Fort Worth chef reluctantly closes Near Southside brunch favorite
A neighborhood restaurant from an acclaimed Fort Worth chef has closed: Fixture, which served comfort food and craft cocktails in Fort Worth's trendy Near Southside, closed on November 7, after eight years.
Chef-owner Ben Merritt says he was sad to have to shutter the restaurant, but that circumstances that have emerged since the pandemic forced the closure.
"We were able to survive COVID, but the tsunami that has occurred with rising labor costs and the cost of ingredients have made it hard for restaurants, especially a neighborhood restaurant like Fixture," he says.
"Last year was our best year in sales, everyone came out after the lockdown to support small businesses," he says. "But I think now we're seeing the real aftereffect of the pandemic. People aren't dining out as much as they used to, and the costs are so much higher."
That includes not only ingredients but wages.
"I remember when we opened eight years ago, a line cook would get $10 an hour," he says. "Now you can't find a dishwasher for that. I'm glad to see wages go up, but it makes it difficult for moderate priced restaurants."
Fixture was a revelation when it opened: a chef-driven great-quality restaurant with moderate prices in a hip neighborhood, and a philosophy that "food doesn't have to be expensive to be great, nor require a white tablecloth." It was nominated for Best New Restaurant of the year in CultureMap's 2016 Tastemaker awards.
The menu ranged from sandwiches like pork loin & apple and a Texas cheesesteak to entrees such as tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes, shrimp & green chili cheese grits, and chicken & waffles.
Fixture was early on the brunch scene, a meal that Merritt says accounted for a good chunk of their business.
"We always did a great brunch, but it wasn't enough to pay the bills for the rest of the week," he says.
The chef also opened a small place in 2019 called Ben's Triple B: Biscuits, Burgers and Brews near the campus of Texas Wesleyan University, part of the Rosedale Renaissance, a charge led by Texas Wesleyan, in partnership with the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, to revitalize the historic Polytechnic Heights neighborhood and East Fort Worth. It closed it in 2021, also due to the pandemic.
Merritt has received numerous awards including a nomination for Best Chef of the Year in CultureMap's 2018 Tastemaker Awards, as well as a nomination for Best New Restaurant in 2022 for Fitzgerald, Merritt's upscale restaurant on Camp Bowie Boulevard, which he says is doing well.
"It's a higher price point and I think people don't bat an eye on the west side," he says.
"I feel horrible shutting Fixture down," he says. "Probably the best way to describe it is like the family pet that we spent a lot of money on vet bills to keep it alive, and you finally reach that point where it's time to put it down."