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Another 10 Brilliant Dallas Women: Brooke Humphries, Ex-Con Empire Builder

Going to prison isn’t usually the best start for a bright future. Mass incarceration has resulted in hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders who crowd jails and lack access to basic services that could lead to rehabilitation. But for Brooke Humphries, prison was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. Since being released from prison more than a decade ago, Humphries has turned her second chance into an impressive second act, owning some of Dallas' most popular clubs and restaurants, including Beauty Bar, It'll Do Club and the newly opened Pints & Quarts.

If you’ve seen the movie Party Monster, you already know who Brooke Humphries is. Natasha Lyonne portrayed her in the cult film that also starred Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin, centered around the lives of the notorious New York City “Club Kids,” a group of unapologetic miscreants who terrorized the hearts and minds of Middle America on Jerry Springer and other talk shows with their odd fashions and lifestyles, which revolved around partying a lot and doing an incredible amount of drugs  Humphries also sold drugs, and that's what led to her arrest and incarceration. The story eventually culminates in the murder of Andre “Angel” Melendez at the hands of Michael Alig, Humphries’ friend and ringleader of the Club Kids.

After going away for dealing drugs, Humphries was able to channel what she calls her “natural born hustle” into a pretty impressive second life. “I’m one of the few people who prison worked on. I met some of the best people I’ll ever meet in my life there, I did a therapy program that changed my life completely and I had counselors who helped me immensely,” says Humphries. “I didn’t lose time; I gained a life. If I hadn’t gone to prison, there’s no way I would be here right now.” Now, though, that past is as far behind Humphries as you could possibly imagine.

You have probably partied at one of Brooke Humphries’ establishments, even if you’re not aware. She’s the owner of Lower Greenville’s Mudsmith and Pints & Quarts, Knox-Henderson’s Barcadia and Beauty Bar, and It’ll Do. She’s since expanded her coffee-shop-and-nightclub empire into Houston, New Orleans, Fort Worth and Baton Rouge. When she was first released from prison and moved to Dallas, though, she got her first job working at Bread Winners, the Uptown bakery and sandwich spot. 

From there, she worked to found the Meltdown Music Festival, Dallas’ largest EDM festival with her company Full Access Productions. Before that, she was throwing massive raves across Dallas’ nightclub scene. “We would do these huge parties with 10 or 20,000 kids way back then, before 'rave' even became a name here. We were the first to bring a superstar DJ, Paul Oakenfold, to Dallas, and we sold out.” From there, Humphries began negotiating a deal for a nightclub based on her track record as a successful music promoter.

The deal ultimately fell through. Humphries, discouraged but not defeated, started looking at an old laundromat on Henderson Avenue, which would eventually become Barcadia. “I’d always had this idea of combining a few concepts — an old video arcade with a huge patio because Dallas loves their patios, lots of beer, lots of booze and a large kitchen,” says Humphries. “No one was going to Henderson at that time. The Slip Inn was there and that was it.”

She enlisted the help of friend and restaurateur Tristan Simon to be a reference for the landlords of the building, who she describes as “pretty uptight Highland Park brothers,” and Simon convinced them to take a chance on the heavily tattooed Humphries. “[Simon] helped me get my first lease at Barcadia, and everything is history after that.”

From there, Humphries, whose mind moves a million miles a minute, started to expand her business. She opened Beauty Bar across from Barcadia, and then happened upon the location that would eventually become Mudsmith. Even as a concept opens its doors, Humphries is already started on the next idea, the next location, the next restaurant. "There’s always a need inside of me to do more. I don’t know if it’s the hustle that I have from when I went to jail that parlayed into a legal hustle or what,” says Humphries. “I’ve got a hustle inside of me that never stops. My brain never stops ticking. The second I open a place, I’m ready to open another one.”

It hasn’t all been rosy along the way, either. The Houston location of Barcadia has shuttered its doors, which Humphries attributes to poor market research and a bad location. Acme Food & Beverage, whose building now houses Henry’s Majestic, also closed its doors. “I’ve learned through the years that sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes, you made the wrong move. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to fall apart or die the next day; the world’s not going to explode,” says Humphries. “You have to learn when to let go. When it works, though, it’s amazing. And it takes a lot of work to make it work.”

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She also struggles with figuring out work-life balance, but is quick to admit her shortcomings. “You have to learn balance and I am awful at it,” says Humphries. “I used to not be able to go on vacation because I would have panic attacks. Now I know that I have an awesome team and that means that I can go away for three or four days. I’m learning how to relax, but it’s hard when you’re a micromanaging control freak who wants to open up 9,000 businesses at one time.” 
And as far as the partying of her youth is concerned, she’s traded in her rave wear and hits of acid in for episodes of House of Cards on Netflix and a 9:30 p.m. bedtime. “It’s funny that people think that because I own bars, I’m out partying all the time. I’m in bed early. I watch my show, and I’m back up at 5 a.m. It’s rare that you see me out at night. I’m the most boring bar owner in the history of bars. At age 45, I’m much more interested in being up and tackling the day than being up late at night.” When she does want to relax, Humphries heads to an unlikely place — the race track.

This season, her company is sponsoring NASCAR driver Casey Mears in the state of Texas. “We’re on the car in Texas,” says Humphries. “That is my idea of relaxing. What is relaxing to you is sitting on a quiet beach and listening to the ocean. Being at the race track is relaxing to me. I can work the whole time I’m there — thank God for the Internet — but relaxing to me is being around super-loud race cars. I allow myself, because we’re sponsors now. It’s opened a door that we can get on the inside of a sport that you really don’t otherwise have access to.”

Of course, Humphries' eyes are set firmly on the future, and for her, that means only one word: expansion. She hopes to open more locations of Mudsmith and Pints & Quarts, including a location of Mudsmith that is set to open across the street from the Fort Worth Barcadia.

“The future changes on a daily basis, but here’s my overall plan,” says Humphries. “The goal is to get so streamlined that we follow such a streamlined model that we do 15 or 20 of Pints & Quarts and Mudsmith. I might be speaking out of my ass right now, but I’m a go-getter and I like to accomplish my goals. I have to be very good at my job for us to expand in that fashion but right now it looks like we’re going in the right direction.” 

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