It seems there was a little problem a few months ago at Buttons, so chef Keith Hicks brought in the Food Network’s Mystery Diners team to investigate.
A behind-the-scenes drama involving manager and staff was taking place at Hicks’ Addison restaurant, not at the original Fort Worth location that has established a reputation for great food and live music.
“This cat [the manager] is ex-military and he was still wanting to run things that way,” Hicks says. “I understand. I was once in the military, too [a sergeant in the Army], so I get it.
“But Buttons is a house of love. He doesn’t need to operate like he’s still over there.”
Word was that the staff felt so beaten down by the super-strict manager that they were on the verge of mutiny. This was a job for Mystery Diners host Charles Stiles.
The episode, titled “Armed Services,” airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Food Network.
Here’s the premise of the reality show, now in its third season: When an owner becomes concerned about goings-on in his restaurant, he can call in the show’s team of undercover operatives, who use hidden cameras to find out what’s happening while the cat’s away.
Sometimes the team catches employees stealing, lying, mistreating customers or just doing inadequate work. In this instance, Hicks says, the manager merely needed an attitude adjustment.
Without giving too much away about what happens in the show, “there’s a happy ending,” Hicks promises, “because anybody who knows anything about Buttons knows that this is a happy place.”
Hicks — who named his restaurant Buttons in 2008 when it opened in Fort Worth (at 4701 West Freeway) because that’s his childhood nickname — is quite enthusiastic about being on Mystery Diners.
He considers it to be “practically a half-hour commercial.”
Aside from the human conflict, Buttons likely will come out smelling like a rose. The restaurant’s reputation for quality Southern comfort food and a customer-friendly ambiance will remain intact.
After all, this isn’t like having your place in the spotlight on a show such as Kitchen Nightmares or Restaurant: Impossible, in which an eatery is on the brink of failure and in need of an immediate makeover.
Buttons has been showcased on Food Network before. Hicks says that network executives had been hoping to do something new for quite some time, but it was a matter of finding the right show.
There had been talk of being on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. “But we’re none of those things,” Hicks points out. “So that show just wouldn’t work. This one is a better fit.”
Hicks, who acquired his passion for food from his grandmothers, began his award-winning culinary career in 1994 as a self-taught cook in a Fort Dix, N.J., mess hall.
He moved to Texas in 2000 and quickly built a reputation and an enthusiastic fan base while cooking at places such as Gunsmoke Grill, Mercury Chophouse and Ovation.
“I’ve worked a lot of places, but it’s so rewarding to be an owner,” he says. “People thought we were crazy when we wanted to open our own place at a time when the economy was bad and others were going out of business. But we’ve done all right.”
Buttons has done better than all right. Hicks believes it’s because of the atmosphere he has created.
“Where I grew up, in West Virginia, the family would enjoy a great meal and then listen to great music, anything from Motown to Hank Williams,” he says. “That’s the experience I want to give people.
“So when you walk through our door, you get a great meal, you hear great music and you get treated like you’re a member of our family.
“People don’t have to come to us, you know. They can stay at home and make themselves something to eat. So we have to give them something special when they come to us.”