From feeding steak to eating steak, the Lewisville Feed Mill is almost done undergoing its transformation into the new J2 Steakhouse.
Owner and proprietor Jim Murray of Hickory Creek said while the journey has been long, the end for development is in sight.
“We’ve kind of saved the building,” Murray said. “It was in rough shape. It’s taken a lot to get it back to being structurally sound.”
With the original intent to open last year, several obstacles in the development have pushed it back to a 2018 opening. Getting the old feed mill structurally sound required a sizeable amount of work, which included rebuilding all the walls and replacing the roof. Murray said they removed 18,000 pounds of tar from the roof, which had accumulated over the last century from repairs. The building’s roof is also supported by steel now, which takes the pressure off the walls.
“The building should outlast me now,” Murray said laughing.
Aiming to create an environment of fine dining and casual atmosphere, Murray said the restaurant will serve dry- and wet-aged steaks with nothing being premade.
“If it comes in a can or a jar we don’t serve it,” Murray said. “We make it.”
J2 will seat roughly 175 patrons and feature valet parking, a patio and two bars, with one of the bars being for wine and beer tasting. Murray added he is also proud of the different materials going into the place, including several different kinds of wood tops for the bars and tables.
The feed mill has housed a lot of tools from the previous century, including a seed planter, a cotton gin and a scale to weigh trucks. Murray said he is repurposing these items to help the restaurant serve as not only a place to eat, but an educational experience as well.
“James Polser, the previous owner, collected everything,” Murray said. “It’s going to be like walking into a museum.”
Polser purchased the Lewisville Feed Mill from his uncle in 1978 and ran it until 2010. It closed after 120 years of business due to the waning need for agrarian materials.
Murray said he got the name J2 from Polser and he, who both share the name James.
“[J2] works for a lot of reasons,” Murray said. “I wanted something special, something simple.”
Lewisville community relations and tourism director James Kunke spoke about the significance of the Lewisville Feed Mill and what it means to the city.
“The Lewisville Feed Mill was the longest continuously operating business in the City of Lewisville. You think about all the change that building witnessed,” Kunke said. “That building is a direct connection to more than a 100 years ago to when most people in town were working on a farm.”
Kunke said the city desperately did not want to see the building go away and were ecstatic when someone came in to buy it with the intention of restoring it, calling it a banner day for the city.
“We probably got the perfect person to buy that property,” Kunke said. “He was a customer there, he knew the history, he had the resources to do something about it and his success in the restaurant industry means the building will continue to thrive.”
Murray said he understands the significance of the building to the city and wants to help people experience it on top of the restaurant, going as far as saying he is cohabiting the building with the history.
“It’s a part of the fiber of the town,” Murray said. “People have been coming here all their lives, bought feed and bought hay. I used to buy hay here.”
He also believes J2 can be a major piece to Lewisville’s plan to revitalize Old Town into a destination.
“When you’re a significant restaurant like we are … we’ll bring a lot of traffic [to Old Town],” Murray said.
The traffic has already started. After almost three dozen chefs from cities across the country, including Chicago and Miami, applied for the job. After several interviews, Murray chose Chef Jonathan Pauley from Uptown Dallas’ Water Grill to helm J2’s new 2,400-square-foot kitchen.
With the talent onboard, Murray said the goal is to win a James Beard Award in the first year.
The James Beard Awards are annual awards given out to those who show excellence in cuisine, culinary writing and education. Murray said if they don’t get an award, they will have to wait 10 years to apply for another one.
As far as winning over the city and locals, Murray described the feedback and support he is getting as positive. Murray has worked with several cities across the metroplex regarding his restaurants, but didn’t hesitate to call Lewisville the best city he’s worked with.
“They’ve been the easiest to work with,” Murray said. “As fast as Lewisville is growing and all the inspection and stuff they have to do, the city has bent over backwards for me … without their support this project would have been way harder.”
Prior to J2, Murray had started 11 other restaurants, most famously the Prairie House.
During his 40 years in the restaurant business, he has turned a grocery store, a tire service center, a gas station and old buildings into restaurants. However, he said this new project is on a different scale, calling it his pièce de résistance.
Murray declined to say how much the project had cost him, but called it a lot of money.
“It’s a significant investment,” Murray said. “I’m not going cheap here by any means. I’m putting the money in it to do it right.”
After being delayed for several months, Murray said the development is almost done and has plans to open it in the next month or so.
“We can see the end of the tunnel now,” Murray said. “It’s rolling fast … we’re in the finish-out stages.”
Update – 4/7/2018:
Check out the mural in progress: