Seeing a woman chasing his train down on foot, a conductor ground the engine to a halt. He feared that tragedy had struck. But it was just Ashton Stauffer doing business.
“It stopped for me about a half a mile down,” Stauffer said while seated at a poker table in an upper room of Jambo’s BBQ Shack on Division Street in Arlington.
Stauffer explained to the driver that she was merely extending hospitality along the east and west stretch to tracks between Dallas and Fort Worth. And the conductor, she said, vowed to drop in sometime.
With a table of complimentary liquor nearby, the 29-year-old entrepreneur talked about how legend has it that trains used to stop on the tracks outside the restaurant to grab a bite to eat back when the Big A was an infamous gambling getaway.
“This was the best craps in town up here,” she says, describing how folks would dine at the city’s oldest eatery before heading down to Top O’ Hill Terrace to try their luck at the not-so-underground casino that is now a Baptist college.
The roadside diner, which opened in 1931 along the historic Bankhead Highway, was known then as the Triangle Inn and later became Arlington Steakhouse. It is now one of three Jambo’s restaurants owned by Stauffer and her ex-husband, Paul Lovato, who also have three children together. Stauffer says Lovato owned and operated five Subway franchises, but she realized the barbecue he made and entered in local competitions was marketable. So she began doing just that through one-on-one, business-to-business, and Facebook marketing.
“I realized I was good at it,” she says.
The barbecue brand, which has three locations including Division Street, Little Road and FM 1187 in Rendon, caught the attention of Texas Monthly, which gave Jambo's "the Texan" an honorable mention on a list of the top 10 Texas barbecue sandwiches. The Texan is six layers of sliced brisket, chopped brisket, pulled pork, pork ribs, bologna and split sausage link stacked between Texas toast.
“This behemoth would get a higher spot on the list if you could actually eat it as a sandwich,” Texas Monthly wrote.
Other customer favorites are the Hot Mess, which is sort of self-explanatory, and the Sadie, which is a giant, fully loaded baked potato topped with meat and smothered in beans.
Stauffer says since customers sometimes view her as “the wife of the owner,” she doesn’t always get credit for her business acumen. She has also lost a handful of customers who don’t appreciate the fact that she speaks her mind.
“I’ve run off a few groups of customers that just don’t like my personality,” she says. “If they don’t like me that much, then they may not be people I wanted around me in the first place. I don’t just agree with customers and let them get what they want.”
Jambo’s painted train mural on the outside of the Division Street location poked a hive with city officials initially, Stauffer said. But that’s all in the past.
“As in, they are staying off of me,” she says. “This is probably one of the largest cities that are still good ol’ boy system. They are cordial at political functions. And I’m willing to keep my mouth shut, which is difficult for such an outspoken person.”
Although Stauffer insists she is not afraid to speak out against things she views as wrong, she does concede occasionally. For instance, like the time her food distributor took Paul, but not her, on a luxurious hunting trip.
“I’m a good hunter,” she says. “But I didn’t get to go because I don’t have a penis. My father, who doesn’t own the business, got to go. So I just enjoyed watching my children for five days.”
Stauffer also enjoys playing poker and hosts Texas Hold 'em games just up the narrow wooden stairs near where Arlington Steakhouse owner Lynn Brink said whiskey would be shoved into the women’s restroom during police Prohibition sweeps.
The $50 poker buy-ins are legal and use raffle tickets and gift cards so that no cash changes hands, Stauffer says. Those wanting to play can contact her. The next poker game deals Dec. 9.
“We offer free drinks to our players,” she says. “And they get a free meal before the game.”
Many people do not realize that Jambo’s is no longer Arlington Steakhouse, Stauffer says, and it can be a challenge. She’s helping spread the word by hosting Foodie Friday segments on Mark Joeckel's radio show, a local program covering all things Arlington, that airs 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays on KFJZ 870 AM. She also plans to roll out a new dining concept within the next six months, but is mum on the details for now.
Stauffer says just short of insurance, she does everything she can for Jambo’s 45 employees.
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“If I didn’t have my employees, I couldn’t do this without them,” she says.
Joeckel said Stauffer is more of a radio personality than strictly informational, and she doesn’t mirror the image of a typical female business owner in town.
However, Stauffer doesn’t seem much different from other Texas women of the past. She just traded feather stoles and beaded handbags for tattoos, smoked meat and running down locomotives.
Jambo's BBQ Shack, 1724 W. Division St. and 2502 Little Road, Arlington and 5460 E. FM 1187,