Big Daddy Does DFW

With his new airport restaurants, Kent Rathbun is flying higher than any other Dallas chef.

Kent Rathbun, it seems, is having his moment. You can tell a restaurateur is doing well when even his friends start texting reporters, enviously recounting how the guy was bragging at a fundraiser about the millions he’s making with his latest deal. 

His success has always inspired a certain amount of jealousy. Rathbun got people talking in 1997, when he left his post as general manager and executive chef of Donny Catering and formed a partnership with Robert Hoffman, the philanthropist and art dealer. The two opened Abacus in 1999. It was, without a doubt, the swankiest restaurant in Dallas, full of fine art and finer food. 

Since then, Rathbun has steadily built an empire. He now runs four locations of Jasper’s and his place called Hickory, a burgers and barbecue joint in Plano. With it all, he has won an embarrassing number of awards, including the Mobil Four-Stars and AAA Four Diamonds designations, and he got a turn on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America, where he destroyed Bobby Flay. 

Big Daddy, over the years, earned his nickname—until he started slimming down, yet another reason to be jealous of him. Oh, and don’t forget the black Porsche 911 Carrera S with vanity plates that read “CHEFY.” And the pricey Inwood Road house that he built with his wife, Tracy, co-owner of Shinsei. How many Dallas chefs throw lavish parties in their multimillion-dollar homes? (Even with his boots on, Dean Fearing can’t
compete.)

Then came the big deal. Last summer, Rathbun signed up with Atlanta-based operator Paradies to open a Hickory in Terminal B of DFW Airport. One month later, he agreed to create three new concepts for Paradies in Terminal D: the Lounge at Abacus by Kent Rathbun, KR’s Whitetail Bistro, and Kent Rathbun’s Aviator Bar. Paradies, it’s worth noting, operates 550 dining and retail stores in airports across the United States and Canada.

As for how much he’s making on the deal, Rathbun won’t say. Paradies will staff and run each restaurant, but he says he’s not just licensing his name. “At the end of the day,” Rathbun says, “it’s my name on the door, and I plan to ensure that each concept will deliver an incredible dining option to travelers.”

Those doors bearing his name will likely only multiply. And people will keep talking. 

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