The Deep Ellum neighborhood in Dallas will likely get a Terry Black’s Barbecue location sooner or later. The Austin-based barbecue business (and current Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joint) with Lockhart roots is looking to expand its smoked-brisket domain. Its parent company, Black Market Investments, bought the nearly sixty-year-old building at 3025 Main earlier this year. That’s good news for barbecue fans, but the building’s current tenant is hoping to finish out its lease before the smokers are fired up.
Amanda Austin started the Dallas Comedy House in 2009 in the back room of Ozona restaurant on Greenville Avenue. She offered classes on improv comedy and provided a venue for homegrown comedians to test their jokes and entertain audiences. A year later, Austin moved to a more permanent home in Deep Ellum on Commerce, where Dot’s Hop House is now. It’s been a Deep Ellum fixture ever since. In 2015, the business had grown enough for her to seek a larger space, so she signed a five-year lease at 3025 Main. This month she received an eviction notice from her new landlord, Black Market Investments, with two years still to go on the lease.
You may have seen the controversy covered in the Dallas press. Both the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Observer ran stories, but neither talked with Michael and Mark Black. They are the brothers behind Terry Black’s Barbecue, and own the place along with their father, Terry. I sat down with the brothers at their Austin restaurant last Monday, the day the eviction was to be enforced. Both brothers told me their lawyers had advised them against speaking, but Mark Black said, “[Amanda Austin] can stay in that building until her lease is up if she does right by the lease.” They contend that the building had safety issues that are the responsibility of the tenant. The Blacks said they sent three different default notices outlining the deficient items, along with a timeline to complete them. “There are certain violations that can’t be ignored,” Michael Black said, and the brothers felt those violations weren’t being adequately addressed.
Earlier this week, Amanda Austin told me, “I’m going to do what I can to fix everything” from the long list of items listed on the default notices. Some items seemed minor, like a broken outdoor light, but there were also some serious issues to address from the fire marshal. Some exit pathways had been blocked, fire doors were propped open, and one exit door was locked. These were all listed on the fire marshal’s March 28 report on the building, which I reviewed. Austin was told to fix the items before an impending reinspection.
Austin said the “notice to terminate tenancy” (a.k.a. an eviction notice) from Black Market Investments was sent April 10, before the follow-up inspection. The fire marshal returned the next day and gave Austin a bit of relief with a passing grade, but her landlord had already set the eviction date as April 16. She felt like she was out of options, and decided to make the unhappy news public on Facebook. “I had to let people know because I have hundreds of students and performers,” Austin said. “If they had showed up [on the 16th], and I don’t have an explanation,” it would make her look like a delinquent operator, she feared. The date came and went, and as a hopeful Austin said in an announcement earlier this week, Dallas Comedy House is “operating as usual.” In fact, they’re booked solid with performers through the weekend.
The Blacks feel that they’ve been unfairly maligned in the process. “I’d like for people to know that we didn’t send [the default letters] for no reason,” Mark Black said. The brothers say they’re now focused on getting construction under way for their new wedding venue in Dripping Springs. That development wasn’t without controversy, either. Some neighbors were unhappy with the new project, but the local city council sided with the Blacks, and the site plan was recently approved. This also isn’t the first barbecue-related controversy for Terry Black’s Barbecue. The neighbors behind the restaurant on Barton Springs Road in Austin sued Terry Black’s over the smoke exhaust from the barbecue pits. A smoke scrubber was installed at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, and the brothers say the neighbors are now satisfied.
Mark and Michael Black are hoping for happy neighbors in Deep Ellum whenever they open the barbecue joint, and insist they’re not trying to bully Dallas Comedy House out. “We’ve only got plans for two Terry Black’s, here [in Austin] and in Dallas, whether it be three years, five years, ten years,” Michael Black said. Mark added that he was frustrated with how his family was portrayed in the coverage of the controversy. “Stuff like this happens when one side tries to win public opinion, and damn if she didn’t win it,” he said.
Austin said she wasn’t looking to start trouble, but just wants to be able to finish out the two remaining years of her lease of Dallas Comedy. “I want to keep my business open because there’s a lot of people counting on it,” she said, “and also because I love it.” Mark Black said she’ll be able to do just that as long as the delinquent items Austin has been made aware of are addressed by the middle of next month. He told me, “If she clears everything, I don’t have any interest in getting in there anytime soon.” In the meantime, folks in Deep Ellum can still enjoy a comedy show, and they can keep getting their Top 50 barbecue from just down the street at Pecan Lodge.