When Holly and Todd Kerr’s children were young, their go-to family restaurant was a Chili’s Too on Belt Line Road near their home in Coppell. When it closed, Holly told Todd it might be time for them to open their own restaurant. At least then they’d know there was a great place to eat where the whole family would feel comfortable.
Now in its 12th year, J. Macklin’s Grill and Bar is still thriving in its strip center spot where that Chili’s Too used to be. In 2020, the restaurant was named best small business by the Coppell Chamber of Commerce Member's Choice Awards.
Todd wasn’t new to the restaurant industry when the couple opened their grill. His family in California had been in the business for 80 years, and he opened his first restaurant, The State Club Grill and Bar, on Fry Street in Denton while attending the University of North Texas.
A few years later, Kerr sold his interest in the college hangout and opened Macklin’s Catering. The business was doing well, but the couple’s vision of a family restaurant with a sense of community matched what Coppell needed at the time.
Although there are a few standouts, Coppell isn’t really a hotbed for independent restaurants. With a population of about 41,000, the growing town in the northeast corner of Dallas county is smaller than its neighboring cities of Grapevine, Lewisville and Carrollton. Its other neighbor, Irving, is more than five times the size of Coppell.
But in a way, being small is what makes Coppell special, and embracing that sense of community is part of what differentiates J. Macklin’s from other local restaurants. It’s one part party spot and one part family restaurant. It’s a place for daily lunches and weekly brunches as well as a crowd-pleasing place for celebrations.
Over the years special Giveback Nights at the restaurant have raised money for church groups, the Coppell Independent School District, and dozens of charities. Before COVID-19 came into play, youth sports teams gathered after games on Saturday mornings and the after-church lunch crowd kept the place busy on Sundays.
Large dining parties can be a headache at many restaurants, but welcoming them has been crucial to J. Macklin’s success. “We love large groups of people. We’ve developed systems so that regardless of the number of people, we know how to split those checks,” Todd says.
Obviously, indoor dining restrictions have halted large group dining and presented a challenge to the business. It’s been worse for their catering business, which Todd describes as “decimated.” The Kerrs got creative when Dallas County dining rooms were forced to close last March.
It turned out to be a good time for a long-planned remodel of the restaurant’s interior, and they were able to keep on some of their servers, bartenders and catering workers who wanted to help with it. “The fun thing about the remodel was employing our employees,” Holly says. “They did everything except the countertops.”
It also proved to be a unique way to connect with their customers. “We offered curbside pickup, but we also had a station where you could come in and pick up food to go,” Todd says. “As people saw the bartenders and the servers working, it was like seeing a long lost friend. You could sense the community, sense the reality of the pandemic that affected us, but you could also see the human element that made us want to feel close.”
The space is looking good now. “It has a lot of the rustic woods, white subway tiles, some brick and a nice element that makes you feel comfortable when you walk in,” Todd says.
Once they were able to welcome diners inside and onto the patio, they were ready. “We were very successful upon reopening,” Todd says. Many of their regulars are once again showing up three to five times a week.
Building a crowd of regulars takes community support, but restaurants don’t pass the 10-year milestone without good food. The menu of American classics at J. Macklin’s is small, but it’s big on creativity.
The chicken and waffles dish on both the brunch and dinner menus is an eye-popping stack of a bacon and cheese waffle topped with fried chicken, spicy honey butter, crispy onion strings and a blistered pepper. Their kitchen’s take on shrimp and grits is blackened jumbo shrimp on a bed of jalapeño cheese grits.
In a throwback to Todd’s earliest days in the food industry, the restaurant serves chicken tenders made from the original recipe from The State Club. You’ll also find a selection of seafood dishes and salads on the menu.
A burger and a grilled cheese are just two of the choices on the kids menu, and inventive grown-up versions of both are offered on the main menu as well. Taco options range from traditional chopped brisket or pulled chicken to beer-battered lobster or shrimp sauteed in tequila.
The bar offers a small but solid selection of wine and beer with several beers on tap and a full menu of flavorful cocktails.
J. Macklin’s Grill, 130 N Denton Tap Road, No. 120, Coppell. Open for dine-in and takeout 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Brunch hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.