We talk with acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and C&I favorite Tim Love about building businesses and celebrating the holidays Western-style.
It might surprise you to learn that acclaimed Texas chef Tim Love’s first good gig in the food industry was making salads. No more surprising, though, than to learn he’s now moving into fashion. It seems there’s nothing he won’t pursue following his entrepreneurial passions.
Growing up between Texas and Tennessee and spending summers working on his father’s small farm, Love surely learned about the origin of food, but he fell in love with cooking making salads for minimum wage as a way to pay his way through school at the University of Tennessee.
Cooking, to Love, was a lot like sports. As a former soccer player for a national team, he loved the competitiveness of being on the line in a fast-moving kitchen. One year into his first job making salads, Love had worked his way to the top and was running the kitchen.
The rest has been a bit of a whirlwind as Love quickly climbed the ranks at multiple restaurants in management and as a chef, finished his degree, hiked the Appalachian Trail, met his future wife in Colorado, and finally ended up back home in Texas.
Not long after settling in Fort Worth, Love decided to open his own restaurant — quite literally building much of it with his own two hands — and the highly successful upscale steakhouse, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro was born. Now, over 20 years later, Love has opened 19 restaurants, as well as his out-of-the-box container-built micro resort, Hotel Otto, and fun food and music venue, Tannahill’s Tavern & Music Hall, among many other successful endeavors.
He’s even recently added the Love Collection, a premium American-made apparel and accessories brand that calls to mind the cool confidence and rugged beauty of the Lone Star State itself.
But with all his entrepreneurial energy, his heart and soul are never far from food.
We sat down with Love to talk about what motivates him in business and life, how the spirit of a Western lifestyle can be felt in all of his endeavors, and how he celebrates the holidays in true cowboy style.
C&I: You’ve had a lot of success in your work, and you seem to always strive to do more. What motivates you?
Tim Love: The creative side is really what drives me, frankly. I like to create things that most people wouldn’t create. I mean, our hotel is made out of containers, which nobody had done before, and it’s really cool. And our music hall is taking the hospitality side of taking care of bands to a level that nobody’s ever done before. Things like that are what really drive me. I want to make the world a better place than when I came into it, and I do that through hospitality and my style of service and food and things like that. It’s just a passion for making people happy, and it makes me feel really good when people are happy. So I keep looking at new ways to make that vibe and that combination of what people enjoy. When I figure out how to make people happy and give them joy, then that’s what keeps driving me.
C&I: Whether it’s your restaurants, music venue, hotel, or now even clothing, all your endeavors embrace the complete package of food, travel, style, and entertainment. Why are these everyday joys so important?
Love: I think something as simple sometimes as just sitting around the table with your kids and your loved ones and your good friends and just learning more about them is beautiful. We provide that opportunity in every way — whether it be standing next to them at a concert, sitting down having lunch, or sitting on top of the rooftop of one of our hotel rooms and enjoying breakfast. The way you get to know people is to have conversations with them, and we love to create space that does that. In fact, one of my restaurants, I don’t even allow cellphones in it for that reason. I just want people to talk, and I want people to understand who they’re with or who they’re next to. We’ve lost so much interaction with all the technology that I feel like it’s taken away some of the people’s happiness. We just try to figure out ways to give them little analog moments of great times and great days, understanding that we’re still humans. You need to interact. Things get settled between people. They don’t get settled over the internet.
C&I: From the vibe of your restaurants and other businesses to the style of the new Love Collection, your work seems to give a nod to Texas and celebrating the Western lifestyle. What inspires you about the West?
Love: The Western lifestyle — this mythical cowboy, if you will — is like, to me, analog at its finest, right? These guys and girls go out and work the land and work the animals, and you find a lot of times when they come home what they want to do is not watch TV, but they’d rather sit around and play cards or read a book or draw or write a song on a guitar and sit outside. And that, to me, is quintessential Texas. The people that settled Texas were adventurous and pioneers and not afraid — a bit of outlaws doing things their own way but in a respectful way. And I kind of operate my business just like that. We live in a digital world, and it’s very much required, but the reality of it is, all of us, deep in our hearts, really would prefer to sit around and hang out with friends, break some bread, and listen to a good tune, watch the sun set, or build a fire. I mean, it’s 55 times better than looking at Instagram and watching TV and all that other [stuff]. It’s fun to do, and it’s heartwarming. I’m just lucky that I get to provide it.
C&I: With all of these adventures you’ve embarked upon in business, what have you learned about yourself? What has being an en-trepreneur taught you?
Love: I’m the youngest of seven kids, and we were pretty broke growing up. I would say at some point, financially, we were probably at the bottom. But the funny thing is, it wasn’t really that bad. I had a great family around me. We really enjoyed each other. And so, I guess that is part of the reason why I’m just not afraid to take risks, because I’ve already been at the bottom, and so everything is gravy for me. And I live like that. I make choices like that. If you want to do something, you’ve just got to decide to go do it. That requires a lot, by the way, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. Once you start doing something, you’ve got to learn that you have to have other people around you to help you. That’s what makes you smart — having great people with great ideas and becoming a leader that inspires those people to continue to give you those ideas and move the ball forward. And 23 years later in my own business, that’s what my position has become. I’ve got to be the person that inspires people to be great and teaches them how to get there and then, at the same time, learn from them so I can continue to do better things.