Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, January 19, 2005
This cartoon cowboy outside Buck’s seemed to take the closing personally.
Riscky’s started here, just north of the Stockyards, in 1927.
George Soto cooks ribs at Riscky’s Azle Avenue location.
Riscky Business

Just when you thought Riscky’s conquest of the Stockyards was complete, two of its five restaurants there have closed.

By Peter Gorman

For the past several years, a trip down East Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards has felt a little like entering a live Monopoly game, in which a player called “Riscky” controls most of the property. In the first block east of Main Street sat Riscky’s Steakhouse. Farther up the street was Riscky’s Catch, then Riscky’s Barbeque, then Buckaroo’s — reborn as Buck’s in May, 2004 — and finally Riscky Rita’s.
But three weeks ago, on New Year’s Eve, both Buck’s and Riscky Rita’s closed. And in coming weeks, Riscky’s Catch will undergo a facelift, with some changes made to both its appearance and menu.
That may seem like good news to those who’ve worried about the seeming loss of diversity and choice in this most important of historic areas for Fort Worth — but it’s bad news to most others.
Many of the merchants on East Exchange say that the Riscky’s restaurants helped bring significant amounts of new people and new dollars to the Stockyards — and that the closing of Rita’s and Buck’s has already decreased foot traffic and, therefore, sales in their stores. Others figure that the Riscky’s “branding” of the Stockyards was part of a larger mistake by the city and some landowners. In trying to make the Stockyards squeaky-clean and family-friendly, some said, the historic character of the area that tourists came to see was being lost. And in fact, those changes — including making part of Exchange a one-way street — could themselves have helped doom Rita’s and Buck’s. Barbecue, burgers, fish, and fajitas, it seems, are just another front in the battle over the Stockyards’ past and future that’s been going on for a couple of decades now.
Regardless, the loss of two restaurants won’t seriously hurt Jim Riscky. His three other Stockyards locations and five barbecue places outside the Stockyards — not to mention his catering business, which averages more than 1,500 meals per week — are still going strong enough that the standing corporate order for beef brisket alone is 10,000 pounds weekly. “Jim just thinks it’s time we concentrate on what we do best, which is barbecue,” said Melvin Morgan, a childhood friend of Jim Riscky’s and his administrative manager for the past six and a half years.
With Rita’s and Buck’s, it seems, Riscky’s managers stretched outside the kinds of food they’d made their name with and found the competition too tough to overcome.
Riscky Rita’s, opened in 1997, made its living from its weekday lunch and all- weekend, all-you-could-eat buffets. With the exception of its beef (top-of-the-line certified Angus, standard in Riscky’s operations), the food was just OK. Unfortunately, a dozen Mexican restaurants within shouting distance of Rita’s offered better-than-OK Tex-Mex, at equally good prices.
“When we opened Rita’s there were maybe 15 Mexican places in the neighborhood around the Stockyards. Now there are maybe 50,” Morgan said. Buck’s opened last May, replacing kid-friendly Buckaroo’s, which hadn’t done well. Jim Riscky decided to keep the space and let Buck Reams, a chuckwagon cook, singer, and local character, try his hand at it.
“We thought we’d have a good personality to run the place,” Morgan said. “You know, Buck can cook a cake on a campfire, and we thought his chicken-fried steak and fried chicken were the best in town.”
Business was good during the summer tourist season, but Buck’s couldn’t sustain itself with the locals. Morgan figures part of the problem was that the food was simply too fattening. “People watching their weight didn’t want all that fried food,” he said. Buck’s offered only the two fried entrées, plus family-style servings of side dishes like mashed potatoes and beans.
To a lot of people, the appearance of family-owned and family-friendly Riscky’s Barbeque on Exchange Avenue in 1991 represented the end of the Stockyards as they’d known it. To a large extent they’re right: By the mid-1990s the Stockyards —at least on the east side of Main Street — had been transformed from a slightly rough-and-tumble place to a family-oriented tourist attraction. Riscky’s Barbeque was quickly followed by the steakhouse in 1992 (replacing an independent steak place that had closed a couple of years earlier) and Riscky’s Catch in 1996.
The transformation was heartily supported by Holt Hickman, a major partner in the Stockyards Station group that owns nearly all of the land — roughly 109 acres — in the Stockyards east of Main. Hickman, who made his fortune in automobile air-conditioning and cruise-control systems, is close friends with Jim Riscky and wanted his type of restaurant there. Hickman envisions the Stockyards as an affordable place with a large casino-hotel that he’ll build, right in the middle of it. He’s founded at least two companies, the Texas Casino Development Association and the Hickman Gaming Group, to try to get casino gambling legalized in Texas.
To stand even a chance of pushing that sort of change through the Texas Legislature, observers said, the first thing Hickman had to do was clean up the Stockyards’ image. To that end he opened the Cowboy Hall of Fame, encouraged the traditional weekly rodeos, helped bring school groups in, and rented his space to family-friendly attractions like a cattle pen “maze” for humans and a mechanical bull ride. And last year, after some disputes about cruisers clogging the streets, Hickman was able to get the Fort Worth City Council to make East Exchange, the heart of the Stockyards’ Historical District, a one-way street with a “no standing” policy. He’s even gotten rid of the motorcycles that used to park in front of — and whose riders patronized —Riscky’s Catch (even though Jim Riscky is an avid motorcycle collector). A lot of them are over at RJ’s Roadhouse now, a new club on Hickman property near Billy Bob’s.
East Exchange was all cleaned up. If you want to get drunk and have a fight, you’ll most likely go to the places on the west side of Main. And Hickman’s not done yet: The next couple of months will see the opening of a new Amerisuites Hotel (in which Hickman is a partner), now under construction just off Exchange, behind the Visitors’ Center.
The problem is, he may have cleaned it all up a little too much for some people. A. C. “Ace” Cook, an animated character and owner of The Bull Ring, an ice cream parlor and art gallery that sits near Riscky’s Steakhouse, said he likes what Hickman did to make the Stockyards family-friendly, but that he’s gone overboard. “Look at those street signs,” he said, pointing up and down Exchange. “No Standing, No Parking, Tow-Away Zone. Who wants to come to a place when you have an unfriendly atmosphere like that?” His feeling is echoed by the sign on the door of a recently shut knife store nearby: “Due to Exchange having been made a one way street, we are no longer profitable.”
Though Melvin Morgan won’t say it, changes like making East Exchange a one-way street probably had something to do with the closing of both Riscky Rita’s and Buck’s. Whereas people going to Billy Bob’s used to be able to drive around to East Exchange for a bite to eat or a late night drink after they left the club, they’ve now got to leave and re-enter the Stockyards to get to the Riscky’s places there — not something people are necessarily willing to do, particularly when there are dozens of other restaurants nearby.
Riscky’s Steakhouse— one of three upscale steak restaurants within yards of one another —is different, because it’s clientele is making reservations to dine there. Riscky’s Barbeque is in no danger either — barbecue is what the Riscky family has been doing in Fort Worth for nearly 80 years (Jim’s grandparents opened the first Riscky’s Market in 1927, just north of the Stockyards). Its meats are top-flight and served in huge portions at cut-rate prices. Riscky’s Catch is obviously suffering from a lack of traffic, or there wouldn’t be changes under way.
To some, the idea of one restaurant chain — albeit family owned—having a near-monopoly in a major tourist area like the Stockyards, is a bad thing. To others, the idea that a family can eat a decent meal at any of several restaurants there, for the cost of sodas at Six Flags, is a boon to the city.
Those who didn’t like the Riskcy-ization may find they like even less what replaces Rita’s and Buck’s. Don Blair, Hickman’s real estate point man, said he is negotiating with what he identifies only as “a national chain” that could take over one or both spaces. So — might be a Stockyards Mickey D’s or a Stockyards Taco Bueno there soon.
Despite his opposition to some of the changes that have made East Exchange more bland, Ace Cook said he didn’t like losing the two Riscky eateries. “They were the best tourist-attraction family meal in Texas. Their presence helped everybody here.”
Don Boles, owner of the Star Café on Exchange west of Main, agreed. Losing two competitors won’t help him, he said. “The more restaurants, the better. Everybody feeds off each other.”

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