To the naked eye, The Backyard Grill in Houston is a casual, family-friendly restaurant that is loved by locals for its burgers, fried food and massive dining space. However, its commitment to giving back and making a change is what makes the eatery a longstanding community fixture.
After a round of golf one day in 2001, Mark McShaffry and his college buddy were rejected after casually asking a local restaurant owner if he would be willing to sell. The next day, the owner had a change of heart and called to tell McShaffry he was ready to sell—two weeks later, McShaffry signed a lease and The Backyard Grill was born.
Having opened to the public just seven weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, The Backyard Grill did not have the easiest beginnings. McShaffry remembers long days of studying the restaurant industry to boost business and running the Caddyshack restaurant on Walden’s golf course to help supplement income.
“It was when we started getting active in the community that things really turned around for us,” he said. “We started really contributing to the school district, churches and nonprofits, which gave me and my staff a bigger and bolder mission.”
Though its charitable efforts began much earlier, McShaffry said Hurricane Ike in 2008 put The Backyard Grill on the map.
“We would show up with all my staff everyday and cook in the parking lot for everyone,” McShaffry said. “We were feeding the Jersey Village emergency services everyday. There was one point we had 100 people in the parking lot. Looking back on it, that was probably the biggest thing we did as a community business.”
Years later when Hurricane Harvey flooded the city, staff at The Backyard Grill were seasoned and ready. Food was ordered ahead of time, generators were brought in for power loss, and a donation of $12,000 started a Backyard Cares fund that allowed the restaurant to feed thousands of people.
“Out of that $12,000, we fed 7,000 people. Everyday, we would wake up and make breakfast and lunch for 1,000 people. Then, we would get on the phone and start finding homes to take it to,” McShaffry said.
The Backyard Grill’s largest and most profitable philanthropic event is its BYG Bash: an annual golf tournament and beer extravaganza benefitting Cy-Hope and the Cy-Fair Educational Foundation. This year’s 20th anniversary event raised $32,000 for the two nonprofit organizations. “We started asking breweries to come help, and they all started signing up,” McShaffry said. “Next thing I know, it was a brewery on every hole ... It’s been sold out for so many years, I can’t even really remember.”
While The Backyard Grill reaches outside its doors to impact the lives of others, McShaffry said the community feel is alive within the restaurant as well. Seating around 300 people and with multiple rooms, bars and a beer garden, the space and diverse menu bring people together from across the area.
“I would have to say the best category is our burgers. We have like 18 different burgers on our menu,” McShaffry said. “The flavors and the combinations are just so different and unique. Oddly enough, but also super popular here is all of the fried food: chicken tenders, chicken fried steak, all that stuff.”
In the next month, McShaffry said the half-page drink menu will expand to three pages with around 40 new cocktails, mimosas and margaritas. Plus, the restaurant recently improved its whiskey lineup by adding 20 new spirits. “We’re always looking for something new, something creative,” McShaffry said. “Whether it’s a daily special, a new item, a different look, a new feature, you name it.”
Another way The Backyard Grill commits to bringing neighborhoods together is by hosting weekly events. Fridays are for live entertainment—normally a lone performer and their guitar—and kids eat for free every Wednesday night, which includes a character appearance or craft table once a month.
Customers who sign up for the eatery’s newsletter will receive sign-up offerings for other specialized events, such as wine, whiskey and tequila tasting dinners. With around 50 spots available for these occasions, tickets sell out quickly.
This June, The Backyard Grill will celebrate 21 years of operation and giving back to those in need. McShaffry said he wants customers both new and old to know that The Backyard Grill has evolved and improved over the years, but maintains the same commitment to people and quality service.
“If you haven't been to The Backyard Grill lately, come back and see all the changes. For those of you who have been here lately, come more often and bring friends,” McShaffry said. “Everybody that walks through that door gives us another opportunity to go help someone else in this community.”
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