I’m convinced the charm of McKinney’s downtown square is not at the surface of the historic buildings and quaint shops. Rather, the true charm rests in the hearts of the people that make up our community. Jeff Qualls, Chef/Owner of Rye Craft Food and Drink, is one of those special people with heart.
I walked up to Rye on a hot summer afternoon, rain threatening. The restaurant is closed on Mondays so Jeff unlocked the door and welcomed me inside as you’d welcome an old friend into your home. The atmosphere was warm and relaxed, just as I recalled each previous dining experience had been. I quickly recognized Jeff’s gift of hospitality woven throughout every aspect of Rye.
One of the things that first drew my eye was the cozy banquette that runs the length of the restaurant. Jeff explained he had the idea for the banquette and used salvage wood they pulled nails out of and stained to create the rustic, comfortable look that has become a main design feature of the restaurant. It was a labor of love from the beginning; the tables were made, the bar constructed, the plaster removed to reveal the old brick, all done with the help of family and friends. Jeff added, “From the day I got the keys to the day we opened was 5 weeks and 1 day. We did everything ourselves.”
I especially love the hole in the plaster on one wall, revealing old brick just under the portrait of James Throckmorton. Jeff explained while starting to demolish the plaster along that wall, they quickly realized the brick was crumbling and not in the condition of the banquette wall. They immediately halted the teardown efforts. With amazing vision, instead of patching the wall, Jeff left the hole giving such character and charm – along with a conversation piece – to the restaurant.
So what about that picture of James Throckmorton hanging on the wall as you enter Rye?
For history buffs, Rye happens to be the former site of the Law Office of James W Throckmorton, Texas Governor, 1866-67. He was an integral part of McKinney history, and you’ll also find a statue of Throckmorton in front of the old courthouse. Jeff referred to himself as a history buff and researching the origins of the building played a role in the creation of Rye. He knew it had to fit in downtown McKinney. In a building over 120 years old, he described, “Nothing had to be perfect or brand new.”
If you haven’t yet dined at Rye, add it to the top of your McKinney bucket list! The food and drinks are fresh and full of flavor. The menu is seasonal and Jeff works with approximately 12-15 farmers on a weekly basis. “We always try to prioritize local. We’re not 100% there, but we’re probably 60-70%,” he noted. Jeff excitedly shared, “A lot of it happens organically, it’s cool because we’ve met so many people from them just stopping by and saying ‘hey I grow this are you interested in using it?’” Having a menu that changes seasonally keeps things interesting, not just for patrons, but Jeff gave insight that it keeps the kitchen and servers focused when you change things up and learn something new.
While you’re dining, don’t miss out on the drink specials. I promise whatever bartender and mixology genius, Manny has created will be fresh and delightful. It’s often a collaborative effort using the same seasonal ingredients used in the menu items in the creation of bitters and syrups for the drink specials. Manny does a lot from scratch and I promise your taste buds will tell the difference!
Jeff’s gift of hospitality is evident in the way he has embraced being small enough to really get to know people and create that vibe of “family”. “Our servers make those connections and it’s part of the atmosphere we are trying to create.” Part of Jeff’s philosophy is empowering people, from treating your staff in a supportive way, to creating those connections with clients.
“We get people that come in 3-4 times a week because they feel comfortable and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Jeff Qualls, Chef/Owner
You’ll also find Jeff extend his heart and soul in collaborating with other McKinney business owners. Whether it’s a special event or fundraiser, he expressed that whatever we can do that is good for McKinney is good for all of us.
Photo credit: Ryan Palczynski