Your appetite and your heart will be well fed at Federal American Grill

By: Sean K. Thompson
| Published 07/22/2022


THE WOODLANDS, TX – “We’re not a stereotypical ‘fancy’ steakhouse. We’re not ‘corporate.’ We don’t want to be stuffy. We are a dining establishment that tells you, ‘Come as you are.’”

Power lunches by day, family-friendly dining by night, this newly opened restaurant has it all

These are the words of Dave Gomez, managing partner of Federal American Grill, which recently opened its fourth and most recent restaurant just across the freeway from The Woodlands Mall.

Having established a firm presence in 2016 with its original location in Houston on Shepherd – recently the object of a massive renovation and grand reopening – followed shortly by additional buildings in Hedwig Village and out in Katy, owner Matt Bryce set his sights on The Woodlands area for a new iteration of the dinery.

Woodlands Online recently sat down with Dave Gomez, managing partner of Federal American Grill, and Jesus Cano, the restaurant’s kitchen manager, to discuss the past, present, and future of this restaurant that has something for everyone.

“The Grill started off with some humble beginnings back in the day,” said Gomez. “Matt was the executive chef at the original Shepherd location at the time, and his wife was the office manager. It grew from one handshake at a time.”

Back in the Grill’s early days, Gomez had been a budding restaurateur looking to open his own place. “I’d been in the industry for practically my entire life, and I had some money to purchase a place. I went to Matt – I must’ve been about 29 years old at the time – and told him I wanted to buy his restaurant. I’ll never forget his response: ‘Either you’ll fail, or I’d feel bad for essentially stealing your money.’ Naturally, that galvanized me to open my own restaurant nonetheless. And, equally naturally, I ended up failing as predicted.”

Life lessons learned, Gomez picked himself up and sought new employment opportunities. On Craig’s List, he came across an ad that Bryce had placed for the Shepherd Federal American Grill location. “Matt and I reconnected. He said, ‘If I make money, you’ll make money.’ It was a blind leap of faith for both of us, and he always kept his word.”

Later, after their business relationship had long since been solidified, Gomez learned that Bryce had made many sacrifices in those early days, including covering payroll from his own pocket. “Matt could’ve taken my original offer and used that money, but he didn’t. That’s the kind of standup man he is.”

Fortunately, patronage and finances grew. The Shepherd location featured a bar whose sales helped the kitchen. Outside, the restaurant didn’t adequately convey the upscale interior, and many patrons who wandered in on a whim were left floored, and word quickly spread.

“Not only is the Grill’s concept – where our kitchen is ‘96 percent from scratch’ – a big draw, but equally so is the dedication and work ethic that Matt Bryce conveys to his crews. “Matt works amazingly and increasingly all hours, and is a hands-on expert in every aspect,” said Gomez. “He stays true to what he loves.”

Inspired by the increased audience at the Shepherd, it was decided to have lightning strike twice by opening a second Federal American Grill in Hedwig Village in the upscale Memorial area of west Houston.

“Unfortunately, we tried opening right as COVID was hitting hard, and ran into some political issues when certain members of the local government tried shutting us down. It became a news story, and the day after the news broadcast we received calls from all over the country,” said Gomez. “It was our best day to date, and the donations we received we turned around and gave to local gyms.”

Eventually, the issues getting diners to the Hedwig Village went away, and the resulting success inspired Bryce and his crew to open a third location, this time in Katy. Unfortunately, in the ‘same song, second verse’ motif, the preparations to open were severely negatively impacted by forces of nature; this time by the freeze that burst too many water pipes that many area residents experienced. According to Gomez, however, the Katy location, under the leadership of its general manager Frank Harbin, overcame logistics and even post-COVID staffing issues to bring the third Federal American Grill to success. “Frank is an awesome guy; he is Federal American Grill,” said Gomez.

Lesser people would have stopped there, but the allure of opening a fourth location in The Woodlands was too great for Bryce, Gomez, and the rest to ignore. “Actually, in the very early days, Matt, my wife, and I looked at The Woodlands for our first additional location, but we weren’t quite at the position to meet the rent demands. That was then; but this is now, and we’re loving our success here in The Woodlands area.” When this latest rendition of the Grill opened, Gomez came up to fix some last-minute logistics for the grand opening that took place in February, and he still happily hanging around.

“Each branch captures the flavor of its resident neighborhood, so already the Grill has a reputation for refusing to be pigeonholed,” said Gomez. “We’re four different places at once; a high end whiskey bar, a ‘from-scratch,’ chef-driven kitchen, an everyday bar, and a popular dining spot for businesses and families alike.”

Jesus Cano, the kitchen manager of The Woodlands Federal American Grill, is ecstatic to be bringing his flair to the area. “I came here in November from Las Vegas and haven’t looked back since,” he said. “I realized, when I first interviewed here, that there had been three openings in as many years, indicating a whole lot of growth that I wanted to be a part of. It gave me a good feeling.”

Jose enjoys the curious combination of preparing a set menu and still able to wield creative freedom. “Our cooking evolves,” he said. “I love making Matt’s recipes. As we grow, we have to make sure that each new location – whether it be inside or outside Texas – has that same consistency.” There are plans afoot to establish new Federal American Grills in Arizona, and letters of intent have been filed for new locations in downtown Houston and Plano.

Cano also credits the Grill’s culinary director, Eric Aldis: “He cleaned up the recipe steps for us and even put them on iPads for easy access and consultation.”

When asked about what sets apart the Grill from other places, Cano has no hesitation. “Our consistency and dedication to freshness,” he said. “We refuse to use freezers except for temperature control of our biscuits, fish, and desserts. The human element of from-scratch kitchens is a big draw. And everyone loves Matt; he’s everywhere.”

Dave Gomez chimed in with his own thoughts on the question. “We have three strengths here,” he said. “First off, our hospitality has no equal; our philosophy is, ‘The answer is yes, now what’s the question?’ We never forget the guests and we treat them like they’re guests in our home. Second, our from-scratch kitchen ensures we’ll never cheat on the food; our quality and quality control are kept to the highest standards. And third, believe it or now, it’s our whiskey bar-slash-old fashioned bar. We keep more than 400 whiskeys in stock. These are the things that make us, ‘us.’”

Beyond the high quality and attention to customer service, the Federal American Grill also boasts an atmosphere of fun; while there may be a ‘power-lunch’ feel during the weekdays, the restaurant has a can’t-be-denied family vibe in the evenings. Both Gomez and Cano encourage prospective diners to come in and sample some of their favorite dishes. “For me, our cheeseburger eggrolls made with Wagyu beef and our short ribs that undergo a sixteen-hour cooking process can’t be missed,” said Gomez. Cano added, “For me, it’s the scallops, and then probably a bit of everything else on the menu.”

For the months of July and August, Federal American Grill is also hosting a special ‘Camp Hope Menu’ where proceeds from certain food purchases go to the outreach program of the PTSD Foundation.

Federal American Grill is open seven days a week, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 - 11 on Friday and Saturday, and 10 - 9 on Sunday.

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