Photo by Becca Wright

When Connie Bally founded the Facebook group Fort Worth Foodies in 2017, she was just looking for some dinner friends. But when the group attracted hundreds of members within its first few weeks, she realized it had potential for much more than restaurant dates.

Now, five years later, Bally has proven herself right. Fort Worth Foodies reached 100,000 members on September 22, making it the largest public Facebook group in North Texas. The group’s mission is to be the most reliable and dynamic source of where and what to eat in Fort Worth while increasing commerce in foodie-related stores and services. Members ask for restaurant recommendations, offer food advice, and share dining-related news articles.

Bally, 69, a Fort Worth resident since 2009, says the group reached the milestone through organic growth. Before starting Fort Worth Foodies, she had no experience in social media management, but she says she has a “really good business head” thanks to 32 years of working in finance. Now that she’s achieved this member milestone, she wants to take her group to the next level.

“We will always be where you go to get the best banana pudding,” Bally says of the group. “We will always be a good resource, but we could be so much more. And we’re ready for that next step.”

Bally says she has been able to fully monetize the group thanks to hands-on guidance and feedback from Facebook. So far, she only works with "brand partners" (similar to paid advertisers) and has held off from seeking out investors, admitting that she’s not ready for that step yet.

The group has six volunteer administrators, but Bally hopes to be able to pay them by next year.

For now, Bally is working to strengthen her startup business and increase revenue. She’s gunning to be selected for a Community Accelerator program started by Facebook to provide mentorship, training, and a $40,000 grant to the leader of a community Facebook group. Being chosen for the program would allow her to make significant headway in developing her business and strengthening city relations. Her dream is to work with the Black Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the city’s economic development department to host an expo or hiring fair focused on culinary arts and connecting community members with culinary resources and networking.

If she’s not selected for the program, Bally is confident her vision will still come to life. She says she’ll seek out sponsors independently and capitalize on opportunities like North Texas Giving Day next year to fund her plans for the group.

In the future, Bally wants to start a foundation that creates scholarships for those pursuing culinary arts. It takes half a million Facebook members for a group to start a foundation, but she’s already a fifth of the way there. She sees no reason why Fort Worth Foodies can’t make it the rest of the way.

“It sounds crazy, but who better than us?” Bally says of her goals. “Fort Worth is the 12th largest city in the nation, the DFW area is the fastest growing metroplex in the nation, we’ve got eight million people in 14 different municipalities. I am enormously proud of my 100,000, but it is just the beginning.”

Bally is developing an interactive map of Fort Worth’s restaurants called Steps and a digital directory of restaurants. She also publishes an online foodie magazine called Fort Worth Foodies Presents.

In the meantime, Bally hopes to see the group continue to grow and hopefully reach 150,000 members by next year.

To celebrate the current milestone, group members will have the chance to win one of three giveaway gift baskets filled with more than $500 worth of hotel packages, gift cards, and more. She hasn’t made any plans on how to celebrate her achievement personally, but her real prize, she says, is the community she has built.

Courtesy photo

Fort Worth author’s new book compiles ultimate bucket list of 100 things to do in Cowtown

Bucket-list book

If you’re out of ideas of things to do in Fort Worth, one local author has you covered. Celestina Blok has compiled her top recommendations in her new book, 100 Things to Do in Fort Worth Before You Die.

Blok, a third generation Fort Worth native and TCU alumna, has written about Fort Worth for almost 20 years. She is the author of Lost Restaurants in Fort Worth, which was published in 2017. She is also a regular CultureMap contributor.

Her new title, which releases Sept. 25, is part of the “100 Things to Do Before You Die” series (Reedy Press, $18).

The author says she’s seen the city evolve a lot over the years, and her new book describes both new and old attractions meant to entertain both Fort Worth locals and visitors. The 160-page book is broken down into chapters, separating activities into the categories of food and drink, music and entertainment, outdoors and recreation, culture and history, and shopping and fashion. The book will be available in all stores where books are sold.

We chatted with Blok about her love of Fort Worth and her memories at some of the attractions listed in her book.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

CultureMap: As a third generation Fort Worth native, what’s your favorite thing about the city?

Celestina Blok: There’s a motto or a saying I’ve heard over the years that Fort Worth is “the biggest little small town in Texas.” I actually refer to that in the book a little bit, and that’s something I think remains true. As fast as the city is growing, it’s so friendly. And people always comment on that. I hear that a lot that “everyone’s just so nice and polite” and really that’s one of my favorite things about Fort Worth.

Celestina Blok Author and Fort Worth native Celestina Blok.Photo courtesy of Celestina Blok.

CM: Fort Worth is the 12th largest city in the U.S., but I know some locals say it still gets overshadowed by Dallas. Was this part of the reason you wanted to spotlight all the great things to do in Fort Worth?

CB: I always love spotlighting Fort Worth. As you said, folks either don’t realize Fort Worth is as big as it is or has as much to offer as it does, or they think it is Dallas. They loop it in with Dallas. Anyone who is here either their whole life or just here for five minutes, quickly realizes that Fort Worth is not Dallas, and Dallas is not Fort Worth. They’re both great cities, but there’s just definitely a different vibe, a more laid back vibe, and maybe a little bit more slower pace in Fort Worth. I’m hoping that the book opens the eyes of not only visitors here but locals of how much there really is to do here — even beyond the flashy and new that we always kind of seek out. There’s so much that’s tried and true that has been here for decades that we may have forgotten about.

CM: What was your process for narrowing your list down to just 100 things to do?

CB: Initially, when I told folks I was writing this book, some even said, “How are you going to find 100 things to do in Fort Worth? Are you going to expand beyond the city?" From the beginning, I said, “No, I know that there are at least 100 must-do activities here in Fort Worth.” And so, sure enough at the end of my writing, I did have to weed out some places that I don’t want to say “didn’t make the list” but maybe just weren’t a fit.

The book is broken out to chapters, so that further helps me narrow it down. It’s not just what I perceive as 100 things to do in Fort Worth, but it’s broken out by culture and history, music and entertainment, outdoors and recreation, and food and drink. For my own process, I really just tried to think about places that are iconic, that you may not go to every weekend, but you have to do it at least once. Just as the book says — it’s something to do before you die.

CM: You mentioned in your book that some of the activities have been around for decades but may have gotten lost in the limelight of newer attractions. Are there any activities in the book that you think locals specifically should revisit?

CB: A couple of examples are forms of entertainment. When we go to the movies or we go bowling, everything is flashy and new. The movie theaters have cushy lounge chairs that might recline and are maybe even heated, and you may have service at your seat. And there’s just some nostalgic places that have been around that are like a step back in time.

One of those is Downtown Cowtown at the Isis theater. This theater is nearly 100 years old, and it was restored. It is so amazing to go there. The seating is like classic movie theater seating, and everything they show is classic films, even like the '80s. I could go in there and take my son to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something like that. What’s so fun and cool about that place is that if you are the first one there before a screening time, you get to pick the movie that comes on. And it’s free. All they ask is that you buy a snack and a drink, and they have a full bar.

Another example is bowling. I mention in the book that there’s a place called Cowtown Bowling Palace. That place has been there since the 50s. You walk in, and it’s just like a classic bowling alley. Even if you go just once to bowl a game with friends or family, it’s definitely a memorable time.

Downtown Cowtown at the Isis Photo courtesy of Downtown Cowtown at the Isis

CM: Can you tell me about the appeal of waiting in line at Joe T.’s, and do you remember the first time you went? (See page 2 of 100 Things to Do in Fort Worth Before You Die.)

CB: Oh gosh, I probably went when I was like a kid or a teenager. But this specific thing is to wait in line with a margarita at Joe T. Garcia’s. Anyone who’s from here or has been in Fort Worth for even a small amount of time knows that that’s a thing to do and it’s almost like a rite of passage.

It is definitely a scene, just like Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin is a scene, that line goes for blocks. Even if you do it just once just to experience that there’s this many people in line for this beautiful patio. You can go up, and get a pitcher of margaritas, and share a pitcher or two in line before you get to the front. Not every city has that. So it’s something to experience, whether you do it every weekend or at least once. Especially on a pretty day. And the margaritas help.

Joe T. Garcia's margaritas make the line worth it. Joe T. Garcia's margaritas make the line worth it.Courtesy photo

CM: When did you learn the origin of calf fries at Riscky’s Steakhouse? Were you turned off or was it something already on your bucket list to try? (See page 25.)

CB: My first book was called Lost Restaurants of Fort Worth, and in that book I cover restaurants that have been long gone. And there’s this place called Theo’s in the Stockyards, and history has it that that is the first restaurant that ever put calf fries on the menu. That place is home to Riscky’s Steakhouse today. If you’re from Fort Worth or not, you may or may not know what calf fries are. Once you find out, you’re like “oh okay, that’s interesting. Restaurants have that on the menu?” It was once actually considered a delicacy, and it still kind of is because you’ll find it on high end restaurants menus. But that venue is the first place that had them on the menu, so it’s just an interesting note. Even if you don’t order the calf fries, go check out that Steakhouse.

CM: Do you have a favorite childhood haunt that made it into the book?

CB: Every Sunday morning after church, my family and I would go to Esperanza’s, which is the sister restaurant to Joe T. Garcia’s. We would have breakfast there or brunch. They have a Mexican bakery connected to the restaurant there, and it is like a frenzy on Sunday mornings. Folks are in there in line ordering all their Mexican baked goods and pastries called pan dulce. It is a scene, and that is something I grew up doing.

Just to experience an authentic taste of Fort Worth that may be a little bit out of the norm is to go to that specific location and witness the tradition folks have every Sunday morning with getting that bread or those pastries and taking them back to their families. That’s exactly what we did. We would go pick it up and take it to my grandma’s house.

CM: So Oktoberfest is almost here, and it’s also one of the activities in your book. What sets Oktoberfest Fort Worth apart from other Oktoberfest events? (See page 70.)

CB: I included that particular event in the book because again, I don’t know that a lot of people realize we have our own Oktoberfest event here and how extensive it is. It’s a three-day event, it’s on the Trinity River — this year’s event has a new location, but it’s still on the Trinity River. There’s Oktoberfest events all over town. You have the stein-holding competitions, you have the German food, you have the polka dancing and live music, you have the food.

The Fort Worth version is just something in our backyard, it draws a lot of people, and it’s just a really fun time especially to experience a little bit of that taste of German culture. I think it’s worth going to at least once. It’s never a bad time, even if you’re just going to get a Bavarian pretzel or have dinner or get some German beer. It’s always a fun time, and it’s super family friendly.

Oktoberfest Fort Worth Oktoberfest Fort Worth moves to Trinity Park, September 22-24. Photo courtesy of Oktoberfest Fort Worth

CM: You also recommend visiting the waterfalls at Marion Sansom Park. I didn’t know Fort Worth has waterfalls until I read your book. Is it a hidden secret or am I just out of the loop? (See page 73.)

CB: I think for a lot of people, it is a hidden secret. These are not towering, mountainous, cascading waterfalls that we may see in movies or whatnot. But there are waterfalls that are at the bottom of this beautiful hiking trail that a lot of people bike as well. Even if you don’t make it all the way down to the bottom, it’s a very peaceful, hidden hike that can be pretty easy or you can make it challenging.

When you pull up, you’ll see that there’s a lot of people who do know about it, but it’s not something that may be at the top of everyone’s radar. Sansom Park has been there for many, many years. Folks that know it go regularly, and some are just now discovering it. My family did it a lot during the Covid shutdown. When businesses were closed, school was out, work was closed, folks were looking to get outside. So that was one of our regular spots.

CM: The last item on your list is to get a custom-shaped cowboy hat. When did you get your first, and do you think this is an activity for locals or should visitors go ahead and cross that off the list right away? (See page 130.)

CB: I think that locals more than likely are going to be invited to or attend an event where a custom-shaped cowboy hat or a cowboy hat of any kind is appropriate or even expected. It’s not like it’s a requirement, but it’s definitely something that you would have great use of if you did have one.

For tourists, that may be at the top of their list, as well — “I went to Fort Worth, and I got a cowboy hat!” We have so many great hat retailers here. And it may not even be that you’re getting a cowboy hat. Maybe you’re getting a fedora or some other type of hat, but because we have so many great custom hat outfitters, the options of getting a hat are something everyone should do at least once. And you’ll have it the rest of your life.

Hat Bar at Flea Style Flea Style is one of many places to create a custom cowboy hat in Fort Worth. Photo courtesy of Visit Frisco

CM: What’s the biggest thing that makes Fort Worth unique and fun that you wanted to convey with this book?

CB: I think that as fast as the city is growing, there is still a lot of tradition that is maintained here. A lot of iconic places that are mainstays even amid everything that is growing so quickly. There’s a pride in that, as well.

As I mentioned before, a lot of Fort Worthians do pride themselves on being super friendly and polite. That is something that really sets the city apart from other rapidly growing metropolitan areas. That Fort Worth-friendly vibe.

To learn more about the activities described in “100 Things to Do in Fort Worth Before You Die,” as well as book signings and events, follow @100thingsfortworth on Instagram.

Courtesy of Kendra Scott

Kendra Scott talks her new memoir and shining career ahead of Southlake appearance

kendra's Next Chapter

Celebrated Texas jewelry star Kendra Scott’s ability to juggle a work-life balance is seriously impressive. The founder of her namesake billion-dollar brand is a newlywed, about to drop her first memoir, Born to Shine: Do Good, Find Your Joy, and Build a Life You Love, and will be returning as a guest shark on the new season of Shark Tank.

Between a dizzying schedule of managing her brand, philanthropic efforts, a multi-state book tour, Shark Tank duties, and nurturing a new blended family of eight, we wonder when the Austin-based entrepreneur has time to breathe.

Apparently, queso, margaritas, and finding joy in the little things fuel the entrepreneur to keep going. Scott also credits her marriage to Thomas Evans (her wedding ring is the one piece of jewelry she never takes off) and the relationship with her family, including three sons — Kade, Beck, and Grey — as foundations of her success.

And while her jewelry has been a must-have accessory for over two decades, her first venture into the literary world has been one of vulnerability and determination.

She's bringing her book tour to the Kendra Scott boutique in Southlake Town Square at 1 pm Sunday, September 18; tickets ($35) are available here.

Ahead of her appearance in DFW, CultureMap sat down with Scott to get the exclusive on her next chapter.

CultureMap: How long did it take you to write Born to Shine?

Kendra Scott: It took a little over two years from when I decided to write the book, but really I have been writing this book for years. I never realized that my journal notes would someday turn into a book. It has been a long process, but after 20 years of our company being in business — it was honestly the perfect time to write this book.

CM: How did you juggle writing, managing the business and being a working mom?

KS: You know, it is always a challenge. If anyone tells you it is easy, and they have it figured out, I think they are lying. I wrote this during the pandemic, so I was home working with the support system of my closest people with me. All of our meetings were virtual, so it allowed me to have time for reflection.

I had also just stepped down as CEO and could just focus on being chairwoman, designer, and founder. I was able to focus more on our philanthropic efforts, like our school at the University of Texas (Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute), and concentrate on writing this book. It is something that I have always wanted to do.

CM: How personal do you get in the book?

KS: I get very vulnerable in the book and I feel that there is power in vulnerability. I hope that being vulnerable will allow other women or people to share their failures, successes, and ups and downs and be authentic.

I also hope that the stories of my childhood, marriage, divorce, starting a business and failing at a business — all of those things are part of what makes me who I am. In the book, I talk about the power of gemstones. Gems all have veins that are considered imperfections, but really it is what makes them beautiful.

CM: Was there anything that you wrote but then changed your mind about?

KS: I pulled out the entire first chapter, and I wasn’t going to put it in there. My publisher, who is also my editor, told me that the chapter was great and that she thought it should be chapter one.

It made me realize that I had to be honest because the book starts in a tough place but then takes readers on an unbelievable ride.

CM: Can fans look forward to more books in the future?

KS: You know, I thought about this. Now that this book is out there in the world, I don't think it will be the last one. It is a different way to be creative, and I think I have other stories to tell.

I would love to do a children’s book someday. My oldest son was one when I started this company; now, he is 20, so he has grown along with the business. Now I have a nine-year-old, and I’ve always read to him. I really hope that children’s books will be in my future.

CM: You are returning to Shark Tank for Season 14. How was the experience this time around?

KS: I absolutely love being on Shark Tank. I will be flying to Los Angeles for the premiere with all the other guest sharks on September 23, and it is exciting because there has never been a live premiere.

Nothing inspires me more than other entrepreneurs. There are long days on set, but they go by quickly because it gets me pumped to meet other entrepreneurs. Many of these people were thinking of ideas before the pandemic, and the downtime during the pandemic gave them the opportunity to put their ideas into action. I get to witness just a little of that in the tank – it is so fun.

CM: You have a lot going on, but is there anything else fans can look forward to before the end of the year?

KS: We just launched engagement rings and a whole bridal collection which is so exciting. We are expanding into other fine jewelry categories, including diamonds and gold and are adding more customization options than ever before.

Scott Brothers, the line I created with my boys during the pandemic, is also expanding. It is so fun that our male customers who were here to buy for the women in their lives can now buy something for themselves. We also just expanded into watches, so a lot is going on.

If you think about it, it took Ralph Lauren 25 years to expand into other categories. Our company has been around for 20 years, so I really like that the next phase of Kendra Scott will be so fun and exciting. From a philanthropic standpoint, we have given over $50 million since 2010 to women's and children's charities. We are, in many ways, a philanthropic organization within a brand. That is how we measure success, so I can not wait to announce our charitable efforts in the coming years.

We have a strong foundation and know what we represent and stand for — I feel like the best is yet to come.

Kendra Scott's first memoir drops on September 20th.

Courtesy of Kendra Scott
Kendra Scott's first memoir drops on September 20th.
Photo by Karen Almond

Renowned maestro Robert Spano picks up baton as new Fort Worth Symphony music director

Orchestral debut

Robert Spano is cruising through the Colorado mountains, his 10-year-old pug Maurice asleep in the backseat.

It’s the last full week of August, and — in music parlance — Spano is between movements. He’s just wrapped up another summer as music director of the Aspen Music Festival, and he's now en route to Fort Worth, to begin his tenure as the 10th music director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. First he'll swing through Atlanta, where he'll pack some last things from his 20 years as maestro of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

With Spano, the FWSO begins a new era — a new music director with new vision that includes new musicians, new-to-Fort Worth composers and guest artists, and even the launch of a new series.

In a 30-minute phone chat just past Vail, Colorado, Spano (safely from the passenger's seat) literally shouted with joy from the mountaintops about getting started in Fort Worth. Ahead of the FWSO Opening Night performance on Friday, September 9, here is Spano, in his own words, on his move to Fort Worth and aspirations with the orchestra.

CultureMap: How is your move from Atlanta to Fort Worth going?

Robert Spano: I have a condo that I'm moving in to right after we do the first concerts, and I've never been in it. I bought it with the Realtor, on the phone, showing me everything in the condominium, and it looks great. I hope I like it as much as I did on my phone. (He laughs.)

I tried to get a different condo in that building — the Texas & Pacific Lofts in the old train station — but I didn't move fast enough. So I knew that I didn't have time to come see it in person or I’d lose this one, too. The movers are coming to Atlanta and bringing everything to Fort Worth after we open the season. (And yes, he says, Maurice — pronounced "Morris" — is moving, too.)

CM: You retired from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra after a glorious two-decades-long tenure. Now, at age 61, why are you choosing to “start all over” in Fort Worth when you could be enjoying retirement?

RS: So, in truth, I wasn't looking for another post. I was looking forward to not having that responsibility indefinitely, just some years of freelancing without being in charge. And I was coming to Fort Worth anyway while they were looking for Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s replacement, as principal guest conductor, as kind of a stabilizing element in a period of transition. But then, when I started working with the orchestra, I was having such a wonderful time.

(FWSO board chair) Mercedes Bass, who is so devoted to the orchestra, is an old friend of mine from our years in Aspen. Finally at dinner one night in Fort Worth, she said, “Well, why don't you just do this? We could have such a wonderful time. Why do I have to look for somebody else?”

CM: Did that surprise you?

RS: I was taken aback by surprise, and I was very excited, because I was having such a wonderful time with the orchestra itself. Mercedes' passion for the orchestra is so real and infectious. And (FWSO CEO) Keith Cerny is relatively new to the orchestra as the executive. And he, too, is a kind of power house and a real visionary leader for the orchestra.

So seeing that the administration and the board and the players themselves are all so deeply invested in what the next chapter of the orchestra is, I really got caught up in the enthusiasm. And it's exciting to come into an institution at a time when so many things are right. Miguel did such a wonderful job for two decades, and it just makes the orchestra all the more ready for more.

CM: You have a three-year contract with FWSO, and it seems someone of your career stature could live anywhere and fly in and out. Why did you choose to put down new roots in Fort Worth?

RS: Oh, I think it's so important to live where your orchestra is. I know, from my decades in Atlanta, how important it was to me that I lived there for as long as I was with the orchestra. My predecessor Miguel Harth-Bedoya has been in Fort Worth about as long as I've been in Atlanta. And he always made Fort Worth home, I think, for the same reason. It's just so important to be rooted.

CM: Miguel also became very involved in the community, teaching in the schools and universities, just as you did in Atlanta. Do you plan to continue that in Fort Worth?

RS: Oh, absolutely. That's the reason to move. Miguel and I have known each other a long time, and we share the same attitude about that, so I'm hoping I can follow in his footsteps and continue that engagement.

CM: You’ve guest-conducted the orchestra, but how do you start building a whole new relationship with them as THE music director?

RS: I’ve now met with every member of the orchestra in groups of about eight people at a time. Over the course of the year, I had a chance to hear from every member of the orchestra about what's on their minds — what's important to them, what they're concerned about, what they're happy about, what they're not happy about, what they would like to see happen. So that initial kind of meeting and sharing of thoughts is so valuable.

Also this year we're starting up a chamber series at the Kimbell, and I don't want to be a hog forever on these programs (he laughs, noting that he's playing piano on all three of the concerts) … but I’m looking forward to playing chamber music with members of the orchestra, so we can really get to know each other.

And then also I got to know many of the players, in terms of what they're thinking and what they're listening for, because we have had a lot of auditions. We’ve hired about 10 new members of the orchestra — isn’t that amazing? And that's a process that's done with representation from the orchestra.

CM: Are you replacing musicians who've left, or are you expanding the orchestra?

RS: We're actually in the middle of doing both, but we're not expanding that fast. The 10 we just hired were kind of circumstantial regarding who had retired or left some really important positions.

This year and next year and the next, we're adding one player a year to the permanent roster of the orchestra so it's a three-year plan that we’ll revisit and potentially continue to do. For instance, we just hired an English horn position, and there wasn't an English horn position before in the orchestra. So, that's been wonderful excitement.

We're also adding a week to the subscription season each year. Those are two, sort of, incremental growth plans that we’re enacting.

CM: What kind of input did you have planning this upcoming season?

RS: I was on board long enough ago that none of it was planned without me. That was fun because right away, Keith and I were planning not just this season but the next couple of seasons, as well. They're not completely planned, but we know there are certain projects that we're wanting to pursue over those multiple seasons. And we're looking ahead to certain things that we want to plan far enough in advance, to make sure we can do the way we'd like — that's been exciting, too.

CM: This season spans from a night of Wagner to a collaboration with Texas Ballet Theater. How did you put it together, and did you feel any pressure since it was your debut?

RS: I guess I did. I didn't think of it, but now that you mention it, yeah, I was planning my first season there. (He laughs.) But I always feel the pressure planning a season anywhere because you're trying to satisfy so many agendas, and it's wonderful. I love it, but it's hard. And then you have to keep re-evaluating whatever it is you decided to do and see if you feel that it's balancing out based on all the different things that matter.

(It’s very much like being) a museum and a gallery, where we have our standing exhibits of the great masterpieces of classical music, and then we have our gallery that changes, and we’re exploring things that are less well-known or are new. And that is an important part of the balance.

CM: You don't just have one audience, but multiple audiences to satisfy, right?

RS: Different people are hungry for different things, seeking different experiences. (We have to consider) are we attending to the interests that have been expressed? Are we taking care of the orchestra, making sure they're challenged and engaged and playing at the top of their game? Are we doing enough things that we know will be financially successful and sell tickets? And then sometimes there are things that are really important to do that aren't going to be bestsellers, but they're still worth doing for the mission of the institution.

CM: On opening weekend, you’re doing Brahms, Schubert, and Beethoven’s "Emperor" Concerto. How did you put that opening weekend concert together?

RS: We had, I guess, about 15 versions of that opening weekend at different times. What we knew was that we wanted something that would feel like a great launch to the season. And then eventually, we latched onto this idea of really focusing on the classics and doing some of the most-loved music in the world and making that the “party” to start the year with.

I also wanted to introduce this pianist, who is making his Fort Worth Symphony debut. Jorge Federico Osorio is just a magnificent pianist, who I had not known until maybe 10 years ago. He's had a long career and he’s one of the most elegant and beautiful pianists of the classic repertoire. So when we were able to get him for that week, the "Emperor" was sort of the kingpin, and then we added the Brahms and the Schubert.

CM: In keeping with your passion for championing living composers, you have a couple of world premieres programmed this season tell me about those.

RS: There's a saxophone concerto in October. And this is a performer (Joe Lovano) who has had a huge career as a jazz player. He's also a great improviser, and we already got together last year and played through the work in progress, so we've already had a taste of what's to come. And it's really quite amazing. The combination of his jazz background and what the orchestra's doing and the ways that the composer (Douglas J. Cuomo) set up improvisational possibilities — it's pretty wonderful.

And then later, a piece by composer Brian Raphael Nabors. He's just amazing. We put him on a program in our imagination. But then I talked to Brian about it and asked him if he was happy about the idea, and I got lucky because he was thrilled about the idea. He's on this program with Texas Ballet Theater, where we're doing The Firebird. All the pieces on that program are stories or tales. I said, "What do you think, Brian?" And he said, "Oh, I've been trying to write some pieces on these African folktales I know." And so he's doing that.

CM: When we get to the end of the season, what will a successful first year have looked like, or felt like, to you?

RS: I guess it would be as simple as knowing that we all had such a wonderful time experiencing this music together, that we can't wait to do the next season.

---

The interview was edited for clarity. Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra opening weekend performances take place September 9-11, at Bass Hall.

Robert Spano is just the 10th music director in FWSO's 110-year history.

Photo by Karen Almond
Robert Spano is just the 10th music director in FWSO's 110-year history.
Photo courtesy of Emberli Pridham

North Texas author pens enchanting new children's storybook about Princess Diana

Royal reads

“Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made," the Archbishop of Canterbury famously declared at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer to Prince Charles in 1981. Of course, the British royal couple's real-life fairy tale did not end in a "happily ever after."

But now, 25 years after the tragic and untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales, a Dallas mom-and-author wants to introduce children to the parts of the beloved princess' life that really were storybook worthy. Emberli Pridham's A Real-Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana will be published through Gatekeeper Press ($21.95) on September 1.

The 48-page hardcover book is a charmingly illustrated biography intended for children ages 3 to 8. It succinctly chronicles Princess Diana's life, from her childhood to her life as a royal and mother, and showcases her impact on the world as "the people's princess."

Famous vignettes from her life — including her engagement, wedding, charity work, and White House twirl around the dance floor with John Travolta — are also depicted in whimsical illustrations by Danilo Cerovic. The foreword is written by her friend and well-known interior designer Carleton Varney.

The book will be the first in a series of "Real-Life Fairy Tale" stories about inspiring and influential people that Pridham intends to write. She is no stranger to writing books for young people. Pridham, along with her husband, David, co-authored the Amazon best-selling STEM book series, If Not You, Then Who?

But this one had extra special meaning, she says, because of her desire to share Princess Diana’s legacy with younger generations like her daughter — who inspired the book.

The Pridhams live in Dallas with their three children, Brooke, Noah, and Graham, and are involved in a number of philanthropic organizations throughout the city.

We donned a tiara and chatted with Emberli about the new Princess Diana book, her fairy tale series, and the inspiration she hopes it will provide for a new generation of little princes and princesses.

CultureMap: Why did you decide to do a children's series on the topic of "real-life" fairy tales? Are these the kinds of stories you enjoyed as a child, or read to your own children?

Emberli Pridham: My daughter Brooke, actually! I was reading to her a fairy tale one night and went down a bunny trail of wanting to read to her about a real-life princess. And Princess Diana was the first to pop into my head. She is someone who I thought would be an incredible role model that I wanted my daughter to learn about and be inspired by her incredible compassion, kindness, and empathy.

CM: How did you decide which vignettes from Princess Diana's life to focus on, and what kind of research did it entail? Were you a fan of hers as a child?

EP: I chose Diana because she was a real-life princess who exemplified grace and dignity. She gave so much of her time to important causes and to the most vulnerable of people in the world. I decided to highlight all the positive aspects about her life.

I also read her biography Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton, which really helped paint the story and life of Princess Diana.

I have always been a fan of Princess Diana and I will never forget the morning of her funeral; it had quite an impact on me, watching it back as a young 10-year-old girl. It was so apparent how much she meant to people around the world.

CM: Did you have to work with any official royal family channels to use her name or illustrate her likeness?

EP: We didn’t have to work with any official royal channels. This book is an illustrated story based on her life, intended to highlight the positive aspects of her character for children. Similar to how people work who write historical fiction books.

CM: The release coincides with the 25th anniversary of her death (on August 31, 1997), when there will be a lot of public remembrances about her. Was that intentional?

EP: No, not intentional. I wrote and released this book because I really wanted to educate children of this generation (that were either not born yet or too young to remember her) so they know about this incredible and amazing woman.

CM: The story is written like a poem, with some sweet rhyming patterns, but still covers a lot of history. What was your writing process like, writing specifically for children?

EP: As a little girl and still to this day, I love children’s books with a rhyme. I wanted the story to sound beautiful to readers, much like reading a poem. Diana was beautiful inside and out and I wanted the story to reflect that.

CM: Tell me about your illustrator and how you worked together on the charming yet detailed illustrations.

EP: I wanted the illustrations to be different, and my own. I researched a lot of different illustration styles. When I was growing up, I was a big fan of The Secret Garden and watercolors and wanted the illustrations in my book to be like a work of art that you can hang up on your wall.

Our illustrator, Danilo Cerovic, did a wonderful job; we worked well together. He was magnificent and really understood and captured what I would convey in my words and translated them into these dreamy images, truly making the pictures come to life!

CM: You're giving 10 percent of book proceeds to Centrepoint, a UK organization that Princess Diana was patron of, and now Prince William has been its patron since 2005. How did you decide on this nonprofit?

EP: We looked up which charities Princess Diana was most involved with and this one really struck a chord with me. (Note: The organization provides young people experiencing homelessness with accommodation, health support, and life skills to get them back into education, training, and employment, according to the website.)

CM: Where can Dallas readers find A Real-Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana?

EP: You can find the book on our website, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (There are also paperback and Kindle versions.)

CM: What can you tell us about forthcoming books in your fairy tale series?

EP: I’m thinking about so many great women, it’s hard to narrow down. I know for sure the next book will be about Princess Grace of Monaco, but after her I am not sure who will follow, so stay tuned.

A Real Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana releases September 1.

Photo courtesy of Emberli Pridham
A Real Life Fairy Tale: Princess Diana releases September 1.
Photo courtesy of Everest

Texas entrepreneur scales to new heights with innovative shopping site for outdoor enthusiasts

Online shopping news

Texas businessman Bill Voss has always found his zen through his lifelong passion for the great outdoors, but there’s one aspect that was making him positively furious: the shopping.

Burned out with driving to brick-and-mortar stores, standing in long lines, and dealing with dreaded returns, the Houston resident turned his necessity into invention and launched Everest.com, a new shopping/lifestyle marketplace and community platform that links active-minded customers to more than 1,000 U.S.-based merchants and retailers.

By utilizing what it describes as “state of the art” artificial intelligence, the company aims to create the largest marketplace on earth for the outdoor recreation community, covering activities such as hiking, camping, biking, rock climbing, winter sports, water sports, team sports, fishing, hunting, kayaking, rafting, and road and trail running.

Voss’ timing is sound: Current industry estimates suggest consumers spend $700 billion in outdoor recreation, with less than 20 percent of those sales transacted online. Towards that end, Voss plans to increase his sellers to 10,000 by 2023.

Everest members can also enjoy perks through a program dubbed Caliber, which provides its members with several exclusive benefits including free shipping, advance sales, travel benefits, big discounts on gear, and — a plus these days — discounts on fuel. Voss notes that the site’s core values are pushing U.S.-made products and giving back; Everest will have nonprofit and conservation partners.

CultureMap caught up with the active Voss on the heels of his Everest launch.

CultureMap: Congratulations on the launch. Essentially, have you created an Amazon for the outdoors crowd — but with a sense of community, too?

Bill Voss: We started Everest.com to create the first online marketplace with the sole focus of offering outdoor enthusiasts retail goods for purchase from merchants across the country who offer domestically made goods.

In our experience, people who love the outdoors also appreciate the concept of community. At Everest, we want to bolster that community by giving local businesses a wider sales reach, contributing to local and national charitable organizations, and asking everyone in our community to share the story of their “Everest.”

We’re taking a fairly segmented market and bringing it together into one community-focused ecosystem. We call that ecosystem Everest.

CM: Clearly, you’re an avid outdoorsman. Is it correct to say that Everest was inspired by frustration and hassle of bouncing to other sites and stores?

BV: Exactly! I found myself doing just that and it’s infuriating. I’d be visiting multiple stores, going through multiple checkouts, and waiting on multiple boxes to arrive — and sometimes dealing with multiple return scenarios. So, I set out to fix it — for all of us.

I grew up fishing, spending hours on the water with my dad. To me that’s one of the best parts of any outdoor activity, the quality time spent with the people you love. I don’t think you get the same experience if you’re sitting around a tv screen together, and you certainly don’t get it if you’re spending hours on your computer trying to track down the perfect beginner fishing rod for your daughter. Time is precious, and the endless toil of gear compilation eats into those few available hours we have to spend together.

By aggregating thousands of outdoor brands and gear retailers and centralizing them into one marketplace, we’re allowing our users to hop on, find everything they need, and check out easily. We’re just getting started but, within the next two years, we hope to add even more sellers and products along with more community offerings.

Being out on the water showing my kids how to bait a hook or how to find a school of fish, those are the memories I hope they take with them. With Everest, it has been important to me to help make those kinds of experiences easily attainable for everyone and the people they love.

CM: Speaking of other stores, do you plan to go head-to-head with the REIs and Sun and Skis of the world? Or Amazon?

BV: I get this question all the time and I love it. As to the first two, definitely not. We’re a marketplace, we’re here to help companies like REI and Sun and Ski, who can participate as sellers and reach new customers.

The difference is that our members can pick up everything they need, from multiple retailers, in one cart, with one easy checkout option. Many of the big names already spotlight and sell products on Amazon — they can do the same with Everest. We are a community of like-minded outdoor loving enthusiasts that have been looking for a niche marketplace to serve all of us.

Think of what Chewy did in the pet industry — we are doing the same thing for those that love the outdoors. Amazon has to be everything to everybody. We don’t, and we don’t want to.

CM: Do you see Everest ever creating brick-and-mortar stores?

BV: The beauty of Everest is we are still a young company with options to consider. But remember, one of the main tenets of Everest is supporting our sellers. We are not looking to get into a situation where we are competing directly with them.

However, we’d love to one day open a shop selling Everest sweatshirts and swag in downtown Houston. It would be so fulfilling to see the outdoor community wearing Everest branded clothing and putting Everest stickers on their gear in the future.

The bottom line is, we are sprinting as hard as we can in hopes of waking up one day as a true disruptor, household name, and eternal brand.

CM: Have you visited Everest yet?

BV: I do have plans to visit Everest actually! I am arranging a trip with two brothers that have made it to the top more than anyone else and they assure me it will be an amazing trip.

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NFL legend Terry Bradshaw's ranch north of Dallas-Fort Worth listed for $22.5 million

Celebrity listing

An Oklahoma ranch around 70 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth that’s owned by NFL Hall of Famer and Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw is back on the market for $22.5 million.

Bernard Uechtritz, owner of Dallas-based real estate agency Icon Global Group, says the 744-acre ranch was relisted after a deal with a would-be buyer fell through. Cancellation of the purchase followed a series of contract extensions, along with repeated assurances from the potential buyer and their representatives that the deal would close, according to Uechtritz. It’s unknown how much that buyer was willing to pay for the ranch.

Over the years, Uechtritz and Bradshaw have been “inundated” by inquiries about selling the ranch, where the E! reality TV series The Bradshaw Bunch was filmed, according to an Icon Global news release.

Terry Bradshaw ranch The E! reality TV series The Bradshaw Bunch was filmed here.Photo courtesy of Icon Global

Bradshaw says in the news release that he and his wife, Tammy, are “sad to leave this great big ranch and our wonderful home, which has been our idyllic retreat of so many years; however, it is time that we slowed down a little, freeing us up to travel more, as well as enjoy new grandchildren, family, and other interests.”

The Bradshaws now live on a smaller farm in Texas where they continue to operate their Quarter Horse breeding business. In conjunction with the sale of the ranch, the Bradshaws are selling 150 Quarter Horses at an October 22 auction.

Terry Bradshaw ranch The ranch sits on 744 acres.Photo courtesy of Icon Global

The ranch, just east of Thackerville, Oklahoma, and a few miles west of the Texas-Oklahoma border, will keep operating until the new owner takes over. The property, overlooking the Red River, sits within the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation, which is home to the massive WinStar World Casino and Resort.

“The property and facilities are a turnkey-ready proposition for a major equestrian player in the horse business, or continued use as a cattle or private recreational ranch,” Uechtritz says.

Highlights of the ranch include:

  • Rustic 8,600-square-foot home with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, two half-bathrooms, and four fireplaces
  • 2,600-square-foot manager’s house
  • Four-bedroom bunkhouse
  • Outdoor patio encompassing about 1,000 square feet, with a full kitchen, bar, fireplace, hot sauna, and fire pit
  • Eight lakes and ponds
  • Outdoor pool
  • Two-story doghouse made of stone
  • 12-stall stallion barn
  • 20-stall show barn
  • 50-stall mare barn with a laboratory, breeding facility, office, and covered arena
  • 20-stall barn for weaning horses
  • Hay barn
  • Show-pig barn

The property has been on and off the market for a number of years. At various times, it’s been priced at $11.9 million, $10.8 million, $10.6 million, and $9.9 million, according to media reports.

Terry Bradshaw The Bradshaws are selling 150 Quarter Horses at an October 22 auction.Photo courtesy of Icon Global

As quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and ’80s, Bradshaw led the team to four Super Bowl victories and twice clinched Super Bowl MVP honors. The Louisiana native, who celebrated his 74th birthday earlier this month, retired from pro football in 1984 after a 14-year stint with the Steelers and then joined CBS Sports as a football analyst. He’s been a Fox Sports football analyst since 1994.

Gucci unzips first sumptuous Fort Worth boutique at Shops at Clearfork

Luxury shopping news

UPDATE 9-27-2022: Opening day has been pushed back to Monday, October 10, a store representative says.

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Fort Worth fashionistas who, for months, have eagerly watched for the "Open" sign to appear on the city's first Gucci store, can finally grab their handbags and head over. Gucci will open at The Shops at Clearfork on Friday, September 30.

The Italian luxury brand's first standalone Fort Worth boutique spans more than 4,500 square feet and carries a wide selection of men’s and women’s shoes, handbags, luggage, small leather goods, jewelry, watches, and eyewear, according to a release.

The Clearfork location is the seventh Gucci boutique in Texas. But it's the first time Fort Worth shoppers don't have to trek east across the Metroplex — to Dallas' Galleria or NorthPark Center, or even further to Plano's Legacy West — for a full-scale Gucci experience.

And while the luxury goods may pull shoppers in, the elegant Clearfork store itself may keep them entranced.

"With a look that invites customers to feel welcome and relaxed, the interior design is discreet," the release says. "In keeping with the elegant and contemporary eclecticism that characterizes Gucci’s collections, the store sees the combination of traditional and modern, industrial and romantic. Contrasting merchandising elements represent different design codes, combining to create curiosity, inviting customers to feel like they are constantly discovering new aspects of the store."

Design details include:

  • Custom geometric carpet, which, they say, produces decorative three-dimensional effects on the floors.
  • Mechanical display units that contrast with soft, rich fabrics adorning the rooms.
  • Round tables that offset rectangular ones.
  • Varnished, gold iron wall finishes that complement red velvets on upholstery and fitting rooms.
  • Luxurious chairs and benches for a textured effect.
  • LED lighting to promote energy efficiency.

"The result is a space that entices, surprises and feels personal to Gucci," they say.

Established in Florence, Italy, in 1921, Gucci is one of the world’s leading luxury brands. President and CEO Marco Bizzarri and Creative Director Alessandro Michele now lead the brand, which is part of the global luxury group Kering.

"Following the House’s centenary, Gucci forges ahead into the next hundred years, continuing to redefine luxury while celebrating the creativity, Italian craftsmanship, and innovation at the core of its values," the release says.

The Shops at Clearfork boutique is located next to Louis Vuitton, near Tory Burch and Kate Spade New York. Hours are 10 am-7 pm Monday-Thursday, 10 am-8 pm Friday-Saturday, and 12-6 pm Sunday.

This tiny green inchworm is why Dallas-Fort Worth trees are losing their leaves

Worm News

If your backyard tree has suddenly and completely lost its leaves, there's a tiny green worm you can blame. It's called the cankerworm, AKA inchworm, and it has invaded trees across Dallas-Fort Worth.

These tiny caterpillars feed off trees, completely defoliating the canopy — specifically the hackberry tree, their favorite. And in fall 2022, they've arrived in North Texas with a vengeance.

Residents from Mesquite on the east to West Fort Worth on the west have spotted the bright green worms, less than an inch long, swaying from silken strings, hanging from door eaves, yard furniture, open porches, anyplace they can catch a breeze.

These cankerworms are a regular part of Texas' fauna, but DFW is experiencing a rare widespread outbreak, says Amy Heath, a Board Certified Master Arborist and the owner of Texas Tree Surgeons, a tree trimming company based in Garland.

Heath says that her staff of arborists has been seeing the little critters — which she identifies as the sciota celtidella moth also known as the hackberry leafroller — all over North Texas.

"We've just started getting calls because the defoliation has become so dramatic over the last week," Heath says. "People become concerned when they see their trees losing all of their leaves."

While it's weird to see hackberry trees basically stripped of their leaves, it's not a real issue to the health of the tree — it's more of a nuisance, she says.

"You'll find clusters when you go outside, they're dropping out of trees, and the silken string is a little like a spider web," she says.

If they're in your doorway, prepare yourself because once you're inside, you'll probably find one or two in your hair.

Cankerworm outbreaks only come every few years, says Wizzie Brown, an Extension Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

"They don't following a calendar year," she says. "Outbreaks usually occur every 3-5 years and it’s not widespread — it's usually in geographic pockets. We had one in Central Texas last year."

Their occurrence is based on environmental conditions.

"Is the temperature right? Is there moisture? Even the daylight cycle," Brown says.

The weird 2022 summer in North Texas — where there was no rain for 100 days, then massive flooding storms — looms as a significant factor.

"That rain prompted vegetation to come out, with new growth," Brown says. "Insects are going to say, 'There’s food available, we need to get cranking'."

The last outbreak that hit DFW was in 2015, Heath says. This 2022 outbreak began surfacing the week of August 15, and their lifespan is about 4-6 weeks, so they're in their very final days, and their exit is hastened by the cooler nights we're finally starting to see.

"The bigger problem is the underlying stresses we have on our trees right now," Heath says. "This year has been hard on trees. We had the huge freeze in 2021, then this summer of drought, with higher temperatures that came early so the ground around the roots was hotter than it usually is."

"Hackberries get get a root fungus when they get stressed which makes them a risk for total failure," she says. "Most people look at the canopy, but the arborist looks at the bottom of the tree first."

Spraying pesticide isn't considered effective since the inchworms are so widespread and floaty in the air that they're impossible to capture.

"Maybe just get out the water hose and spray your doorway," Brown says.