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Featured Local Business
Chef Point Cafe
by Nelson Thibodeaux
Updated 07/08/06 01:32:56 PM   

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July 06, 2006 Watauga
Quick...name your favorite restaurant in a gas station!  

Franson Nwaeze and wife Paula Merrell owners of Chef Point Cafe in Watauga.  Franson may also be called the "Flying Gas Station Chef"

I will be the first to admit that I had never been to or heard of Chef Point Cafe in Watauga.  Sorta makes me wonder where I have been for the past three years.  Seems this little endeavor is getting more famous by the day.

When staff told me that a restaurant in a gas station had been lined up for a feature business article, I conjured up a vision of an old building, that previously had a life as a gas station, converted into some sort of art deco cutesy cafe.  But alas, this IS a gas station and the story behind the two entrepreneurs that own and operate the gas/cafe is one of innovation and perseverance in the face of long odds.

The circuitous road that winds up at a Conoco gas station, located at 5901 Watauga Road between Rufe Snow and Denton Highway, includes Franson, a native Nigerian coming to the United States to be a pilot, and Paula, who spent years doing financial planning for high net worth individuals.

The couple first met in Tulsa when Paula called on Franson while she was in the insurance business.  According to which one of the couple is doing the talking, the chase was on with each one chasing the other.  They married and joined Paula's financial knowledge with Franson's love of cooking.

The Flying Chef told LNO he can fly just about anything short of a 747 Jet, but flying and even airline mechanics, (he went to mechanics school as well but couldn't find work in 1991), was not in his future.

Franson started as a prep cook working 80 hour weeks.   Franson had found his love of cooking was his real passion.  In fact, he became the Executive Chef trainer teaching chefs at the Macaroni Grill. Paula then decided to come to the DFW area from Tulsa to check out employment opportunities. 

This is the front of what could become your favorite restaurant!

The couple relocated to the DFW area and decided to open their own restaurant.  Only problem was is that no bank would give the two the time of day, much less a $1 million loan to get started.  However, Paula had a client that told her that financing was available for gas stations/convenience store operations.  With a plan, potentially known only to Franson and Paula, Franson started working for free at the client's gas station to learn the operations. Then came a break.

Chef Point now caters parties, weddings and other events. Their business was voted the People's Choice Award at the Blues Bash 2005.
Paula learned of a gas station under construction in Watauga.  Apparently the original borrower had gotten cold feet right after 911.  The couple ran their numbers and presented a plan to the bank for a $1 million loan that would allow them to complete the facility and open up for business.  Viola! no money for a restaurant, but ok for a gas station.

They immediately changed plans to include a small kitchen.  At least Franson would have somewhere he could practice his passion.

However, Franson's talents were not built on hotdogs and hamburgers (although they serve up an excellent tasting burger with freedom fries), he would offer a variety of food.  The word started getting out and back food shelves gave way to more tables and more chairs to accommodate the growing loyal customers.
After locals discovered Chef Point, the word began to seep out. Media publicity contributed to what is becoming the legendary Chef Point Cafe. The Star-Telegram ran a special article written by freelance writer J.G. Domke, titled, "Finding Success in an Unlikely Place, Josh Shaffer of the Star Telegram wrote an article titled "Chef Cooks up Loyal Following," Patricia Rodriquez wrote an article titled, "A good place to fill up," and Columnist Dave Lieber wrote about how he thought it was a great April Fools prank to play on his wife, when he told her that he was taking her to dinner at a gas station.

Think you've see everything?  Well how about going to a Conoco gas station and finding the normal convenience store stuff, like chips, drinks, gas, lottery tickets, et.al.  Oh by the way, you also can order up Duck a l'orange, or their famous "What Nots" appetizer,  five large mushrooms stuffed with cheese and nestled in garlic butter.

The menu ranges from pasta to pizza, from a nice selection of seafood to grilled chicken and steak.  Click Here for the menu.

Paula said the business has grown since opening in 2003 to actually become a destination point. "We have had calls as far away as Austin and Oklahoma from people wanting directions," said Paul.  The couple's 15 and 16 year old children now both work at the restaurant to help out the family enterprise. 

Franson personally oversees all the cooking, here is putting the finishing touches of a stuffed pork chop plate.

Paula said that they have just kind of "gone with the flow."  She said that the publicity for their unique establishment has been a great boost to business.  "Brett Ship did a live television spot from our restaurant and he raved about our bread pudding as being the best, so we voted ourselves as having the best Bread pudding in DFW," (she said the vote was her and the cashier and they both agreed).

In recognition of the incredible hurdles overcome and the distinction of making their business work in a very unusual environment, Chef Point was awarded the prestigious 2005 Fort Worth Mayor's Award at the Entrepreneur Expo.
Franson points out the catering part of their business is also growing. "We have catered events at Alliance Airport, Baylor, Cities of Watauga and Fort Worth, as well as lots of weddings.

When the business first opened up, Paula said she drove up and down the road passing out menus.  "One day a customer was leaving and I asked him if he wanted to take a menu flyer with him and he said no!  It hurt my feelings until the man said to me...Why? they are pinned to every bulletin board in town."

Now it is not unusual for the cafe to get inquiries from out of town and even out of state. 

It took the couple one year to find a location and 8 months to finally get their funds.  Paula says, with their success, she doesn't think the bank will have the same reluctance should they decide to expand.  The property immediately behind the current location is being looked at for the possibility of expanding the restaurant.

This sign says it all about the Chef Point motto, "Fill 'er up outside and Fill 'er up inside!  Breakfast starts July 11th.

Paula said that the most important message to give readers is that you don't have to pay high prices to eat 5 star meals.  "We serve white table cloth food, without the expense of the white table cloths!   Running on a tight schedule, we decided to put in an order to go and bring back to the office.  The Alfredo Chicken and Alfredo Shrimp were excellent.  Just as we were completing the interview, Colleyville City Councilman Mike Taylor walked into the cafe.  Mike said that he discovered the cafe last year.  "This place is typically packed with people, their food is great and I eat lunch here as often as I can," Taylor said.

Like I said, don't know where I have been for the past three years.  Forget the bars on the windows and the gas pumps out front.  Drive right up to this gas station, park, get out, go in and walk to your left to find a table.  You will immediately be waited on and find the staff is friendly and caring. 

This is a "double dare you" to try the food here.  After that, you can also find some unsuspecting friend and take them to lunch...it'll be worth the trip to see their face when you pull into the gas station and worth the surprise ending when they taste the food of the incredible "Franson the Flying Gas Station Chef."

Call Paula and talk about the restaurant or catering at 817-656-0080.

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