A new restaurant opening has occurred in the downtown people’s petroleum building. this new additionto Tyler’s culinary scene is called prime 102, and according to restaurateur Steve Barnhart, the name has significance, “in the restaurant business, ‘prime’ refers to the top graded beef by the USDA. Prime also refers to priming the pump ‘to get things moving.’”
“With all that is going on today, or should I say isn’t going on, opening a restaurant now, with the help of partners Tim Brookshire, Garnett Brookshire and Andy Bergfeld, we thought this was an opportune time to get things moving again. ‘Prime’ also means something that is of first importance, our guests as well as the internal guest—which is our staff. Our name reflects all those definitions because we are determined to create a dining experience for the people of Tyler that is second to none. We have a prime location, in a historic building, and we plan to capitalize on using that unique location to create an atmosphere that reflects Tyler’s heritage while serving prime cuisine to guests who expect nothing but the best.”
Barnhart bought a house in the Azalea District a couple of years ago. “At the time, I was dividing my time between West Texas and Louisiana, and Tyler was central to both. I have to admit, the first time I came to Tyler, I fell in love with the city. I liked the beauty of the countryside and the friendly reception given to me by everyone I met.” When he first moved to Tyler, he had no plans of opening a restaurant. “That changed when I met Andy Bergfeld and Garnett Brookshire through a mutual friend who knew about my background in the restaurant business. A crazy time to open a restaurant, but I believe when God opens a door it’s probably a good idea to walk through it.”
You might say that Barnhart was born into the restaurant business. As a child growing up in Dallas, his grandmother had been with the Kirby’s Charcoal Steak House on Greenville Avenue when owner B.J. Kirby opened Dallas’ first specialty steakhouse in 1954. His grandmother worked as a server in the restaurant from the day it opened until it was closed in 1987. At the age of twelve, Barnhart went to work at Kirby’s as a barback. “At an early age, I learned that one of the most important aspects of the restaurant business was building relationships. I remember watching as guests would come in and request a table that my grandmother was serving. Success in the restaurant business depends on repeat guests. Serving a great product should be a given, and when you build a relationship with the people you serve, they come back again and again.”
Taking that knowledge to heart, led Barnhart to a fourteen-year career with Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. Working first in Dallas, Barnhart was asked to open locations in New York and Philadelphia. “When I arrived in New York in March 2000, I expected to be there for a short period, just long enough to get the restaurant up and running. I ended up staying for eight years.” Barnhart was also entrusted with assisting in the reopening of Tavern on the Green in New York City in 2015.
At this writing, renovations to the space are completed. The kitchen was completely revamped with new equipment and a more efficient layout. Barnhart is quick to emphasize that maintaining the building’s Art Deco character is a priority. “We intend to take advantage of the original look and feel of the property but also adding some elements to give the space more intimacy and glamour.” This will include custom drapes that will provide for privacy on the mezzanine level for private affairs. “We are also creating a new bar, enlarging the space and providing more convenient service for the patrons. ‘The Corner Bar’ is located literally in the front corner of the building overlooking the corner of Erwin and College streets.” The main dining area is on the second floor, and is reached by either elevator or from the original grand staircase. “We intend to take advantage of the original granite that has long been admired from the days when this space was used as a bank.”
“Prime 102 will offer the best available cuts. We are fortunate to have relationships with the top meat purveyors in the country to offer something special to our guests. Using locally sourced and market fresh ingredients on all of the menu items, we can offer an exciting and varied menu for dinner, lunch and the Corner Bar,” Barnhart explains. Dinner will be an exceptional offering from prime steaks, seafood, unique salads and sides to house made desserts. The lunch menu will have a competitive price point and is designed for rapid midday service. Lunch menu items will include everything from a daily homemade soup and salad option to chicken fried steak and everything in between. The Corner Bar will give guests an intimate atmosphere with an eclectic offering of appetizers and other house-made lighter fare options.
“Our menu is designed to provide something for every taste and price point. We want as many people to enjoy our atmosphere and quality food, to fit any budget. Our guests will be able to enjoy a fabulous meal in an environment that is comfortable and inviting. We intend to incorporate the heritage of this iconic location into the overall dining experience. We are creating this restaurant for the people of Tyler. We want them to come here for celebrations of the important moments in their lives, as well as for casual dining and a quick lunch,” Barnhart says. “I am excited about the opportunity to assist in creating jobs and thrilled with our team that we have in place here at Prime 102. I look forward to the continued revitalization of downtown Tyler and the opportunity to give back to this community which I am proud to be a part.”