Erik Scott is a North Texas native who has been working in kitchens since he was 15 years old. Having grown up in Dallas, he says, “North Texas is in his blood.” He originally planned on being a lawyer but, he says, “by the second class of pre-law I was like, no, I’m going to go back to kitchens. It’s just something I was very good at and enjoyed doing.” He ended up deciding to go to the Culinary Institute of America in 1994. Before ever deciding to open a restaurant, Scott has had many professions. He explained, “I went to culinary school and it was just a roller coaster ride after that; hospitality industry, hotels, restaurants, high end restaurants, I owned a hot dog cart, I’ve done concessions, I’ve don’t catering, I’ve done just about everything.” After gathering experience, he admitted to “selling out a little bit” to corporations, and was the first chef that Wal-Mart ever hired to do special projects and design food for their, at that point, 3,800 stores. “That was interesting,” Scott exclaimed. “Here I am, a chef designing food for national distribution. Now they have a whole team of people that do it.”
After Wal-Mart, Scott took the director of culinary development for a company called Lyons Magnus. “You have tasted their stuff if you have had a pumpkin anything at Starbucks. They make the pumpkin flavoring. They do fudge and fruits and flavorings and pie filling and stuff like that,” he explained. Through this job, he even designed the limited time offer table tents for IHOP for three years. “I have literally done just about anything in the culinary world,” Scott humbly proclaimed.
Right before opening Highlander, Scott was the Category Director for beef at Cisco, a food distribution company in Houston. This means that he designed beef products for the company to market to the public. Scott explained, “They went through some tough times and were laying people off, and I was over it. I volunteered to take the package because I was not happy.” Without a job, and wanting to leave Houston, Scott recalled, “I just talked to my wife about it, and my in-laws had moved to Wichita Falls. I left to go to school in upstate New York and I’ve worked all around the country, but I always come back home. My daughter was born, and we didn’t want to raise her in Houston. We took a look around the city and just ended up buying a building about a block down the street from Highlander,” he explains, “we were going to put a restaurant in there, and from there we just had a lot of trouble with the city. As we were trying to make that work, Will Kelty who owns Big Blue and the 8th St Coffee House Building and City Center, bought this building (The Petroleum Building). We had met him before and I had talked to him about the restaurant business and he said, ‘I have a restaurant spot! Since you’re having trouble over there, do you want to take this spot?’ and I was like, sure! I have to do something; we’ve been here for almost two years doing nothing. So, I said, “Okay, well, let’s do that.” And just like that, the Highlander Public House was born, and Scott himself started renovations. He said, “The ink on the contract wasn’t even dry and I was already tearing stuff up.”
“We signed the lease on the 21st of December in 2016, and we opened St Patrick’s Day 2017. St Patty’s day was the day I wanted to use. It was the day my wife and I met, so it was the day for me,” Scott lovingly admitted. “That was a lot of work in three months that we accomplished. I don’t like to sit on my hands. There were no lights, there was no nothing, and it was a big project. It was built really nicely, but it really just had been beat all to hell. Meaning every piece of copper was missing from the un-paying tenants were not very nice to the place. It had a little Astro-Turf and yellow walls and blue ceilings. We removed all of the drop-ceilings because it was bad. It was really bad. We are really proud of this little spot we have.”
When asked if being located downtown has influenced his business, Scott responded, “Downtown has been a little bit of a struggle because you can’t forecast it, but it’s getting better. The way I like to tell the story is; when we first opened, the traffic lights would blink red at eight pm on weekdays, and on Sundays they would blink all day. Now, they don’t blink at all. So, things are getting better, and I don’t want to say that I’m responsible for that, but you know, I brought a large restaurant and large casual dining area to the downtown area. We love the kids; kids eat free on Tuesdays. Stuff like that. We want to be family friendly. People enjoy it down here, and it’s getting a lot better with all of the new businesses opening up.”
Highlander is in the works of expanding, and is currently working on a “tavern” in the original lobby area of the hotel. They plan on having two pool tables, three dartboards, and a few arcade games from Scott’s personal collection. They also plan on adding a roof to the patio along with greenery and another bar area, and calling it “the beer garden”.
Highlander features an array of amazing drink specials offered every day of the week, along with creative menus at reasonable prices for the large portion size. They even offer a lunch punch card, where the 10th lunch is free. Their menus change often, adding new and exciting food that is sure to expand your culinary experience. The food and atmosphere can best be described as “Celtic-American fusion”, although they claim no nation affiliation. Highlander brings a fine dining experience to downtown without breaking the bank, while making everything from scratch. If you’ve never visited Highlander, treat yourself to the best dining downtown has to offer.
– Charlie Roberts