking orders.

Yarbrough said Barton’s hands-on approach is one they take seriously, and Evans will be operating the business on a daily basis. The biggest changes they expect will be some upgrades in the kitchen that staff have asked for.

Hunky’s has always been a place to come and hang out. So the new team is planning to build out the bar area and have been experimenting with “boozy milkshakes,” which Yarbrough describes as margaritas with Blue Bell. They’re also planning Dallas craft beers and cocktails.

He said he plans to get involved in city politics and the local community. As a former president of the Texas Restaurant Association, he has experience with political fights. “I want to make sure our neighbors know I’m there to fight for them,” he said.

And that’s quite appropriate for the new operators of a property that once housed Crossroads Market where Resource Center was founded and where the AIDS Food Pantry began with a shelf in the window with a sign telling customers to leave a can if they could or take a can if they need.

Yarbrough said Barton will always be part of Hunky’s family and hopes he enjoys his planned travel. He hopes to stage an art show of some of Barton’s travel photography several times a year.

Oh, and staff asked to bring back some of the pre-COVID things that just got put off after the pandemic. Disco parties on the patio on Sundays are in the works again.

“Hunky’s is a refuge,” Yarbrough said. “The corner is a safe place for everyone.”

It always has been, and it will continue to be.