When Kenny Mills, owner of The Original Chop House Burgers in Arlington, heard his son was looking for a new barbecue spot, he did what any good dad would do: he let him go home.
In June, The Original Chop House Burger and MillsMade Barbecue, owned by Kenny’s son, Travis, went into business together. Both concepts are now located in what many consider the home of Kenny Mills, a strip mall at 1700 W. Park Row Drive in Arlington. There, the Original sparked a queue when Guy Fieri praised Mills’ burgers on his popular “Diners, Drive-In and Dives show.
“It made sense to both of us,” Kenny says. “It will open the door to many collaborations – burgers and barbecue go so well together.”
The two restaurants share the same roof, the same cashiers, the same dining room and the same servers. But their menus are separate.
Kenny’s menu remains dominated by his unique burgers, whose patties are made up of one part slow-cooked beef brisket and one part grilled beef. You can get them plain and simple or dressed up with fancy ingredients and sauces. The sides include incredibly crispy fries and abnormally huge onion rings.
Travis specializes in artisanal barbecue – slow-smoked brisket, pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken and sausage, plus half a dozen sides. You’ll smell the place before you see it: one of Travis’ smokers is located directly across from the restaurant in the parking lot.
Father, 61, and son, 30, started brainstorming dishes they could make together. “I was already doing a lot of stuff that we can now collaborate on – macaroni and breast cheese, a pulled pork sandwich,” Kenny says. “His barbecue is exceptional. We will collaborate a lot.
The restaurant also has its own bakery, run by longtime family friend Laurette Haws, which bakes pies, cakes and other desserts daily.
The past few years have been a bit chaotic – and somewhat confusing – for Kenny’s restaurant. The Original’s appearance on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” led to bigger crowds, but also a chain reaction of moves, new concepts, openings and closings that would ask a mathematician and a geologist to unravel. In 2017, he sold his business while recovering from a health issue. After buying out the business, he moved the Original back to its first location on Park Row.
With humour, Kenny – an accomplished chef who has worked in a huge range of restaurants, from steakhouses to Thai restaurants – made t-shirts, in the style of world tour concert t-shirts, documenting all the locations of his restaurants.
For Travis, the move to Park Row is a full circle moment. Longtime followers of The Original might remember when, years ago, Travis first worked there, side-by-side with his father. There’s a photo in the restaurant of Travis posing with Fieri.
“I did a little bit of everything – I ran the fryers, I trained the employees, I helped cook, of course,” he says. “Before the restaurant opened, my father and I tested his burger recipes. I would come home from school and he would show me everything he was working on, like the burger with grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns. To this day, it’s still one of his most popular burgers.
Like his father, Travis pursued a career in the restaurant business, although the path he took was slightly different from his father’s. Travis’ interests were, initially, butchering, then meat smoking, then barbecuing. His training covered several North Texas restaurants, including Cooper’s Meat Market and Steakhouse in Dallas and Heim Barbecue in Fort Worth.
When Kenny decided to move The Original from Little Road in Arlington to its original location on Park Row, Travis took over the Little Road space and opened MillsMade Barbecue. Four months later, he needed to move. “This building just wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he says. That’s when father and son brainstormed and decided that Travis should move in with dad.
“I don’t know why we didn’t do something like this in the first place,” Travis laughs. “But it’s good to be back here, to be with the family.”
The Original Chop House Burgers & Mills Made Barbecue, 1700 W. Park Row Drive, Arlington, theoriginalchophouseburgers.com