These Places Have Personality
Brain Storm Shelter uses quality food and quirky humor to ensure its restaurants’ success
After graduating from college, Jason Boso wanted to enter the restaurant industry. “My dad said, ‘You’ll end up slinging hash your whole life,’” Boso recalled. So, he passed the required tests and instead became a stockbroker.
“I hated that job,” Boso says.
He stuck it out until he was 28, then enrolled at the Art Institute of Dallas, a culinary school. After completion, he worked at a series of restaurants for the next six years as a pastry chef, sommelier, line cook, front-of-house server and manager. But Boso had his own vision.
“I got fired from almost every job for being a bit of a pain in the ass for wanting to do things my own way,” Boso says. “I always have been a little strong-willed about doing it my way.”
He decided to open his own restaurant in Dallas. “It was one of those by-your-bootstraps,” Boso says. “I painted the walls. I made the tables. I built the walk-in [refrigerator].” In 2006, he opened Twisted Root Burger. His goal was to under-promise and over-deliver to guests.
No one would confuse Twisted Root Burger with a chain burger restaurant.
“The atmosphere was very dive bar,” Boso describes. “There was very minimal comfort for the customer. Pick up your own damn food. Clean your own table. But we put all our eggs into one basket and that was on the grill. We had a higher food cost, trying to over-deliver on burgers. We did that by saving money on the front of the house.”
What the restaurant lacked in service it makes up for with personality. A microphone is used to call customers when their food is ready. “We don’t give them a number or ask their name,” Boso says. “We give them a name. You might be Batman or James Bond or Beyonce. We also use the mic for fun things in the store. For example, we’ll say the first kid who brings their dad’s wallet up to the counter gets a free milk shake. Myself or the manager will take the wallet and make fun of the driver’s license picture or something like that.”
The food show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives filmed an episode about Twisted Root Burger and aired it just a few weeks before Boso opened his second location in 2009. He opened a third restaurant a few months later, still enjoying the publicity from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Today, Boso operates 21 restaurants plus By the Horns Brewing, the Greenville Theater and Hart Hall under the umbrella of Brain Storm Shelter Restaurants. Of the restaurants, 17 are under the Twisted Root Burger brand, three are Truck Yard and two are Taco & Avocados.
Like Twisted Root Burger, the Truck Yard is an original concept. A sort of beer and cocktail garden with rotating food trucks, the Dallas location has its own treehouse while the Houston location has a Ferris Wheel and the Colony location has a museum dedicated to art on toilet seats. Be warned: Customers have to buy a specific drink to ride the Ferris Wheel.
“The common element would be that it’s for the everyman,” Boso says. “We are just trying to provide the everyman a little bit of an elevated experience. We want it to be at a price point where you can come on a Tuesday and it’s not a special occasion.”
Ahead of the Curve
Five years ago, Brain Storm Shelter Restaurants began franchising its Twisted Root Burger concept and now has four franchisees with a fifth scheduled to open in November. As the franchisor, Boso finds himself dealing with franchisees who want to make changes. “Sometimes we have to tell them no,” Boso says. “We have to manage the personalities of the franchisees. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Brain Storm Shelter Restaurants also allocates more money than it once did for training prior to opening a new location. “There used to be this idea that it takes a restaurant a while to get their legs under them and get it right,” Boso says. “That’s gone away. There is no room for error.”
While Brain Storm Shelter Restaurants has imitators with deeper pockets, particularly for its better-burger concept at Twisted Root Burger, Boso continues to innovate both from a culinary and personality perspective. “Those corporate guys can’t do personality like we can,” Boso says. “That’s how we stay ahead of the curve.”
On the culinary side, Boso has seen more customers who want to try something new, whether it is more interesting proteins or flavors from other parts of the world. “The need for innovative flavors has definitely increased,” he says.