Brothers Aim to Spice Up a Venerable Cowboy


(Saturday, April 5, 2008 2:19 PM EDT)

For some families, going into business together can be a risky, potentially disastrous venture.

Brothers Zac and Matt Culbertson have proven it can be done.

Last November, the brothers took over the Cowboy Café in Arlington, and, so far, being business partners has panned out well.

“We've always been tight,” Zac said. “We were like a team in our family. I know I can rely and trust my brother.”

“We're watching each other's back,” Matt said.

Zac, 32, and Matt, 33, have paralleled each other as they've grown up (both started in the restaurant industry as dishwashers at the Springfield Country Club, both joined the Marine Corps and both are recent first-time fathers). Operating a restaurant was a goal they both shared.

“We always dreamed of owning our own restaurant,” said Zac, who has worked in the business a long time, including seven years at Cowboy Café.

“We've been in restaurants since we were 14,” Matt said. “We know all aspects of the business.”

When the previous owner approached Zac about taking over the establishment, the brothers leapt at the opportunity.

Although, at its core, Cowboy Café is the same as it's been since it opened in 1991, Zac and Matt have made several improvements that they hope new and old customers will like.

“We shined it up a little, gave it some love, and gave it our own cowboy touch,” Zac said.

Refurbishments like new paint, a new roof and a varnished bar are subtle changes to the Cowboy, but one significant difference is in the menu offerings.

“We've always had bar food, but now we have high-quality restaurant food, too,” Zac said. “We'll always have the staples of burgers, fries and wings, but we've added something more for the diners.”

The shrimp and grits are a favorite for both brothers, as are the center-cut sirloin and pulled barbecue pork.

The drink menu also will be expanding. Matt, who has years of experience as a bartender, has some creative tricks up his sleeve and has concocted some original drinks that will be unveiled soon.

(One to look out for is a Hendrick's gin with bitters and ruby red grapefruit juice.)

Although Zac and Matt do not currently live in Arlington, they love the friendliness and closeness of the people in the area, and are looking to move to the county.

“It's a really tight-knit community. Everyone knows each other,” Zac said. “Families with all generations come in. That's not something we grew up with.”

And even though being new business owners hasn't always been easy, the brothers are pleased with the way things are going at the Cowboy, and are looking to open more restaurants in Arlington in the future.

“It's been exhausting, but exhilarating,” Zac said. “We both just had kids, and this is like having another big baby. It needs care and attention, but we're very proud of it.”

Brothers Zac and Matt Culbertson are the proprietors of the Cowboy Cafe.

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