Passion for top-quality drive HeartBrand Ranch & Cattleack Barbeque to produce incredible barbeque beef in
It’s a mild and breezy spring morning at HeartBrand Ranch in Harwood. The previous night’s rain clouds have blown through and are replaced by postcard blue skies that stretch over the ranch’s 1,500 acres. HeartBrand President Jordan Beeman looks out over a small group of Akaushi cows, some of which have already given birth to this year’s spring calves.
“We had 12 calves yesterday,” Beeman explains. “The grass has greened up, and it’s not too hot and not too cold.” Like many other ranches, HeartBrand’s busiest time of year happens in the spring, after many of their 3,000 breeding-age females give birth. With more than 14,000 head in the program, HeartBrand’s Akaushi herd is the largest outside of Japan.
HeartBrand Certified Akaushi Beef is finding its way into a growing number of restaurants and butcher shops across the country. Two hundred fifty miles north in Dallas, a small barbecue restaurant’s switch to Akaushi for their brisket marked the turning point from a good barbecue joint to one of the most critically acclaimed spots in Texas.
An unlikely barbecue spot
For more than 30 years, Todd David ran a successful commercial damage restoration business in Dallas, cleaning up after floods and fires across the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. David learned that feeding his cleanup crews would keep them working hard and started barbecuing to feed his team during extended jobs. The barbecue was pretty good, and after David sold the business, he and his wife Misty decided to start a barbecue catering company. The legendary Cattleack Barbecue was born.
“When we started catering, we thought we would work when we wanted for who we wanted,” David recalls. He leased a kitchen space in a north Dallas industrial park, put in a small smoker, and came in to cook when the jobs required it. But in the early days, Cattleack’s small and sometimes unsteady business made buying beef difficult.
“When we started, we would get beef from all over the place,” David says. “Back then, you just saw a good price. I just didn’t know enough about good meat.”
At the time, Cattleack was primarily using Choice brisket and buying just enough to take on one or two catering jobs at a time. Some catering clients wanted a way to try Cattleack’s barbecue ahead of time, so David put a small serving counter in the kitchen space and started opening for lunch on Fridays in late 2013.
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David got his hands on some HeartBrand beef and quickly realized he had found the brisket that he had been searching for.
In May 2017, Texas Monthly magazine voted Cattleack the third best barbecue spot in the state of Texas.
Unlike a steakhouse, a barbecue restaurant starts cooking the day before, doing their best to guess the demand before the first customer walks in the door.
Word spread about the stellar barbecue coming out of an unlikely spot in a north Dallas industrial park, and David worked hard to refine his barbecue chops. Responding to his customers’ feedback about the commercially-sourced sausage he served, David learned how to make his own.
Once he was satisfied with the sausage, David turned his perfectionist eye to his brisket. While almost everyone who tried Cattleack’s brisket walked away impressed, David thought he could do better, especially when it came to producing a consistently high-quality product to serve to his customers.
“I told my sales representative at Ben E. Keith that I just wasn’t thrilled with the bigger companies, and just how up and down their products seemed to be,” explains David. “So he told me ‘I’ve got some stuff that’s really good… if you don’t plan on getting huge, I’ve got something for you to try.’ And that was HeartBrand Beef.”
Through his supplier, David got his hands on some HeartBrand beef and quickly realized he had found the brisket that he had been searching for.
‘Branded the Best’
It’s easy to see the correlation between David’s desire to serve premium barbecue and the success which followed. Cattleack’s slogan is “Branded the Best,” which is a message that David takes to heart.
“I’m not going to turn out anything that I think I can do better,” he says. “I want to always strive for that best, that’s my personal commitment to it and part of the passion of it.”
With Akaushi beef being some of the best beef on the market, it’s only natural to find HeartBrand Certified Akaushi Beef products all over Cattleack’s menu.
“Our sausage is Duroc pork, Akaushi beef and some spices. When we do burnt ends, those are Akaushi,” explains David. “We do pastrami, and I have some briskets that are brining now; those are Akaushi. We’ve made bologna, hot dogs, and chili — all with Akaushi beef.”
Cattleack’s commitment to serving quality beef has earned a loyal following of customers, many of whom line up for the experience.
In 2016, David had the opportunity to add on to his small industrial kitchen and leased the space next door. The expansion tripled the space for dine-in customers while staying with the picnic tables that help Cattleack keep that backyard barbecue vibe.
More room was also added for customers to line up, although that line still snakes out the door when the weather obliges. Out back, David had a new, covered smokehouse built to house a pair of 1000-gallon Austin Smoke Works offset smokers.
Cattleack’s barbecue also earned plenty of media attention, which in turn brings more people in the doors. Dallas’ alternative weekly newspaper, the Dallas Observer, has now twice named Cattleack as “Best Barbecue” in their annual “Best of Dallas” edition.
In May 2017, Texas Monthly magazine voted Cattleack the third best barbecue spot in the state of Texas. Everyone wanted a taste of the barbecue declared better than many traditional Texas joints.
“When Texas Monthly came out, we were running every [smoker] we had to meet the demand,” David recalls. “We just made all we could make.”
Despite the popularity, Cattleack remains open just two days a week. The first Saturday of the month, the Davids open the restaurant to smoke a whole hog. As it is, barbecue has become a 5-day-a-week job for David. There are now 4 smokers in the smokehouse, and 3 other smokers on the property, including the original offset smoker in the kitchen that dates back to David’s days of barbecuing for the employees of his old company.
With all that smoking capacity, it may seem unlikely for Cattleack to sell out of something on the menu. However, running out of meat is a challenge faced by every barbecue restaurant. Unlike a steakhouse that can simply throw another steak on the grill, a barbecue restaurant starts cooking the day before, doing their best to guess the demand before the first customer walks in the door. To meet that challenge more effectively, Cattleack recently worked with Ben E. Keith and HeartBrand to increase their supply of Akaushi beef, which allows Cattleack to smoke more food and serve more customers.
The partnership between Cattleack and HeartBrand has been beneficial for everyone involved. Back at the HeartBrand Ranch in Harwood, there is a bull in the HeartBrand herd named after David that is a symbol of that successful relationship. But as HeartBrand’s Beeman will tell you, it’s not just any bull.
“He is the first purebred polled bull worthy of the HeartBrand brand,” Beeman says of the bull, which was a product of HeartBrand’s embryo program. “He’s super unique, and the first polled bull we’ve had that we felt confident putting our name behind.”
The bull, known at the time as “HeartBrand 15/16 14E,” was the newest pride of the HeartBrand Ranch. When Todd and Misty David happened to be visiting the operation, Beeman said it was only natural to let them name the bull, who is now known as King David.
Beeman sees King David as a reminder of the relationship between HeartBrand, cattle ranchers, restaurants, and retailers, all of whom work together to bring premium beef from ranch to table.
“HeartBrand’s focus is on the beef. We’re still very interested in working with cattlemen and getting more cattlemen to join our program,” Beeman says. “By joining our program, you get to be part of not just HeartBrand, but a part of Cattleack and all these other great restaurants where this beef is served.”
The value that comes from teaming up with HeartBrand Beef is not lost on David, either. He appreciates working with Beeman and the HeartBrand team, who share Cattleack’s commitment to excellence.
“Jordan is so into what he does. He cares about the animals, he knows their names, their history. It’s a great business he has,” says David. “But it’s not work for him. Just like cooking barbecue isn’t work for me. It’s a passion.”
Combined Passions is excerpted from the July 2018 issue of The Cattleman magazine.