The Denton Main Street Association is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Cartwright's Ranch House, a restaurant on the Denton square serving home-style foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Learn about their business launch story, overcoming the pandemic, and involvement in the Denton community.
From Corporate Life to Small Business Owner
After graduating from Texas A&M University, John Cartwright got his first taste of working for the homestyle restaurant industry after being recruited by Luby’s — a cafeteria-style restaurant chain with multiple decades of widespread popularity (since the 1940s!) and still running today in 50 locations.
Over a span of 25 years, John worked for Luby’s all over Texas and Oklahoma, but was transferred to Denton in 1994 to run the local Luby’s location (where the Goodwill store in South Denton now resides). Finally, he left the corporation in 2010 to look for a new challenge.
Just in time, Ken Willis was selling his business, Ruby’s Diner, on the downtown Denton square — and that became John’s ticket to becoming his own homestyle restaurant business owner.
After buying the building and renovating the space, Cartwright’s Ranch House officially opened in September 2011.
From the get-go, John has understood the importance of listening to customer feedback to enhance his business — even if it’s not what he had originally planned for.
At first, Cartwright’s Ranch House was meant to be a restaurant only offering lunch and dinner. But with many customer requests to offer breakfast, John quickly rearranged some things to make it happen within a few short months of opening. Then, his customers spoke once again — he turned his morning-only breakfast menu into an all-day breakfast menu, as it remains today.
By 2017, the restaurant was growing steadily enough that John felt compelled to open a second location on Dallas Drive: Cartwright’s Cafe.
John also knew the importance of staff to run a successful business. Instead of focusing primarily on being profitable, he focused on proper training and building up his staff to provide stellar customer service to naturally make his business more profitable — because happy staff reflects great customer service.
Regardless of the revolving door of staff that comes with being in a college town, John works hard to create a place where all staff feel respected and want to come to work every day. And these efforts have held true for Cartwright’s Ranch House from day one — even during the pandemic.
Then Came COVID-19…
When the pandemic first hit, John was immediately worried about his family and his staff. Cartwright’s Ranch House completely closed for over 6 weeks and didn’t reopen until they could allow 50% capacity towards the end of May.
But despite the quietness of being closed, there was still chaos to address. John didn’t take advantage of this time off — which is rare to get in the restaurant industry. Instead, he worked hard to ensure all of his staff had the opportunity to stay employed by applying for both rounds of the PPP loan, and realigned with the “why” of his business. He also scaled down the menu to accommodate the nationwide supply chain disruptions. Finally, John made the decision to close down his second location, Cartwright’s Cafe, which was impacted greatly by both the pandemic and continued construction obstacles along Dallas Drive.
Because of the wise business choices John made and the wonderful staff who wanted to stick around, Cartwright’s Ranch House rebounded quickly and surpassed pre-pandemic success.
Making a Mark on Downtown Denton
Being a part of the downtown Denton community has been a huge asset to John as a small business owner. As his own boss, he wanted to find a way to get involved and give back to this vibrant business district.
John not only joined the Denton Main Street Association as a member, but he also became nominated to join the DMSA Board of Directors. In 2019, John became the President of the board. His positive impact on the Denton Main Street Association highlights his commitment to making downtown the true pulse of this city.
Being President of the board during the pandemic also came with some unique challenges. After securing a crucial partnership with the City of Denton, DMSA officially carried the torch for the economic development of downtown Denton. The partnership’s funding helped pave the way for necessary pivots to keep local businesses alive, including adding 15-minute parking spots in front of restaurant businesses for to-go orders.
While the DMSA puts on many fun events to bring people downtown, their steadfast mission to support local businesses is what keeps downtown Denton thriving. It brings local business owners together for a common cause and uplifts the spirit of this tight-knit community. As a member of the DMSA, John can attest to how worthwhile it is to be part of something greater than himself..
At the end of 2021, John will be rolling off the board and as President after completing his full 6-year term.
To Grow or Not to Grow?
The moment John made the decision to close down his second restaurant location, Cartwright’s Cafe, was a gut wrenching but crucial learning experience for him as a small business owner. He wasn't used to having to step back or letting go of something he wanted. But in hindsight, he’s learned that having two businesses doesn’t mean double the profits — it does, however, mean double the time, efforts and challenges.
For now, that’s why John is content with focusing on what truly matters: continuing to pour his heart into serving customers on the Denton square, and getting to spend more time with his loved ones (including a new baby grandson!).
Come enjoy great food, great prices and great service at Cartwright’s Ranch House! Don’t forget to try their famous “chicken-fried awesomeness” (including the chicken fried steak) made from scratch.
Author: Courtney Stucky with Aspiro Agency