Mariel and Marco Street, the brother-sister duo behind Dallas-based concepts Liberty Burger and Street’s Fine Chicken, have restaurants in their DNA. Their father, Gene Street, is a renowned restaurateur who opened the Black-Eyed Pea concept in 1975 and grew it to a successful chain before selling it in the 1980s. He later formed Consolidated Restaurant Companies, through which he at one point acquired Spaghetti Warehouse and El Chico.

But even with their father’s success, the restaurant industry was not the siblings’ first choice for a career; Mariel went into the Peace Corps, and Marco became a musician. Eventually, though, the industry sucked them back in. Mariel returned to Dallas with the idea to open a food truck, and her older brother, Gene Street Jr.—who had followed his father’s footsteps into restaurants—convinced her to open a storefront instead. They opened the first Liberty Burger in 2011 and have since grown it to six locations. Then, after more family got involved, including Marco, they opened Street’s Fine Chicken in the original Black-Eyed Pea location in 2016. That concept now has two units.

In a recent episode of QSR’s podcast “Fast Forward,” Mariel and Marco discussed their foray into restaurants and how they’re building their own Dallas empire four decades after their father did the same.

Finding an identity

Before the first Liberty Burger opened in 2011, Mariel went back and forth between burgers and tacos as the focus for the concept. She says she decided on burgers because even when there’s a crowded market, there’s still plenty of room.

“At that time, we wanted to do a better burger in terms of the quality of the product that we provided, but also a low price point. Then we wanted to be the neighborhood burger joint. We weren’t looking for the hottest corner in Dallas to pop up,” she says. “We’re looking at the communities that had strong, grassroots relationships, families, kids.”

She adds that they picked neighborhoods that had the same values as the company, and that they didn’t force real estate decisions based on what was available. “We actually looked for the communities that we liked and then focused on where we could find it,” Mariel says.

Knowing your strengths

Before Marco joined his siblings, he was focused on his music career and getting married to his now-wife. He would occasionally work in the Liberty Burger kitchen, and enjoyed it so much he decided to immerse himself in the business, particularly on the innovation and creative side of things.

“What I have loved about music and performance arts is going through the creative process, and seeing my siblings going through that was so inspiring, I ended up just getting sucked into that,” he says. “I wanted to have that kind of outlet and share that experience and do something together.”

Mariel says the team didn’t have what Marco brought the table, which is a deeper creative understanding of business. She says she’s much more analytical.

“He really brought a piece to the company that previously we’d been outsourcing. When you outsource that, [outside vendors are] not as intimate with the brand as the creators of it are,” she says.

Marco later became the driving force behind Street’s Fine Chicken, which offers elevated Southern cuisine centering around chicken. Both it and Liberty Burger feature one location with full service and the rest are fast casual.

Evaluating your market

The Dallas food scene has changed significantly in the last decade, and Marco says the city is often characterized by big and shiny chains. There were fewer concepts serving smaller neighborhoods and their individual identities.

Mariel says that’s led to more local residents hunting down lesser known restaurant concepts to which they can become loyal.

“I think right now Dallas is going through a phase where we’re all trying to find the secret spot … and feeling, ‘Oh, well, that’s my little hidden gem in my neighborhood,’” she says. “So our first location is kind of in a really sleepy shopping center. … When people started walking in, we were like this little hidden neighborhood burger place that everybody hadn’t found out about.”

So far, Street’s Fine Chicken’s real estate approach has been a little different. Marco says they look for storefronts in vibrant, diverse communities because they offer the environment and experience that Street’s has come to embody as a brand. “We look for more of the up-and-coming neighborhoods that have traditionally supported diverse social issues or artists,” he says.

Picking the right franchisees

Liberty Burger launched a franchise program to help with growth, and now has two franchised locations: one each in Allen, Texas, and Jackson, Wyoming.

The team believed franchising was the easiest way to grow quickly. They figured other owner-operators would be best to build the company and would allow the founding team to keep more on the development side of things instead of operations.

Key to that process, though, was finding like-minded franchisees.

“Picking franchisees that could be as invested in the brand as we were was really kind of the first criteria,” Mariel says. “Did they understand what made Liberty Burger successful? It wasn’t just the great burger. It was the communities that we put ourselves in and how we associated with those communities, how we communicated to those communities, and how we engaged with them.”

For more on the Streets’ family legacy and their efforts to build their own restaurant company, listen to the latest episode of “Fast Forward” by streaming above. Access the full “Fast Forward” archive here.

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Story