If you look closely at the cups from Grounds & Gold Co. – a coffee shop and bakery in Arlington – you’ll find 28 beans printed on the cups.
The number 28 is significant to the shop’s owner Maurice Ahern.
His son Micah was born on March 28, 2009, and would later die of Neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer, on July 28, 2016. The shop also held its grand opening Sept. 28, 2020.
For years, Ahern dreamed of becoming a professor, but in the wake of his son’s death, he wasn’t sure what to do.
“My dad and my son were both diagnosed with cancer nine months apart. I lost my dad nine years ago, my son six years ago, and, in between that, I also went through a divorce,” Ahern said. “That three year period was pretty dismal and dark.”
As he was seeking a path forward, Ahern remembered something he heard while working in one of John Rivers’ kitchens. Rivers is a successful chef and founder of 4 Rivers Smokehouse, a barbecue chain in Florida. Rivers said that everyone has gifts and fulfillment comes when you’re using those gifts.
“I’d never considered baking a gift before, but I’d worked in kitchens for a long time … It’s something I always loved doing with my dad,” Ahern said. “So that’s where the idea to pursue this as a career came from. I wanted to inspire people like Micah did, but through baking.”
If you go
What: Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival
Dates: March 30-April 2
Tickets: Please see the event website for prices, times and locations for individual events. Weekend passes are sold out.
One month after registering his business, he was invited to participate in the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival.
“Everyone loved it. I got a lot of great feedback. And I would say that was the thing that really built my confidence,” Ahern said.
Ahern is not the only business owner to have his food service career kickstarted by an appearance at the festival.
‘The biggest thing is the connections with other chefs’
Lawing was pursuing a degree in biology without a clear idea of what she wanted to do after graduation. When she got pregnant and started to browse day care options, she realized that she wanted to build a career that would allow her to spend more time with her daughter.
“Pies were an outlet for me to bring in some additional income and to spend some more time with her. And it kind of just evolved from there,” she said.
Lawing researched recipes while working at Reata and would bring in samples to Kirkpatrick and Gigi Howell, owner of JD’s Hamburgers, and got feedback on the recipes and advice for starting a business.
In 2015, she prepared hundreds of servings of pie for the festival’s “Desserts after Dark” event. The experience helped Lawing get her name out in the community and boost confidence in her business.
“We’ve continued to be part of the festival every year and it has led to other opportunities…but the biggest thing is the connections with other chefs, friendships and mentorships,” she said.
‘Why don’t we put something together here?’
For Kirkpatrick, watching these businesses grow has been fulfilling.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “That’s one of the underlying goals … is to find the little guy and put them on a platform (and) help smaller restaurants gain recognition.”
Kirkpatrick and a handful of other Fort Worth restaurateurs were invited to an event several years ago on a ranch in Buffalo Gap, near Abilene. When he went, the event showcased 15 to 20 chefs, had about 500 attendees and tickets were known to sell out fast.
Kirkpatrick recalled a conversation they had while standing in a pasture.
“We were out there like, there’s obviously a huge demand for the talent we have in Fort Worth,” he said. “We’re three and a half hours away from Fort Worth. Why don’t we try to put something together here?”
The Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival made its debut in 2014, with a mission to highlight local talent, support local businesses and invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Kirkpatrick estimates that the event will sell 7,000 tickets this year over the course of four days and four nights of programming, with themed events ranging from “Tacos + Tequila” to “Burgers, Blues + Brews.”
Since its inception, the Fort Worth Food and Wine Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the festival, has raised $325,000 for grants and scholarships for culinary students in the city.
Initially, they were able to give out a few scholarships a year, but Kirkpatrick said they were looking for a way where they could spread the impact further than a few students at a time. This desire led to the creation of a culinary conference for students.
An essential tool for building community
Hao Tran, owner of Hao’s Grocery and Cafe and a high school science teacher, started out volunteering at the festival before eventually participating as a chef and later joining the festival’s education committee.
As an educator and chef, the opportunity to marry both interests is a full circle moment for Tran.
“For me, having a creative outlet to teach cooking classes here and to share the skill sets that I have between science and culinary art, it’s the perfect marriage of those two worlds … It’s my left and my right brain speaking to each other,” she said. “I am very fortunate to be able to do both.”
Wade Chappell, co-founder of Pearl Snap Kolaches, has also been involved with the Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival in many different capacities.
The festival is important not just for helping grow business like his; it’s also an essential tool for building community.
“We need to offer the opportunity to all the Fort Worth residents who have a great idea or a great recipe that they want to share to walk in and say, ‘I want to open a restaurant with my grandmother’s recipe.’ And that’s something that the city council and mayor are working on,” he said. “There’s a lot of big opportunities to create jobs in our neighborhoods so that people don’t have to leave. They can invest in and enjoy the community they’re living in.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. 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.