Hunky’s celebrates 30 years of business in two booming locations
Cedar Springs was a rough street when brothers Rick and David Barton opened Hunky’s Hamburgers 30 years ago. But on a recent Friday afternoon, Rick credited David, who has since died, with being the one to see what was then emerging as a gay neighborhood.
“He had the instinct that it would be a gay neighborhood. And a gay neighborhood needed a burger place,” Rick said.
He not only gives his brother credit for the location but for the name as well. “I hated it at first,” he said with a laugh. “But I did some research and asked my gay and straight friends [and] 99 percent of them loved it,” Rick said. It was also a milder name than Hunky’s predecessor, Captain Billy Whizbang’s in Arlington.
But when David mentioned to Rick he wanted to move his restaurant to the burgeoning Oak Lawn neighborhood, the name ultimately did not matter. Rick was working in the corporate world and looking to get out: “It wasn’t my cup of tea.”
The restaurant immediately flourished with both LGBT and straight customers. “It was a place for people to come out,” Rick said, where LGBT and straight people could be comfortable around one another.
There were hardly any incidents of bias despite it being the early 1980s in Dallas, a time that Rick recalls as being particularly hostile for the LGBT community in Dallas. But the city let the neighborhood emerge on its own, he said.
Over the years, Rick and David exchanged managerial responsibilities. Rick moved to New York City, then came back. After David died, another partner joined Rick in managing the restaurant. But Rick eventually acquired full ownership and has run Hunky’s since.
As the restaurant’s business grew, Hunky’s needed more space. In 2010, it moved to a larger location in the former Crossroads Market, across Cedar Springs Road from JR.’s Bar and Grill, and across Throckmorton Street from Hunky’s first location.
In 2006 Barton noticed a trend: The restaurant’s longtime patrons were growing older and moving to Oak Cliff.
“It reminded me of Cedar Springs in the ’80s, but more polished,” Rick said. The area’s historical conservation designation helped it keep its funky charm. It helped it was also re-emerging as a neighborhood.
After Rick spent about four years looking for other locations, including in Oak Cliff, “everything fell into place,” he said. A second location that had just been a fleeting idea opened within the year.
David’s instincts must have rubbed off on Rick, because as soon the restaurant opened, other LGBT businesses followed. The numerous patrons who once frequented the original location are now regulars in Oak Cliff.
Despite the two new spaces, Rick admits little else has changed since Hunky’s first opened. The menu is the same, as is the character.
Turnover is low; some employees have been with him for two decades now. And the loyal clientele has also stayed the same. And after 30 years, Rick said he’s seen long-time regulars’ children grow up. “You saw them when they were kids and now they’re freshmen in college.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 19, 2014.