Chef Brian Luscher Is on a Red Hot Streak
The cheeseburger chef Brian Luscher serves at Sunday brunch at The Grape on Lower Greenville was anointed the Greatest Burger in Texas, and he dishes up cozy comfort food to hundreds of devoted Dallas diners each week. That hasn't gone to his head.
But he is looking to grow. Although the city of Dallas thwarted his first attempt to open a permanent place to sell his Post Oak Red Hots, Luscher isn't discouraged. I sat down to talk with him about his foray into the cured meats business, his love of East Dallas and just how he feels about chefs who take themselves too seriously.
How did you get in the hot dog-making business?
About two years ago, Chad Houser, the Cafe Momentum guy, and his wife managed the White Rock Local Market. She asked Chad and I and a few other chefs to do a demo, and it was in my neighborhood, so I thought it was cool. I got there and saw the beautiful produce, fresh baked bread, candles, local cheeses, an incredible array of groceries, but there was nothing to eat.
Being from Chicago, I longed for a great hot dog. I thought, "Hell yeah, I'll do hot dogs."
I had just bought this smoker on a trailer as kind of a toy, and I asked them if I could bring my smoker to White Rock Local Market and cook something. I thought about barbecue at first but at that time, I was perfecting hot dogs or red hots, whatever you want to call them.
I made 40 pounds of hot dogs, twisted them into links and smoked them, and that's how Luscher's Post Oak Red Hots was born. We sold out that first day, and now we're starting our third season. It's enabled me to do something "fun" in my spare time (like I have any of that), but it's also a small business incubator. I've got this idea, I'm going to put it out in the local market, and people are going to say, "We want your business in our real estate."
Essentially that's what happened, although the city of Dallas has made it difficult for us to get permits and things that we need to open. We've been looking for a year. I lost $10,000 of my own money on Luscher's. I don't want to jinx it, but we're looking at two properties, one in Deep Ellum that we really like.
Do you think the city is making it difficult for restaurants to secure permits in some of these growing neighborhoods, or is it just bureaucracy as usual?
When I'm in a situation where I'm not getting my way, I try to understand why. The city is interpreting the code to the strictest interpretation possible as a "CYA" move. There's a cover-your-ass culture, and if everything isn't crystal clear, they just say no.
This is versus having a mentality of "How do we make it work? This is a cool idea." It's not like we were trying to open up a head shop or another one of those vapor cigarette shops. We were trying to put in a little neighborhood restaurant from an established restaurateur. We lost the space for Luscher's over something like eight parking spaces.
In the Deep Ellum Entertainment District, only one parking space is required for every 2,500 feet of restaurant or bar space. A quarter mile away, where we wanted to open Luscher's, you need a minimum of 25 spaces. We wanted to refurb this 1940s building, keep it part of the neighborhood.
Because it was part of the Baylor Medical-slash-Central Business District area, more spaces were needed. But there was really ample parking. Baylor is just scooping up parking spaces because they need them, and what kind of a check do you think Baylor writes to the city? What about my little hot dog stand? Which is going to get the attention of city developers? I'm sure the city would tell you that each case is treated fairly. Sure. I get that rules are in place for a reason, but it seems like those rules get bent when you've got money to put behind it.