When you walk into McBride’s Steakhouse, at 4537 Maplewood Avenue, you experience a sense of calm. There are warm lights and a beautiful fireplace that burns on cold evenings. An array of saddles are displayed from the beams of the building.
From reputation, you know a good meal soon to follow. Ford Swanson comes from a long line of restaurateurs, carrying on the McBride’s family tradition as the owner of McBride’s Steakhouse. Ford’s grandfather, Fat McBride, built the restaurant in 1991 and opened in 1992. “My family owned McBride’s from 1992 until the early 2000s. They finally got out of the business and sold the steakhouse, two other restaurants, and the meat market to an investment firm of local businessmen. I stayed on, working for them at all three restaurants and the meat market, as a manager. When Obama was elected, we were fearful of the employer-mandated health benefits program, because we were a small-town business and not a big corporation. Because of that, the investment group decided to split their investments. An individual bought this restaurant and the meat market. The other properties were sold to another individual. I worked for the individual who bought this steakhouse. After a couple of years, I made an offer to buy it,” Ford said. “Over the process of a year, I brought things back to the way my grandfather had done things, with the few exceptions, like using better ingredients such as using fresh vegetables instead of canned or frozen.” “We cut all our own steaks. I have a butcher who works in the kitchen three or four days a week depending on volume.
My goal is to make sure every day when you come in and you order the same thing, it is going to be the same thing each time. We cook over a real wood fire so the temperature is very hard to control. We don’t have a thermostat. We throw wood in there, catch it on fire, and let it cook down. It may be 1000 degrees in one spot and 750 degrees in another. The char marks you get is from cooking over a wood fire. It gives it flavor. We aren’t cooking it over a little gas grill and throwing our steaks in the oven to finish cooking. My biggest goal is to make sure we serve a consistent product and the best you can get in town,” Ford said with pride.
At one time the McBride family-owned up to12 restaurants and a meat market. Fat McBride and his four brothers were the owners. After one of the brothers died several years later, the restaurants were split up amongst the brothers and their families. “I started working in the restaurants in junior high and at the meat market. Having my grandfather be the boss was a luxury. I would go to work and he would come by in the afternoon to take me fishing for the rest of the day. I did clock out, though. It wasn’t like I got paid for fishing all day,” he said with a smile. “My senior year, I felt I had more of a responsibility to stay at work because I was putting myself on the schedule. I wasn’t just an extra person trying to learn something. I worked at our Bar-B-Que restaurant on Southwest Parkway and ended up running that store, closing it down at night. I did some bartending here at the steakhouse, and when we had the Mexican restaurant Zocalos, I helped manage the store a little bit.”
“During the summer, when I was young and we weren’t hunting, my grandfather and I would check out all the restaurants or hang out in his office. It was neat meeting all the customers and employees. You can imagine 300 plus employees in those restaurants and then all the customers I meet throughout the years,” he said nostalgically.
Ford attended Midwestern State University, changing his majors several times. He started as a business major, but soon realized the numbers they were teaching were more for a Fortune 500 company rather than a small business. He decided if he really wanted to learn the business it would be hands-on. He graduated with a sociology major and a psychology minor.
“After college, with the uncertainty of the restaurants, I applied to be a game warden. I went to several interviews, but it was a very selective process, and only 10 percent of the applicants go to school. I was beat out in that aspect. It would have been fun going fishing and hunting all the time. After going through the paperwork and application process, I realized I couldn’t devote any more time for it. I bore down on the restaurant aspect. I was 35 when I bought this restaurant, and I had to do something better with my life for my family and my kids,” Ford explained. Ford is married to his wife Ashley and has two children, Caroline who is six and Hunter who is three.
“My greatest achievement after the acquisition of the building and the business is maintaining a good staff and making sure all of my customers are smiling when they leave. It makes me happy when I have a customer come up to me and say, ‘This is what I remember McBride’s to be back when the doors opened. You are following in your grandfather’s footsteps and doing a great job,’” he said smiling.
“As far as the future of McBride’s Steakhouse, I would love to be here to support our community. I turn 40 in November and am looking forward to another 40 years of doing this. I just want to have a landmark here, not necessarily this building, but at least the name and keep it going on for as long as I can,” Ford said with passion.
– Written by Cindy Kahler Thomas