Bourke Harvey and Gigi Howell, leaders of the Westland Restaurant Group, have short answers when asked what they plan to change now that their group has partnered to acquire the West Side Cafe.
“Nothing,” said Harvey. “Let me repeat, nothing.”
“Not a thing,” said Howell. “Why would we?”
From the wait staff, to the tables, chairs, grill, the counter, the old-style tickets to the stainless steel order wheel used to transfer the orders to the kitchen, neither wants to mess with the success – or customer loyalty – of the West Side Cafe.
“Their customers?” asked Harvey. “They love, love, love the place. Why would we change that?”
Harvey and Howell are not just co-owners now of the 23-year-old cafe at 7950 Camp Bowie West Blvd., they have been and remain a part of the adoring customers of the place.
“You’ll find me at the counter nearly every Sunday morning,” Howell said. “I’ve loved that place from the moment I stepped in there.”
Both can also recite their favorite order with no hesitation.
“Whatever I order, I have a pancake on the side,” said Howell. “I love everything, but I have to have a pancake.”
“I have the No. 1 breakfast, but instead of two fried eggs, I get a third, over medium,” said Harvey. “They might as well start cooking it when I walk in.”
Those are quite some accolades from industry veterans who in 2021 formed Westland Restaurant Group with plans for a new hamburger restaurant. On Aug. 16, Westland Group announced that West Side Cafe would begin a new era by partnering with Joel Hancock, the cafe’s general manager for over 20 years and his son, Brian Hancock.
Harvey and Howell couldn’t be happier. “Fans, count us as big fans,” Howell said.
While it seems as if it has been around since Camp Bowie Boulevard was the place to cruise American Graffiti-style in the 1950s, West Side Cafe’s story dates back only to 1996. That was when Tracey Sanford purchased the establishment that had been open only three months.
Under his leadership, the cafe flourished, gaining local fame for its comfort food, quick-witted wait staff and community spirit. It also became a favorite among the military family members on the west side with many articles and mementos of the Bomber Heights area around what is now the Naval Air Station. The walls of West Side Cafe are adorned with Air Force and military service memorabilia.
Along the way, West Side Cafe racked up awards and a fiercely loyal clientele.
“You go there, you turn back the clock,” said Harvey. “They have no point of sale system. They can kick out food in that kitchen faster than anything I’ve ever seen in 30 years. The servers hang the orders on the spinner and spin it around to the kitchen. It’s just unbelievable how they still do that.”
Sanford died suddenly at age 64 in 2021. Two years later, Harvey was approached about helping longtime manager Handcock get the deal done to acquire the restaurant.
“Tracey told Joel before he died, that Joel should work with me if anything should happen to him,” said Harvey. “Now, that’s happened.”
Harvey and Howell both said customers can expect the same homestyle-cooking favorites that have defined West Side Cafe’s experience, such as buttermilk pancakes, biscuits and gravy, chicken ‘n’ dumplings, and chicken-fried steak.
“They can also expect the same staff, who really are the backbone of the place,” Harvey said. Longtime employee Stacy Phillips is general manager.
The addition of the West Side Cafe also adds an important piece to the plans for The Westland Group. Westland also owns J.D.’s Burgers, farther west at 9901 Camp Bowie West Blvd., which is named after Howell’s grandfather, who lived in the area. J.D. was a truck driver and his work ethic inspired Howell growing up.
The Westland name comes from the name of the six-mile stretch of Highway 80 (the continuation of Camp Bowie Boulevard) west of Loop 820. The area flourished during the ’50s and ’60s and was home to several longtime restaurants before the interstates lured travelers away from the area. It was also part of the older Bankhead Highway system.
Howell and Harvey are both Fort Worth restaurant and food service veterans. Howell spent much of her life working in Fort Worth restaurants, including several years at Reata and then its spinoff, 203 Cafe, in City Center downtown. Harvey operates the popular Curly’s Frozen Custard at 4017 Camp Bowie Blvd. and is a partner in the Rogers Roadhouse restaurant at 1616 Rogers Road. He also is a Jason’s Deli franchisee outside of this area.
“Gigi and I have loads of restaurant experience between us, but oddly enough we don’t really have breakfast experience. That’s not been our thing,” said Harvey. “West Side Cafe brings us some of that, should we need it going forward.”
And Westland Group has plenty of plans. In March, they purchased Margie’s Original Italian Kitchen, next to J.D.’s Burgers. It holds plenty of memories for Howell. Her parents worked and met there.
Both Howell and Harvey believe the area is ripe for a comeback.
“You’ve got Montserrat, Montrachet, Skyline Ranch, the Walsh development and they either have to go west or east to eat, so this area makes sense,” said Howell.
Although J.D.’s Burgers has been open only since September of last year, Howell said it is working. Along with plenty of diners, J.D.’s Burgers proved to have a loyal customer base that helped out when high winds blew the roof off, temporarily closing the restaurant.
“It was great to have so many people pitch in and help,” said Howell.
The next plan is to refurbish Maggie’s and have it open by the end of the year. There’s also a nearby vintage gas station that they plan to turn into a craft cocktail bar. Following that, they plan to convert the Longvue Baptist Church building to a Mexican restaurant concept. “It’s a ways off, probably two years,” said Harvey.
Harvey also owns the nearby Westland Gardens at 3416 Longvue Ave. It’s home for a nursery as well as his Legendary Trees business, which grows trees from seeds of renowned trees.
“The trees tell a story,” said Harvey.
They will also be using the gardens to grow food for their restaurants.
“That will give us a farm-to-table component,” he said.
All those plans may seem like there is a lot on their plate, but Howell says she’s not getting tired.
“It’s just exciting,” she said. “It keeps us energized. We can’t wait to see what it’s gonna be like at the end of it.”
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Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.