Kyle St. Clair opened his restaurant without knowing what would be on the menu.
After working as an attorney, St. Clair turned his hobby of barbecue into a business: One90 Smoked Meats.
Before opening One90, St. Clair and his friends would sell smoked meats out of his backyard. At the time, he was inspired by Pecan Lodge and how they managed to have lines out the door immediately upon opening.
St. Clair says there wasn’t a large market for craft meats in Dallas at the time. He also had no intention of turning something he did in his free time into a business.
“You don't just jump right into the commercial kitchen,” St. Clair says. “We were cooking on the barrel smokers in the backyard, vacuum-sealing it and selling it to neighbors and friends.”
To this day, St. Clair still offers vacuum-sealed meat in the store. The vacuum-sealed meat is reheated best with a sous vide.
At the time St. Clair’s backyard meat business started taking off, he was working as an assistant general counsel. One day, he got so frustrated with work that he decided to leave, without knowing what was to come.
“My boss had pissed me off for the last time,” St. Clair says. “I was done with that place and I figured, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to try this other thing.’ I met my wife for lunch and I told her, ‘I’m not going back to work.’ She just cried. Before her face could even change expressions, her eyes just welled up and tears started rolling down.”
Within minutes, St. Clair and his wife came up with a game plan. St. Clair would partner with Matt Tobin, co-owner of Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House, and serve his meat at the bar.
“She told me, ‘You need to go over there and sell Matt some fucking meat right now,’” St. Clair says. “I literally went over there and closed the deal with Matt in 30 minutes. There’s nothing like being told to do something to make you do it.”
St. Clair eventually realized he couldn’t continue selling meat out of his backyard. In July 2015, he found a small place in Northeast Dallas but still had no idea how to manage or operate a restaurant.
“The demand started getting so high, and we needed a place to sell meat,” St. Clair says. “We were nervous as hell to sign a three-year lease. We came in here, literally painted the walls and opened the place up. When we opened, there was nothing here. There wasn’t a sign out front. There wasn’t even a menu.”
After receiving the proper inspections and certifications, St. Clair and crew simply posted an "open": sign out front. On the first day of operations, customers came into One90 out of sheer curiosity, not knowing what this place had to offer. There was no silverware, no seating and no beverage machine. Just a group of friends with a dream.
“We were compliant, we had all of the certifications; we had everything except any know-how,” St. Clair says. “We didn’t have a cash register. We were putting cash in a bag and hand-writing tickets. We had one stainless-steel table, a stove top with a pot of water and some meat. That was it, and we just sold whatever we had. If people wanted a brisket sandwich, we gave them a brisket sandwich. We didn’t even have a scale. We just would kind of eyeball the meat and estimate the weight.”
By day two, St. Clair had created a simple menu offering three items: chicken, pork and brisket. Of course, the menu has since grown to offer sandwiches such as the D.L.T. (duck, lettuce and tomato), as well as smoked salmon tacos.
“All of the things you’re supposed to do before you open a business, we did them in the weeks and months after,” St. Clair says.
By 2017, One90 had grown a solid customer base. St. Clair had garnered a lot of attention both locally and nationally, having appeared on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
“Somebody had recommended us,” St. Clair says. “Next thing you know, I did a two-hour interview with someone from Food Network. She told me, ‘You’ll know within 10 days, because that’s when we’re making our decision.’ Ten days later, we didn’t hear anything, so I had to calm everyone down.”
Five days after he figured he wasn’t going to appear on Food Network, St. Clair received a phone call that would change his life.
“I had been smoking meat all night, so I was dead asleep around 9:45 a.m.,” St. Clair says. “I almost didn’t answer the phone, because I don’t answer numbers I don’t recognize. But I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna answer it.’ A lady said, ‘Hey, this is so-and-so from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.’ I figured this was the bad news, because they had already called all of the winners. She said, ‘We’re going to feature you on this season.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was still somewhat asleep, so it was almost like a dream.”
Four weeks later, Guy Fieri and crew made their way to Dallas to feature St. Clair and the One90 team on the show.
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While St. Clair is now fully focused on One90, he still practices law from time to time, mostly to help his friends and family. He is also the father of two young girls.
In the future, he hopes open a bigger One90 location with more seating. He hopes people will continue to love his craft meats and sandwiches, whether they eat them in store, or take the vacuum-sealed product home for later.
“My vision,” St. Clair says, “is about making this high-quality product available to everybody.”
One90 Smoked Meats, 10240 E. Northwest Highway (Northeast Dallas). Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.