Yet the two appeared very much in control. They had come a long way in a short time since opening Bolsa—and an even greater distance since their wild days in the Dallas bar scene.

In the run-up to the grand opening, Jeffers and Zielke staged a series of mock service nights that seemed to have paid off. During one of them, though, the waiter working Zielke's table approached, visibly trembling. "Why is he so nervous around you?" the owner's girlfriend wondered.

"Hey," Zielke interrupted, shushing her. "Don't let him know I'm just a regular guy."

Chris Jeffers and Chris Zielke, owners of Bolsa and Smoke
Danny Fulgencio
Chris Jeffers and Chris Zielke, owners of Bolsa and Smoke
Zielke and Jeffers pause in
Smoke’s kitchen, unruffled by the media hype that surrounds their
new restaurant’s opening.
Danny Fulgencio
Zielke and Jeffers pause in Smoke’s kitchen, unruffled by the media hype that surrounds their new restaurant’s opening.

Somewhere along the line, they'd become normal, tied to a community, responsible for the well-being of staff, respected by people inside the food service industry and out. "I'm beginning to make friends who aren't in the industry," Jeffers says. "I'm beginning to be normal—that's loosely used. I have to try real hard. Flip a switch, I can go back to making drinks."

As Marc Cassel says of the industry, "Everybody goes in normal. It's how you escape that matters."

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