A magical place to go to experience gorgeous scenery, exquisite meals, and a warm Southern welcome from the moment of entry, is a restaurant called III Forks, located in Addison. Nominated in “Great Restaurants of the World” by Whit Myths, III Forks draws in the everyday family, businessmen, and even some well-known stars.
From the outside, the 25,000 square foot building seems as if it came straight from a fairy tale. The two-story restaurant is topped with a 24-karat gold dome and comes with stained glass ceilings, oriental carpets, elaborate wall lighting, a courtyard and 12 large dining rooms.
Founder and partner Dale Francis Wamstad, who also founded Del Friscos, created III Forks in August of 1998 to make customers feel in awe of its size, grandeur, and friendliness of the staff. For example, he makes an effort to greet every table, even with an average of 800 guests throughout the day. Wamstad also wanted a restaurant big enough to serve hundreds of dinner guests in one night, and have enough room for corporate meetings, banquets, birthday parties, and weddings.
In addition to making customers feel at home, the restaurant serves all of the food cooked to order. Everything served at III Forks is made fresh, including the vegetables, steaks, seafood, and bread–even the ice cream is homemade. Nothing is pre-cooked and there are no warmers. The beef served is the finest you can buy, he said, and the seafood is flown in daily from across the country.
“We’ll give you a tour of the kitchen anytime,” Wamstad said. The vast menu is another aspect that separates III Forks from other restaurants. Unlike other steak houses, the restaurant has a full menu instead of just a la carte. The “Beef Market” side of the menu offers Prime Sirloin and Fillet Mignon, Bone-In Rib eye, Porterhouse, Pepper Steak, Tenderloin tips, Baby Rack of Lamb and Veal Rib Chop. The “Fish Market” side offers Fried Shrimp Trout Pecan, Dover Sole, Salmon, Sea Bass, Scallops, Crab Cake, and Lobster Tails. The restaurants wine selection is as extravagant as the food. It has one of the largest wine cellars in Texas with 8,000 bottles on hand.
Cellar Master Kyle Kepner knows about each and every wine bottle the restaurant serves. He encourages the wait staff to sell half bottles of white wines for salads and appetizers, and to then move on to the red wines. The restaurant makes $3 million exclusively on wine sales a year. The name “III Forks” originated from a piece of property in North Dallas that was known in the 1800s as “III Forks Territory.” In Texas history, the territory was a wild west town where the Indians lived. A huge flood then wiped out the Indians, leaving the territory open for anyone who came along. Wamstad likes to say that III Forks was founded in 1838 and re-opened in 1998 when the restaurant opened.
Gene Street, Chairman of the Board of Consolidated Restaurant Operations, co-founded the Black Eyed Pea, Cool Rivers, and many others.
Street was an admirer and a competitor of Wamstad for 15 years before the concept of III Forks was brought to the table. Street and his Consolidated partners John Harkey, Steve Hartnett, and John Cracken joined forces to make a deal with Wamstad. It was determined that Wamstad, Street, and Harkey would run the business, and the others would help the Board make the decisions. Harkey became the CEO, and from then on, the three partners made the restaurant one of the highest grossing in the state of Texas Street commented on how important it is to please each customer. Since he owns so many restaurants, he believes he has received at least a dollar from each person. He makes sure to treat everyone that he meets with the same respect.
“If you take care of your dollars, the dollars will take care of themselves,” Street said. General Manager Rick Stein is another important member of the III Forks family. He is responsible for everything that goes on at the restaurant and answers to Wamstad and Street. He makes sure every room has a floor manager overseeing the customers and that the special parties and corporate meetings are recognized. “You never know who is going to be in here,” Stein said of the clientele. Stein said they rely a lot on word of mouth or “food of mouth.” He said the restaurants does very little advertising and are very picky about who they work with.
“We just try to treat people right; we follow the Golden Rule,” he said. Stein said Chef Chris Vogeli is the one who takes care of it all and does all the hard work. He said Vogeli makes sure the food is cooked exactly how the customer orders it, with no mistakes.
Harkey described the restaurants motto that everyone knows to follow. “Great food at a fair price, clean bathrooms, and smiling faces,” he said. In addition to following the motto, the restaurant is thought of as a metaphor, Stein said.
“We think about it like a crop,” he said. “We want our crop to be the best and to grow, but we know there is room for others to grow as well.” Street mentioned that his motivation started when he opened a bar in 1971, called J Alfreds, after being in the Air Force.
“Do your best, be fair, and work hard,” Street said. “That’s what kind of keeps me going.” He makes sure he follows up with each prospective client, because he knows taking care of the details are important.
“I answer every call. I answer every e-mail, because I am always afraid of missing something,” Street said. Harkey enjoys the challenges of being in the restaurant business, in addition to the energy and enthusiasm of the people he works with. One challenge, he said, is a constant turnover of personnel. Although quite a few employees do not stay long, the restaurant does keep some very talented people, he said.
Because the restaurant has 7,000 employees in 18 states, they have experienced every single obstacle possible with running a business. The positive to this, he added, is that now they know how to deal with every problem that comes their way. And facing hardships always makes them stronger, Harkey said. Another obstacle they face, in the business, he commented, is keeping the restaurant fresh and updated. To keep renovations exciting and fun, III forks came up with their own habitat community project for the restaurant. The employees get together and each put something of themselves into it. Harkey said they redid an entire restaurant with only 34 members and $50,000.
“We’re a big company, but were going to think like a small one,” he said. The company focuses a lot on teamwork instead of individual goals, Harkey commented. When running a successful business, he said, you need to put a lot of heart and passion into it. If you do that and remember to put other people first, people will know that decisions are being made for the right reasons. “We are truly a great team,” he said. “We are working for the benefit of everyone.”
III Forks is located on 17776 Dallas Parkway in Dallas and can be reached at (972) 267-1776.
-Mr. Black Tie