ANNOUNCING THE WOMAN OF THE MONTH
Fort Worth women are making headlines daily as business owners, entrepreneurs, top management officers, and political leaders. So, here at Fort Worth Woman, we are selecting one of our city’s shining stars each month. These are the movers and shakers you need to know, and we are proud to honor their accomplishments as our WOMEN OF THE MONTH.
Culinary Director of Roy Pope Grocery
Meet October’s Fort Worth Woman, Bria Downey! Given that Texas Monthly, CultureMap, Fort Worth Magazine, and the James Beard Foundation have already highlighted the excellence of this woman, she is still deserving of more. Bria spent her childhood traveling around the world with her family, allowing her to experience not only different cultures, but their corresponding cuisines. Then, by the age of 15, she began cooking for herself, experimenting with flavors and techniques that she had seen around the world.
After choosing Fort Worth to be her home, Bria settled in to her first Cowtown sous-chef position at Piattello. Here she helped the team become one of Texas Monthly’s 2017 Best New Restaurants in Texas. This rising star quickly became the Executive Chef at Clay Pigeon, where she led that team to win CultureMap’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year. By the age of 28 she then became the first woman to ever win Fort Worth Magazine’s Top Chef. Her talent has quickly earned accolades that speak for themselves and her passion for her occupation is felt by those around her. “My biggest goal in this industry is to impact peoples’ lives. While at Clay Pigeon my favorite thing used to be reading the reservations. ‘It’s our 30th wedding anniversary’, ‘my father-in-law is retiring today’, ‘I’m telling my husband we are pregnant’, ‘it’s date night, can we sit in a quiet corner’… it used to fill me with so much joy to know that people would come in to celebrate these special moments specifically with us. That is the most flattering thing. They could go anywhere in the city but they wanted to dine with us on this day” she states.
Right before COVID-19 shut down our country, Bria experienced her biggest honor to date as she was nominated for the James Beard Rising Star Chef 2020 Award. For those of you who don’t know, this is no small feat. The James Beard Award recognizes top restaurants and chefs throughout the country and is considered one of the most prestigious accolades in the industry. Bria now has this nomination on her docket, amongst her many other recognitions, while also remaining humble. “It’s a necessity to have the heart of a servant, otherwise this industry will chew you up and spit you out. I do this because I love to serve – it’s definitely not for fame or fortune.” Her talent, her heart, and her food create experiences that are unmatched.
Sadly, right as this incredible nomination lifted her to the highest point of her career thus far, COVID-19 brought her down to one of the lowest in what felt like the blink of an eye. “I never would have imagined this kind of rollercoaster. Luckily during the lockdown I had chef friends who were there to support me and help guide me in the right direction. Chef Kevin Martinez was there to lend me the Yatai Food Kart where I got to serve my community one soup at a time. Chef Sarah and Chef Matt at Hot Box Biscuit Club let me hop in their kitchen and whip up Pozole and French Onion Soup for their curbside to-go. Chef Stefon Rishel from Wishbone and Flynt (and multiple other spots coming soon) has always been a great support system to bounce ideas off of and was the first person to call and congratulate me on my nomination. I’m also grateful for the ENTIRE crew at The Bearded Lady for putting up with my birthday shenanigans; they let me host a free pig roast for the SI community with music by Lyndsy X The Venvet Collectiv.”
“Even before COVID-19 I had the thoughts of doing something drastic, I was and still am contemplating the idea of a farm. However, I kind of let life take me where I need to be, which brought me to Roy Pope Grocery” – an old-time neighbored supermarket, meat market, and burger grill. After serving our community since World War II, Roy Pope closed its’ doors amidst the pandemic but thanks to the vision of new owners, Lou Lambert and Chris Reale, Bria is seizing the opportunity to continue her mark on Fort Worth, while knowing that the battle is currently uphill. “The realistic truth is that the dining scene is going to be greatly affected for many years. Unfortunately, I feel like we are potentially years away from where we were before. So, we as an industry must adapt.”
And adapt she will. Under the leadership and spearheading of Lou and Chris, Bria is using the habits we have all created during this pandemic to turn Roy Pope Grocery in to an experience worth remembering. “During the lockdown, grocery stores were still open and people were making stuff at home. Everyone was making dinner. People were posting pictures of their sourdough (the good, the bad, the ugly). People were trying new recipes, failing, and trying again. Watching this process on social media of people understanding the practice and patience it takes to make food inspired me.” This inspiration has changed the way Roy Pope Grocery will interact with its’ patrons as “they see that Fort Worth needs a place like this – a place where the butcher knows your favorite cut, our sommelier Mikey knows which rosé you bought last time, and the groceries are walked out to your car,” states Bria. As you enter the store, you can shop and speak with Bria herself as she is preparing the food. You’ll have unlimited access to ask her questions, watch her work, and experience her talent all while being able to pick ingredients used in her creations. “The opportunity I have been given at Roy Pope Grocery is going to get me closer to the heart of our community. It’s not often that you get to even speak to the ‘White Coat’ in the kitchen of your favorite restaurant but now you have access – my favorite recipes, my favorite ingredients. Maybe I make a spicy Italian sausage you enjoy and on Aisle 3 you can find the chili peppers I used. I can even suggest different things you can make with them. I’m officially out of the restaurant and in your pantry.”
Bria is unquestionably a ‘people person’ and this is also her favorite part of Fort Worth. “Hands down the people who live in this city are what make it so great. They are not the reason I came originally to Fort Worth, but they are the reason I stay. I fell in love with our community.” Given that she is our culinary treasure, I’m not sure we’ll ever let her go if she tried.
When describing her short but yet powerful impact as a businesswoman on our community, Bria mentioned perseverance. She knows the reality of her occupation and stands tall in it. “The food industry (especially this year) is not an easy career. It’s hot, it’s late nights, weekends, holidays, horrible pay, long hours, broken/old/used equipment. You’re extremely lucky if you work for someone who even offers health insurance. But for some reason we do it. We keep showing up to that brunch shift after closing the night before, we make the same menu staples not because we like them but because the community we serve loves them. It’s about serving a community even when the ‘thank you’s are few and far between.”
Bria, your talent, grit, vision, and perseverance is incredibly inspiring. You are Cowtown’s own treasure and while surrounded by the other culinary talents in this city, we know you will lead our Fort Worth to become a true foodie destination!
To keep on top of the Roy Pope Grocery progress, follow their social media accounts (Instagram: @roypopegroceryfw and Facebook : /roypopegrocery). As they are currently under construction (including their new website), you can reach Bria directory on Instagram @bakebriabake with questions or inquiries.
Michelle has a passion for connecting, encouraging and informing about the good happening in our city. The good people, events, food, stores, entrepreneurs, and good deeds are her focus. She has created a niche for herself by using social media as a native marketing tool that has created meaningful exposure for local businesses in Fort Worth to a wide but very particular local audience.