Saturday, May 25, 2024 May 25, 2024
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Welcoming DJ Sober’s New Smashburger to the Stage

Will Rhoten, aka DJ Sober, has turned Herby's, his latest venture named for his dog, into the city's hottest new spot.
Rhoten's goal is to keep the food comforting with an easy-going atmosphere. Brittany Conerly

Will Rhoten is the pulse of Dallas nightlife, developing a reputation as a cultural tastemaker over almost two decades spinning at Dallas hotspots under the name DJ Sober. So when news broke that he was launching a new brick-and-mortar venture, the assumption was that it would be a banging bar.

It’s no bar, but Herby’s Burgers is certainly banging. Rappers FlexinFab and Tay Money, husband-and-wife artists Jeremy Biggers and Sam Lao, and a long list of photographers, influencers, and creatives have already dined at the retro-style smashburger joint, named for Rhoten’s 10-year-old chiweenie. Because of that, it feels like Herby’s popped up on Instagram in early 2024 as much as the first few bars of Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ’Em.”

Herby’s opened in December in the quiet, leafy Elmwood neighborhood. Set between Olmo Market and B-Side Coffee on Edgefield Avenue, it is hard to miss with its bright yellow door and window trim. Inside, in addition to the burgers, the star of the show is a 1995 Rowe AMI CD-51 compact disc jukebox curated by Rhoten. The relic holds 50 CDs from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Cure, and Sade. Rhoten’s handpainted illustration of a paw hitting a button signals guests to “smash that button” and make a musical selection. 

“I want this—the music, and the jukebox—to be a representation of who I am,” he says. “These are my selections of music that made me tick throughout my whole life span.”

The restaurant began as a joint effort between Rhoten, Elijah Salazar of Peaberry Coffee, and Jake Saenz of Rev’s Grilled Cheese. After Salazar decided to step back to focus on his flagship brand, Rhoten and Saenz took the lead. “I’m just super excited for what’s going to happen,” Saenz says, “and what things are going to look like, and just letting this be a space that people want to come to and hang out and feel at home.” 

For much of his life, Saenz has pursued food as an art form and livelihood. The 35-year-old has worked in a food truck, a commissary kitchen, and a small barbeque spot in San Antonio, as well as with Olivia Lopez, the chef-founder of Molino Olōyō, a 2023 James Beard Award semifinalist. At Rev’s Grilled Cheese, his Dallas pop-up, he found a following by making comfort food an addictive experience. 

At Herby’s, too, he’s keeping things comforting. The signature burger is a feel-good smashed ground beef patty topped with grilled onions, cheese, pickles, and a thin orange sauce that’s a riff on his former Rev’s sauce. It’s a solid burger that quickly becomes an indulgent craving. “It makes me feel good,” Saenz says. “It tastes good. It’s simple. There’s nothing over-the-top about it.” The menu also includes beef hot dogs, tots and hand-cut fries, and vegan burgers. 

Despite the restaurant’s immediate popularity, its opening hasn’t come without complications. Last year, Rhoten’s last living parent, his father, Bill, passed away, and Saenz suffered a heart attack. Then news broke in November that the restaurant’s mascot was facing a health crisis. During a routine check-up last fall, images showed that Herby’s heart had enlarged. The 9-pound canine had lived the majority of his life with a common heart disease for smaller canines, where the mitral valve thickens and prolapses causing the valve to leak. With his new prognosis, Herby was facing the likelihood of heart failure. 

“Herby is so energetic,” Rhoten says. “He’s so happy. You wouldn’t know he had this condition. He doesn’t know he has it.”

But Rhoten says that if he can get a few more years with Herby, he’ll stop at no cost. He has been in correspondence with the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, where Herby is being considered for open-heart surgery. If Herby proves to be a good candidate, the surgery will cost around $40,000. “Herby saved my life,” Rhoten says. “Some people don’t understand spending that much money on a dog, but it’s more than a dog.”

Rhoten hopes to create a foundation in his honor to help fill financial gaps for emergency pet care for families in need. But he’s already built one thing that pays tribute to his longtime sidekick. 

“I want Herby’s to be something—we’re not going anywhere,” Rhoten says. “I know Herby is not going to be here forever, but I want his legacy to live on. I want Herby’s name to live on, and what better way to do that than with something like this.” 2109 S. Edgefield Ave.

This story originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine with the headline “Smash Cut.” Write to [email protected].


Desiree Gutierrez

Desiree Gutierrez