Denton County magazine March-April 2020

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Volume 3, Issue 2


41 Photo courtesy of Jack Fleetwood

Made in Denton County

You might be surprised by what is created right here at home.


The Wingman

Tommy Meyer has walked — and flown — in his father's footsteps.

Flying high in Big Toot

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30 12

DE PA RTME NT S 24 Community Spotlight: Ponder

Why it's worth getting off the highway for this rustic rural town

30 Dining: World Famous MOMS

Made-from-scratch comfort food and a welcoming atmosphere

36 Shopping: Wilkinson's Fine Goods The perfect balance of artisanal leather goods and specialty products



What defines our county today

11 Turning Back Time

A new way to identify the oldest fossils


12 The Texas Storytelling Festival The power of storytelling explained

16 Nonprofit Spotlight: Serve Denton Our county's largest nonprofit center

20 Thin Line Fest

Behind the scenes at this five-day festival

IN E V E RY ISSUE 8 About This Issue 22 Time Machine 70 See & Do On the cover: A custom-designed championship ring for the makers who help make Denton County such a winner. Original artwork courtesy of Jostens.


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Top left photo by Abigail Boatwright; middle photo courtesy of Clint Wilkinson; bottom photo by Ellen Ritscher Sackett; top right photo courtesy of Tejas Storytelling Association



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Denton County Has It Made


here are many types of makers in the world — those who make music and art, those who make a difference in their communities, those who make our lives easier with innovative apps and technology, those who make decisions that improve our towns and cities — and we’ve covered them all. But in this issue, we wanted to focus on the people and businesses that are making things right here in Denton County — tangible goods such as biplanes, knives, furniture, clothing, playground equipment, lightning protection systems, vodka, jewelry, eco-friendly cleaning supplies and even technology that helps with missions to Mars. How are these things created? You’ll find out starting on page 41. It’s an ideal read for anyone who has ever enjoyed a leisurely afternoon binge watching How It’s Made on the Discovery Channel. And who makes them? Your neighbors right here in Denton County! This issue introduces you to small family makers, successful entrepreneurs and some of the county’s largest employers, companies such as Peterbilt and Tetra Pak. Our area’s bustling economy and support for inventors and entrepreneurs make Denton County the perfect place to launch big ideas. That’s why so many people have done just that, and we’re thrilled to get to know them better. Also in this issue, we chat to the people who help make Thin Line Fest and the Texas Storytelling Festival, the woman who’s helping to make Aubrey a destination for lovers of comfort food and the man who makes artisanal leather goods at Wilkinson’s Fine Goods. We pay a visit to Ponder to find out what makes the rural town special, find out how Serve Denton helps nonprofits thrive and keep you up to date on the best events and most interesting news in your neighborhood. Thanks for taking the time to read this issue. If you haven’t already, please visit to get this magazine delivered to your home six times a year for just $25. As always, we welcome story ideas, photo submissions and feedback of all kinds. Email editor@dentoncountymagazine. com to share your ideas.


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PUBLISHER Bill Patterson

EDITOR Kimberly Turner

M AG A Z I N E CO N S U LTA N T Rich Alfano


S A L E S M A N AG E R Shawn Reneau ACCO U N T EXECUTIVES Becci Hendrix Joanne Horst Danielle Thompson Shelly Vannatta MAILING ADDRESS 3555 Duchess Drive Denton, Texas 76205 EDITORIAL 940-566-6879 A DV E R T I S I N G INQUIRIES 940-566-6843

DESIGN DI RECTOR Ben Carpenter DESIGNER Phil Lor CO N T R I B U T I N G W R I T E R S Kristy Alpert, Abigail Boatwright, Samantha Colaianni, Jessica DeLeón, Mary Dunklin, Nicole Foster, Annette Nevins, Paula Felps, Nicole Foster, Rachel Hedstrom, Ellen Ritscher Sackett, Donna Stokes, Leslie J. Thompson, Kimberly Turner CO N T R I B U T I N G PHOTOGRAPH ER Abigail Boatwright C R E AT I V E PA R T N E R madison/miles media

SUBSCRIPTIONS Subscribe to Denton County magazine for $25/year. Subscribe online at or mail a check or visit us at 3555 Duchess Drive, Denton, Texas 76205. For subscription questions, call 940-387-3811. S T O RY I D E A S LETTERS TO TH E EDITOR Write to Please include your full name, city and phone number. Denton County magazine reserves the right to edit for length and clarity. L I K E U S FAC E B O O K FIND US ONLINE

© Copyright 2020: Denton County magazine is published by Denton Media Company, publishers of the Denton Record-Chronicle. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part of any text, photograph or illustration without written permission from the publisher is strictly prohibited. Editorial content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the publisher.

VISIT TEXAS WOMAN’S UNIVERSITY Beyond the classrooms and degree programs, you can explore historical collections, experience art and community events, and stroll through the gardens at the nation’s largest public university primarily for women.



Texas Women’s Hall of Fame

East and West Galleries

Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) Collection

Margo Jones Performance Hall

Redbud Theater Complex

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Dance Studio Theater

Historical Little Chapel-in-the-Woods

Blagg-Huey Library – Women’s, Children’s and Cookbook collections

For more information, visit GARDENS •

Botanical Gardens

Dr. Bettye Myers Butterfly Garden

Redbud Lane

What defines our county today

INSIDE: u Curating music, films and photos for Thin Line Fest u Serving hope at the county’s largest nonprofit center u Telling stories at the Texas Storytelling Festival



Turning Back Time A Denton professor is part of a discovery that extends the study of human history by 1.3 million years. BY PAULA FELPS

F Photo courtesy of TKTKTKTKTKTK

or y e a r s, sci e n t is ts have extracted DNA from fossils to determine the sex and species of animals and the age of the fossils. The challenge they’ve faced is that their methods only allowed them to step back in time about 500,000 years. That changed recently when an international team of scientists including Reid Ferring, a professor in the University of North Texas Department of Geography and the Environment, developed a new method for identifying fossils. Extending the Timeline Using a relatively new area of study called palaeoproteomics, which studies ancient proteins such as the collagen found in skin, bone, teeth and tendons, the scientists were able to extend the timeline of their research by about 1.3 million years. Their findings were published last September in the journal Nature.

Reid Ferring of UNT’s Department of Geography and the Environment

“This allows us to look at human history from 1.8 million years ago,” explains Ferring. The scientists made their discovery using collagen from a rhino tooth found at the Dmanisi archeological site in South Caucasus, Georgia, where Ferring has worked every summer for the past 27 years. “This represents a huge extension of time for us to look at history,” Ferring says. “We can see human history possibly being rewritten, as we could much more accurately identify species and construct a DNA-based structure of human evolution.” The Biggest Discovery He says the biggest discovery could be the revelation that humans were more varied in their appearance than previously believed. While working at the Dmanisi site, he has been part of a team that has uncovered five virtually complete human skulls, two of which are very different in appearance but all of which appear to have existed during the same time period.

“It throws a monkey wrench into what we’ve believed. It appears it was possible for all these people to have existed in the same place at the same time. There are a lot of analyses that have been argued about for a long time; this could solve those arguments.” The Icing on the Cake Ferring says his goal has always been “to contribute to the study of human biology and culture change to see how we got to where we are today.” Working at the Dmanisi site for so many years has been deeply rewarding for him, and being part of such a major discovery is icing on the cake. “Even before this [discovery], just being at the site and being one of the first people in 2 million years to see these beautifully preserved human fossils — it doesn’t get much better than that,” he says. “But to be 72 years old and still going and get to be part of something like this? It’s pretty incredible.”

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Storytelling comes in an array of forms


IN TEXAS Once Upon a Time


alling all spinners of tall tales, tellers of ghost stories and crafters of intrigue. It’s time once again for the Texas Storytelling Festival in Denton. The March 12–15 event marks the Tejas Storytelling Association’s 35th annual festival, and organizers have lined up 35 diverse and talented tellers for a week of creativity, drama and huge laughs. Festival Co-Artistic Director MaryAnn Blue, who’s been involved with the event since its inception, spoke to us about storytelling, tricks of the trade and tall tales…


Why is oral storytelling important in today's world? It’s even more important than ever because of the increasing influence that the digital world has on our everyday lives … Meaningful human connection is often missing. Human beings are hard-wired for listening to stories. We always think of storytelling as being for children, because that’s where it all began — children sit in their parents’ laps and they’re told stories and read to — but we never get too old for stories.

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And a well-told story can connect the storyteller with the listener in ways that can actually be measured through hormones like dopamine and oxytocin that build a bond, build trust. The listener wants to hear the story, wants to believe the story. When it’s done well, it can be very provocative, very powerful. What’s most meaningful about storytelling to you? There’s an element to storytelling that’s very spiritual. You can learn things from

Photos courtesy of Tejas Storytelling Association

Texas Storytelling Festival Co-Artistic Director MaryAnn Blue explains the power and value of storytelling in our world of tweets and texts. BY DONNA STOKES

The Tejas Storytelling Association has lined up 35 tellers festival including (left to right) MaryAnn Blue, Fran Stallings and Carolina Quiroga.

Festival artistic directors MaryAnn Blue and Toni Simmons choose storytellers based on diversity, talent and balance of content .

stories that you often can’t learn any other way. Another thing storytelling gives me is a close and very special community that is made up of people who are kind and who are seekers. They seek truth, they seek humor, they seek learning, they seek an understanding of the past, of history. When I started storytelling professionally, I did it to feed myself. You often seek the stories that you need to hear. Those are the stories you end up telling, because in some way, they feed you. Can you share a trick of the trade? The most important thing is to find a story that you love and that you really want to tell, and then try it out. Tell it to as many people in as many different situations as you can. You learn something every time

you tell a story. Tell your story a lot, and get really familiar with it. I’ve found that if a story has become an old friend, it’s much easier to share it with a group of people. As an organizer, what do you look for in the festival’s featured storytellers? Typically, the artistic directors — this year, me and Toni Simmons — choose the featured tellers and, of course, this year, it’s just going to be ridiculously wonderful having 35 of our own out there on the stage telling stories. We look for a nice variety, a balance in male and female, people of color, maybe someone really different who really adds another dimension. A year or two ago, we had Antonio Rocha, who does a lot of storytelling using mime. So, there are all

kinds of things we look for to make the event unique, and at the same time, something that speaks to everybody. Tell us about the Flaming Pants Invitational. What does it take to be an award-winning liar? The liar’s contest is very Texan; similar contests are held regularly across the state. The best tall tale is something that’s so outrageous that it’s just hysterically funny, and it’s told in such a way that the storyteller convinces you that it’s true, even though it can’t possibly be true. One of our manytime winners is Donna Ingham — she does a workshop on putting together tall tales. And she says you should always start with a kernel of truth and build from there. For more information visit

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Serve Denton, the county’s largest nonprofit center, helps organizations connect with those who need them. BY RACHEL HEDSTROM


Top: Serve Denton’s newly renovated facility Above: CEO Pat Smith and Chief Development Officer Carlie Kuban


t his father’s funeral, Pat Smith was shocked that people had come from across the U.S. — San Francisco, New York, Denver and more — to pay their respects. “He saved my life,” many said, or “Your dad fed me,” or “He gave me a job.” Smith had no idea that his dad’s restaurant on Frye Street, Jim’s Diner, regularly fed 150 men, women and children out of its back door with food, and hope, to help them make it through another day. “My dad had hardly any education or money, and what he did [have], he gave away,” Smith says. “How can I look myself in the mirror and not try to follow that example?” And he does. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, Pat Smith returned to Denton to join others who felt the call to serve the community. Now, he serves as CEO of Serve Denton, an organization that partners with nonprofits to help make their services more accessible for people in need.

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One-Stop Help Serve Denton began operations in 2012, but the concept has existed for much longer. In 1976, Denton Mayor Elinor Hughes first proposed the idea of a onestop human services center, but lack of funding prevented the idea from moving forward. In 2011, Denton Bible Church turned to a group called the Denton Assistance Center to get advice on how to use their excess property and Serve Denton was born. Today, 18 health and human services agencies operate out of Serve Denton’s newly renovated facility at 306 N. Loop 288 in Denton and a second facility, the Wheeler House, at 821 N. Elm Street serves as short-term and transitional housing for moms and their children. The largest nonprofit center in Denton County, Serve Denton enables nonprofits to put more dollars directly into the community by supporting them with significantly lower rents, shared costs and assistance with management and

Photos courtesy of Serve Denton

serving hope

marketing functions, all in a convenient, highly visible location. Nonprofit Partners “The Serve Denton center strategically places Health Services of North Texas (HSNT) in the heart of the Denton community, in an easily accessible location for Denton residents and surrounding communities such as Aubrey and Cross Roads,” explained Doreen Rue, CEO of HSNT, which provides quality, affordable medical care. She says it “allows HSNT to be closer to many of our existing patients while being accessible for the lower-income neighborhoods surrounding the Serve Denton Center.” “It is inspiring to see so many people in the same place, working towards making this community a better place,” says Michelle Conner, CEO and founder of Grace Like Rain, a Serve Denton partner that provides case management services for struggling families. “The

opportunities to collaborate and provide a full spectrum of services for individuals in need has been extremely beneficial to our families.” Coming Full Circle When Pat Smith pulls into the Serve Denton parking lot at 7:30 a.m., it’s three-quarters full with some of the 16,000 people per year who access help through Serve Denton and its partner nonprofits. Smith credits his father, Jim, and other forward-thinkers in Denton County with inspiring this legacy: “When you’re struggling, it’s hard to think through everything. To have someone come alongside you and say ‘Hey, here’s something you might consider,’ is everything.” Serve Denton also supplies the community with a new list of volunteer opportunities each month, a compilation of need from more than 40 different agencies. To sign up, visit or email

One of the 18 agencies at Serve Denton

Space for volunteer opportunities

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Thin Line has grown bigger each year since it began in 2007.

BeHind thE ScenEs at

Thin LIne W

Five days of some of the nation’s best documentary films, music and photography make Thin Line Fest a not-to-be-missed Denton County event. BY KRISTY ALPERT


hen Joshua Butler first arrived on the University of North Texas campus in 2003, the city looked quite a bit different than it does today. We had The Flying Tomato [pauses for a respectful moment of silence] and a killer jazz festival, but Denton did not have its own film festival. Butler knew he had to change that, so in 2007, he and a small crew of passionate filmmakers hosted the first Thin Line Fest. Since those first years, the festival has grown immensely and now includes five days of film, music and photography at some of Denton’s most beloved venues — all free of charge. We caught up with Butler and asked him to give us a behindthe-scenes look before this year’s event on March 25–29.

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Was the plan always to show documentaries? “We didn’t know at first we would do a documentary festival, but there were many signs pointing us in that direction. I was taking classes on documentary theory, I was making a documentary about Hurricane Katrina, there was no other all-documentary festival in Texas, and UNT had a few key faculty members that were known within the industry. We added music in 2014 and photography in 2015. We had been thinking about expanding for years, and this seemed like the right direction.” How do you go about selecting art? “Our music is booked by a team headed by Bryan Denny. Bryan has been booking music in Denton for decades. Film and photography have a submission process where we accept and judge hundreds of submissions from around the world.

Photos courtesy of Thin Line Fest


How did you come up with the idea for the festival? “Shortly after starting school here, I created a student organization called the Texas Film Cooperative to provide resources to the exploding film student population. The org grew quickly, and that summer [2004], we incorporated to pursue our nonprofit status. One of the goals was to create a film festival in Denton within three years.”

Photo by Rosa Poetschke

This year in film, we received over 300 submissions from 47 countries! These films are watched and curated by a team of programmers headed by Susan Davis.” Any favorite memories from previous years? “I have 12 years of amazing memories of meeting artists from around the world and sharing their work with local audiences, but opening the 2010 festival with GasLand was definitely memorable. The film was two weeks off winning the jury award at Sundance, and we scooped the Texas premiere from SXSW. The filmmaker, Josh Fox, was here from New York, and in attendance at the film was the regional director of the EPA and many area landowners. It was a lively Q&A! A more recent time was in 2018 when we screened the Texas Premiere of HBO’s The Sentence. No one in the audience knew that the main subject of the film was actually in attendance, and it was a massive surprise after the film.”

Both pro and amateur photographers compete.

What excites you most about this year’s festival? “This is our first year to have UNT on the Square as a photography gallery. It will double as the VIP Green Room, so it’s sure to be a lively venue! Our opening and closing music acts are going to be

some of our best yet, and we’re doing more workshops and panels than we ever have before.” For more information or to register for your free festival badge, visit register.

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According to the Texaco calendar on the wall, it was May 1919 when these four men and their dapper headwear were photographed at the Pilot Point Depot. This brick building replaced the original wooden depot, which was built in the early 1880s to serve the Texas and Pacific (T&P) Railway. The depot seen here served both T&P and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (MKT) railways and was located north of the square on what was then known as Depot Street. According to the book Pilot Point by Jay Melugin, the town’s first automobile was delivered to this depot in 1905 for Dr. Oliver Clinton Buster.

Fred Wiggs sits in the foreground with Noah Wiggs seated at the back desk. The other two men are unidentified.


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Photo courtesy of Denton Public Library via The Portal to Texas History

Inside the Depot


Ponder R


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Fit for a Magazine Cover “It’s so beautiful here,” says resident Heather Presley, originally from El Paso. “When we moved here, my mom said it looked like a magazine cover.” The quaint town — which has a population just over 2,300 according to the most recent census estimates — has not been on many magazine covers, but it has been on the silver screen. The old Ponder State Bank was robbed by the

Photo by Travis Berryman

It’s worth getting off the highway to visit this rustic, family-oriented, rural town. Find out why. BY ELLEN RITSCHER SACKETT

oll down your window as you head south from Krum to Ponder, and you’ll likely hear a train chugging down the tracks, keeping company alongside you. It’ll eventually roar ahead, leaving you alone on the highway. Like the train, you could also whiz past Ponder in a flash — but don’t do that, because there’s more to this rural North Texas whistle-stop than you can see from the road.

fictional version of Bonnie and Clyde in the 1967 film of the same name starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The circa 1908 building at the corner of FM 156 and FM 2449 isn’t a bank anymore, but it is still one of the most striking pieces of historic architecture in this charming town. Another notable building is the old Christal schoolhouse, built in 1880 by Silas Christal, one of the first settlers to come to the area seeking rich agricultural soil in the 1850s. The 19th century schoolhouse is now preserved in the Eddie Deussen Jr. Memorial Park on West James Street. The building where Ranchman’s Café is located is also rich in history, having been built in 1908 and operated as a popular lunch counter inside a grocery store before it started doing business under its current name in 1948. As Texas as You Can Get But it’s not the structure that makes Ranchman’s, also called the Ponder Steakhouse, so special; it’s the restaurant. Often credited for putting Ponder on the map, this iconic eatery draws visitors from all over, who make a special trip to eat its famous butter-brushed steaks and downhome fare. The spot typifies Texas to out-of-towners and has drawn celebrities such as John Wayne, Lillian Carter, Meatloaf (who used it in a 1980s video) and many more. Owner Dave Ross says, “Ranchman’s is as Texas as you can get.” Another thing that’s fundamentally Texan is rodeos. The now-defunct but once-popular Ponder Rodeo began in

1939 and ran weekly during summers until 1942 when it moved to the more central location of Denton during the lean times of the war. After war rationing ended, it reopened in Ponder and drew people from as far away as Oklahoma to the 3,500-person arena. In a historical narrative, current Town Secretary Sheri Clearman writes, “It became an important social event for the town… When the arena was at capacity, the population of 250 would grow ten times on any Saturday night. In 1948, there were 18 shows with a combined audience of 35,000.” Eventually, Denton’s rodeo usurped Ponder’s event, but it helped shape the town’s enduring cowboy culture. Green Pastures and Sunsets The one-stoplight town might seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere — but is actually smack dab in the middle of… a lot of places. Ponder is a short drive from Denton to the northeast and Decatur to the northwest. Beyond the nearby rural communities of Dish and Justin is the monolithic back side of Texas Motor Speedway, which is just north of the Tanger Outlet Mall — all within a half-hour of Ponder. But what residents value most is not those modern conveniences. Instead, they boast about the town’s spectacular sunsets, wide stretches of green pastures, friendly people, quality schools and small-town atmosphere. It’s a civic-minded community that’s proud of its volunteer fire department, ladies’ community volunteer group

(Lady VIP) and an athletic boosters club that supports the school district’s athletic programs. Ponder is home of the Lions, the high school mascot, and football players rub the lion statue’s head for good luck as they head onto the field before a game. “We had no idea how blessed we would be,” says Jeriana Staton, who moved to Ponder with her family in 2017. “We have found people that truly care, that look out for one another and want what’s best for our little town. Ponder has given us the opportunity to let our kids be kids and play outside till the streetlight comes on — safely!” One Big Family “I love that generations of families live here,” says Jennifer Riann Todd, a mother of three. “My parents moved here before I was born, and my grandparents have lived here 50 years.” Jennifer’s grandfather recently went to a nursing facility after a hospital stay. “People helped with my kids so I could help him, and a friend went and cut his hair,” she says. “It’s more than a town — it’s like a big family.” Falisha Parker agrees. “I love how we all help each other, and everyone respects everyone. It’s a quiet, tight-knit community. I loved living here as a child, and now I’ve come back as an adult, and for me, it’s never changed.” Aaren Pierpoint, her husband, Kevin, and two children moved to Ponder in 2017. “We wanted to raise our family in a quiet community,” she says. “Moving to Ponder was the best thing we’ve done.”

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Trains have been part of Ponder’s fabric since before it was Ponder. The town was originally named Gerald back in 1886 when the Santa Fe Railroad purchased a right-of-way through town, the year before the first passenger train arrived. But when the young settlement went to register its post office, they found there was another Gerald, Texas, and the town was renamed after prominent landowner and banker W.A. Ponder, who went on to help establish the College of Industrial Arts (now Texas Woman’s University) and serve on the board for North Texas Normal College (now the University of North Texas). Today, BNSF Railway owns and operates the trains that run parallel to Highway 156, the main north-south road that runs through Ponder. According to BNSF, 20 trains come through on an average day. Those trains are a part of life for residents, who either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Most have learned to sleep through the clangor of horns, screeching wheels and whistles, but they never quite get used to the inconvenience when a stopped train halts traffic. “Ponder is very peaceful, except for the train, most days,” says Jeriana Staton, who has lived in Ponder since 2017. “But the train is just an addition to small-town Texas living.”


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Popular Businesses When Carla Burnside moved from Irving in 1982, she says, “There were 432 people in Ponder when I moved here. Now we’re up to around 2,000.” Most of these new residents have moved from the city. “We have T-shirts that say, ‘Don’t Dallas my Ponder.’” Until relatively recently, Ponder’s population stayed small, with just enough businesses to support its farming and ranching community. Some favorites: u Dollar General, which locals jokingly refer to as Ponder Mall, is one of the busiest shops in town. “It sells produce since we don’t have a grocery store,” Carla says. u Syracuse Sausage, a family-owned meat manufacturing company, specializes in Italian sausage and meatballs and sells to major supermarkets and national restaurant chains. u Martha’s Taco Shop is owned by Martha and Jorge Ramirez and operated out of a house across from the city park. “Friday is tamale day — $14 a dozen — and they’re darn good!” Carla says. “It’s also BYOB, as is Ranchman’s.” u Sprinkles Donuts has earned a steady flow of customers who can stop in for

Background photo by Travis Berryman

On the Right Track

She remembers her first visit to the Betty Foster Public Library where, in addition to new library cards, she received a warm hug from Library Director Tina Hagar. “What a wonderful welcome that was!” Aaren recalls. “I just knew we made the right decision.”

Ponder’s downtown area is graced with a number of handsome historic structures.

Photos by Ellen Ritscher Sackett

Ranchman’s Cafe, aka the Ponder Steakhouse, draws visitors from far and wide.

a pastry or order ahead to get donuts shaped like letters for happy birthday or other celebratory messages. u Bev’s is where locals fuel up, grab necessities and congregate to catch up on the latest news over a cup of coffee. u The Ponder Feed Store and Ponder Veterinary Hospital, which has been in business since 1975, are also common spots to run into neighbors. u Ponder Hardware Store just celebrated its second anniversary. The clean, well-stocked hardware shop allows customers to order from its website for in-store pickup.

Preparing for the Inevitable “We don’t want huge growth,” says Kirk Garner, who moved to Ponder with his family nearly a decade ago to escape urban sprawl. “With more people coming in and the subdivisions getting larger, I think it’s inevitable.” Town Secretary Sheri Clearman says they are prepared for that inevitability. “We are ready for commercial growth,” she says. “But in order to have that, you need the rooftops. No one is going to bring a business here if we don’t have the population to support it.”

The rooftops are coming though. On the horizon is a 150-house subdivision behind the First Baptist Church of Ponder on FM 2449, with commercial lots facing FM 156. A 32-unit apartment complex is also in the works. “We are preparing for growth,” Clearman says. “We have really tried to control the growth inside the town limits in order to provide good services for our residents and to make sure we have the infrastructure to support them.” She adds, “It’s a struggle for all small towns. But we have good leadership to get these things done.”

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World Famous MOMS in Aubrey serves up madefrom-scratch comfort food in a welcoming atmosphere. BY ABIGAIL BOATWRIGHT


Where North Meets South Making good food has always been a passion for Murray, who grew up spending time in the kitchen with her grandma in southern Wisconsin. “I just always loved to cook for people, and I always felt like the natural progression of that would be to have a restaurant and bring that hard-to-find type of cooking to customers,” she says.


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Photos courtesy of World Famous MOMS

Founder and chef Krys Murray’s food has made MOMS a destination.

urrounded by horse ranches and farmland, a little strip of stores and restaurants on Main Street Aubrey includes World Famous MOMS, an eatery that truly lives up to its name. Hungry folks from near and far line up to tuck into MOMS’ home-style meals. Founder and chef Krys Murray’s vision for feeding her community has turned her restaurant into a must-stop destination for just about everyone visiting or passing through the area.

Her cuisine is an inimitable melding of North and South. Though Murray herself was raised in the North, she says, “My grandfather’s family was from the South, and his family taught my grandmother how to cook. That influence married together to make my old-fashioned, homemade, country cooking.” Before she set out to open a restaurant, Murray spent 10 years as a youth minister at a Catholic church. The position gave her plenty of experience cooking for large groups. After raising her children with her husband, Steve, Murray found her calling at 45 years old when she decided to open her first restaurant. “I just really felt like I found my niche,” Murray says. Kids, Seniors and Everyone in Between In 2006, Murray opened World Famous MOMS at 204 South Main Street in Aubrey, where she and her family live. It soon became a family affair. Her daughter Haven bakes, son Kinley is her right-hand man in the kitchen and Brittany, her oldest, periodically helps train the waitstaff. “All four of my kids have either worked here or still work for the restaurant in some way,” Murray says. “It’s a family deal, and we try to be really big supporters of the community.” Working from Murray’s grandmother’s recipes for dishes such as chicken fried steak, BLTs, hamburgers, chocolate cake and coconut cream pie, MOMS offers fresh, made-from-scratch food, which makes it easier to help customers with dietary concerns. Loyal customers sit in their regular spots, while horse folks from nearby ranches often occupy the wooden booths, and tourists wander in for a break from their travels. The restaurant also offers catering, which is handy for ranch events. The atmosphere is laid-back, easygoing and family-friendly, harkening a gentle nostalgia. “Kids love to come here, and it just really warms my heart,” says the grandmother of six. “We have a nice little kids’ menu, and they have fun here. There’s lots for them to look at and keep them engaged.”

Standout Dishes Cheeseburger MOMS’ half-pound cheeseburger is served on a fresh-baked bun with a side of hand-cut fries. It’s a classic. Make it your own by adding bacon, avocado, grilled onions or eggs, or swap the fries for homemade chips or thicksliced onion rings.

BLT Stack This popular double-decker sandwich stacks fresh lettuce, ripe tomatoes and plenty of bacon with mayonnaise on thick slices of toasted bread. Choose from homemade chips, fries or onion rings, or opt for a side salad or soup.

Frozen Lucy Talk about decadent! This tasty treat is made with homemade chocolate chip cookies, homemade hot fudge sauce and candied walnuts. Then it’s layered with ice cream and frozen up into deliciousness.

Caramel Apple Stuffed French Toast Thanks to the new all-day breakfast hours, you can treat yourself to this scrumptious dish morning, noon or night. Thick-cut French toast is stuffed with caramel cream cheese and topped with fresh apple slices, candied pecans, caramel sauce and whipped cream.

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“I try to always give a welcoming feeling,” Murray says. “I see a lot of people walk in, look around and sigh. That means a lot to me because it’s like they feel ‘Oh, I can relax here. I can be comfortable here. I can be myself.’ People linger here for a while. We have a comforting, ‘welcome home’ kind of vibe.” Murray says seniors over 50 love the familiar menu items. “I cook the way they ate growing up, or the way their grandmothers cooked for them,” Murray says. “It’s a nostalgic food and large portions. It’s very much comfort food.” Consistently Good Because a town like Aubrey has fluctuating crowds often related to major equine events in DFW or Oklahoma, Murray and other small businesses work hard to attract customers year-round. “Since we’ve started, in our area, there’s been a tremendous amount of retail growth on the 380 corridor,” Murray says. “We were never the only show, but we were one of the few, but our customer base has been shared with fast-food and other restaurants.”


“I cook the way they ate growing up, or the way their grandmothers cooked for them.” Despite the overall growth, in 2008, many local businesses suffered due to the economic downturn. Murray rolled up her sleeves and got to work making her business viable. “We’ve had to make very smart business decisions,” she says. “But as far as the food is concerned, we have always prided ourselves on consistency. If you come in and you buy a BLT on a Monday, you should be able to come back in three weeks and get the same BLT. I’ve introduced new menu items because people’s tastes have changed, but

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I always try to make sure that whatever I’m offering can be consistently good, but also relevant for different kinds of health options.” MOMS was awarded the Aubrey Business of the Year award in 2019, an honor Murray is proud to share with her employees and family. Recently, MOMS has made some changes that Murray hopes will better serve her customers. First, the restaurant is shifting to full wait staff. So instead of ordering at the counter and finding a seat, you’ll be served at your table. The restaurant is also now offering breakfast all day, seven days a week, during its new extended hours. “These are some of the things people have been saying when I’ve asked what we can do to make our place better and more enticing for you to come and spend your hard-earned dollars here,” Murray says. “We want to make it worth a trip from Denton or Prosper or Frisco.” World Famous MOMS 204 S. Main, Aubrey 940-202-4940

Photo by Abigail Boatwright

Both regulars and visitors appreciate the comfortable atmosphere and friendly service.

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Lasting Legacy I

Building off of lessons from his grandfather, Clint Wilkinson has created the perfect balance of artisanal leather goods and specialty products. BY ELLEN RITSCHER SACKETT


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Growing Up at Weldon’s Wilkinson’s is located in the original home of Weldon’s Saddle Shop and Western Wear, which opened in 1957 and eventually expanded to the larger building next door (now Applejack’s Liquors). “The mystique of Weldon’s was its leather shop right in the middle of a retail store,” Clint says. It was in that space that he cut his teeth on leatherworking.

Photo courtesy of Clint Wilkinson

nside Wilkinson’s Fine Goods, owner and leathersmith Clint Wilkinson is bent over his solitary workspace under a single lamp. A customer walks in, and he rises from his stool to greet her. He is long and lean like his granddad, beloved Denton cowboy and saddle maker, the late Weldon Burgoon. Those who knew Weldon Burgoon can easily spot his likeness in his 37-year-old grandson — gentle and polite, respectful and intent, deeply devoted to his craft. Clint leaves the leatherwork behind and becomes the attentive salesman, solely focused on the woman who drove from Fort Worth to shop at his store. She peruses the high counters and antique glass display cabinets, which are sparsely lined with specialty candles, colognes, apparel and turquoise as well as Clint’s handmade wallets, belts and other leather goods. Like his shop, Clint’s designs are clean and basic. “They almost make you become more minimal,” he explains. For example, big-box wallets are often lined with fabric, which allows more room to stuff them with multiple credit and business cards. “With a real leather wallet, you can’t do that. It’s going to take some time for that thing to break in,” he says. “It almost forces you to get rid of some stuff to get a fresh start.”

Photo by Jam Robinson

Clint Wilkinson calls leatherworking “very therapeutic.”

“When I was a kid, I did random stuff here and there,” Clint remembers. “My granddad put me to work a little bit and taught me to use some of the tools. Most of what I worked on was saddle parts. He’d set aside parts he thought I could learn on.” “What I remember more than anything is that I’d get bored and take those little shoe tacks that he’d use for saddles and hammer them in his work bench. He hated that!” Clint recalls with a grin. Clint worked alongside his granddad, mother and brother at the store well into his 20s, helping with sales and marketing. While at the shop, he also did media work (graphic and web design and photography) on the side. “If we were busy, of course, I’d help customers, but if we were slow, I’d get on the computer.” “Something Cool Is Going On…” But Denton was growing, and the loyal cowboy following that Weldon’s served for

“You don’t have to be a cowboy to buy a handmade belt.” decades was on the decline. By the early 2010s, the Square was booming with people who weren’t necessarily of Western ilk, and Clint recognized the need for change. “I brought a whole new clientele to Weldon’s,” he says. “I was trying to modernize the store. I brought new products in that I thought some of the college kids would like. I started making leather goods in the shop. Buzz started to going around — ‘Hey, something cool is going on at Weldon’s. Let’s go and see.’” Around that time, Clint decided to make “a real go of leather” and stepped up his efforts. “I felt like the legacy of Weldon’s — especially the leatherwork — would die with [my grandfather] if somebody didn’t keep it going.” “Making that switch from ‘everything is instant’ with a computer to leather, where

it’s not — it’s very therapeutic in a way,” Clint says. “I was drawn to that a lot.” At first, he shared his granddad’s workspace within Weldon’s, occasionally asking for help but preferring to figure it out himself. “The tools he had were so old compared to how far and modernized these tools have come,” he says. “I was starting to find tools that could make my life a little bit easier.” Bell & Oak Clint called his new leather brand Bell & Oak to pay homage to Weldon’s store, whose cross streets were Bell Avenue and Oak Street. “You don’t need to make tack; you need to make products that anyone can buy,” his grandfather counseled him. “You don’t have to be a cowboy to buy a handmade belt.” Every Bell & Oak product was handstamped with the company’s signature bell and oak leaf icons. “When I started Bell & Oak, it was at the perfect time, when Instagram just started to explode,”

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Standard bifold wallets

Clint recalls. “I got in at such an early time, and it took off so well for me.” Before long, he was making leather goods for celebrities, including Leon Bridges and President George W. Bush, and for companies such as West Elm, Stetson, Montana Watch Company and the George W. Bush Presidential Center Museum Store. But the stress of making so many of the same product got to him. “It was monotonous. I had to make hundreds and hundreds of wallets in order to make a decent living making leather.”


There were copycats too and weekend warriors that flooded the market. Soon Clint realized he needed to change direction. In 2016, he moved into his own space — his current location — to focus on custom work. An Artisanal Approach “I wanted to do high-end, custom because a lot of people can’t replicate that type of work,” he says. “It takes a long time to make these projects.” He rebranded, using his own name. “I wanted to promote myself as an artist, as a custom bespoke

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guy,” Clint says. The process was slower, more therapeutic and less stressful. “When you do custom work, people expect a certain level of product. You have to be good,” Clint says. “And I wanted to get better.” Like Italian artisanal shops, he was only open one day a week. He studied Japanese techniques that he found online, learning by trial and error. Spending all of his time on custom work had its limitations though. The higher-quality products are more time-consuming to produce and sold at a higher price point than Bell & Oak, and he couldn’t quickly replicate orders for customers. “I had pigeon-holed myself into a certain clientele,” he says. Finding Balance Today, Clint has found balance, combining custom work (products listed on his website as “legacy”) with his Bell & Oak designs (listed as “standard”). And, like his granddad’s store, which closed in 2017, Wilkinson’s has expanded to include retail merchandise — with specialty products that reflect Clint’s clean, minimalist style. The store carries a few select, quality lines — likeminded brands that Clint has followed over the years. These include fragrances and soaps from Boyd’s of Texas, apothecary products for men from Manready Mercantile, apparel from Freenote Cloth and American Trench, and turquoise designs by Mustard Seed Southwestern Jewelry. New brands to hit Wilkinson’s inventory feature classic styles by Filson’s and Miller Ranch. “I’m only one person, so I’ve had to learn to operate that way too,” Clint says. “I don’t have any desire to expand. I don’t want to be Weldon’s II.” “Wilkinson’s is a retail store now. We are open six days a week. I am making stuff and selling off the shelf. We’re just trying to build on it… to make sure we’re doing it in the right way.” Wilkinson’s Fine Goods 347 E. Hickory St., Denton Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Photo courtesy of Clint Wilkinson

“I felt like the legacy of Weldon’s — especially the leatherwork — would die with [my grandfather] if somebody didn’t keep it going.”

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Denton County’s bustling economy and supportive environment for entrepreneurs, artists and inventors make it the ideal place to launch big ideas. From Super Bowl rings to big rigs, food packaging to technology for missions to Mars, you might be surprised by what’s


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Tetra Pak’s North American HQ in Denton is powered entirely by renewable energy and packages many of your favorite foods and beverages.


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Photos courtesy of Tetra Pak


can any grocery store’s shelves or peek in your own pantry, and you’ll almost certainly find food or beverage products in packaging created right here in Denton County. Whether it’s your kids’ juice boxes, the chicken broth you use to make soup or your dairy-alternative milk, it was likely packaged in products from Tetra Pak. Since 1984, this innovative packaging has been produced in Denton, and, in 2015, the city became the site of Tetra Pak’s North American headquarters, serving as the nerve center for company operations in North, Central and South America. Denton not only hosts the business side of these operations, but also a special processing side that develops, sells and builds processing equipment for food factories as well as support services and a customer innovation center. But when you step onto the factory floor, what grabs your attention first is the large, colorful stations where the packaging for some of your favorite foods begins its trip. When people take tours of the factory, they are often shocked by the speed and efficiency with which Tetra Pak is able to develop its packaging products. “From the raw material handling, to the competency level of the operators, the machinery and more, people are very much in awe of how we’re able to do this,” says Mark Wood, a World Class Manufacturing coordinator with Tetra Pak in Denton. “We use World Class Manufacturing, a continuous improvement process that helps us keep a clean and orderly factory,

manage our materials flow and use defined standards.” Wood explains that continuous improvements allow the teams to reduce loss, drive efficiency and help manage costs — all of which allow Tetra Pak to continue serving customers and properly using its resources.


Responsible usage of resources is important, notes Angela Peterson, communications manager for Tetra Pak in the U.S. and Canada. “We’re very committed to sustainability — it’s a big part of what we do. From a high level, we look at the complete value chain.” Tetra Pak containers are recyclable, and the company actively seeks renewable materials to make its packages. All paper used, for example, is FSC-certified, meaning it is harvested from responsibly managed forests that meet the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council. Plastics used in the process are plant-based, made

from sugar cane. Ink that is a byproduct of the printing process is recycled into fuel, while the water used can go back into the water system to be treated and used again. The packaging cartons themselves also encourage sustainability. Shelf-stable items can go longer without refrigeration, helping to lessen food waste. The light, compact packaging also folds neatly into a smaller footprint, allowing for fewer carbon emissions during transport than, say, glass containers. There are approximately 144,000 cartons of packaging in one roll [of Tetra Pak],” Peterson says. The containers are flat until the customer fills them with food or drink products. “From a sustainability perspective, it’s great. It takes one small corner of a truck rather than a truck filled with 144,000 empty containers.” A commitment to renewable resources is found in factory operations too. The Denton factory is powered

Who: Tetra Pak What: Food and beverage packaging Where: Denton (North American HQ) Bravo for: Producing 5.6 billion packages per year — and keeping sustainability in mind while they do it More info: entirely by renewable energy, 6% of which is generated from on-site solar panels. By 2030, all Tetra Pak facilities worldwide will rely 100% on renewable energy. “Even in our factory, we make sure our waste is recycled, and we are committed to helping communities recycle our cartons,” Peterson says. “We make sure that every part of the chain is considered,

Tetra Pak’s North American headquarters in Denton creates 5.6 billion packages every year.

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because we only have one planet. We think everyone should assess how they do business and make improvements however they can.”


Materials arrive in rolls that are more than three miles long.

Tetra Pak in Denton employs approximately 550 people, representing about 30 different countries. “It brings the world here to Denton,” Peterson says. Though people from around the world can be found in the factory, the experts who run the machines on the shop floor are mostly from the Denton and Gainesville areas and communities in northern Fort Worth — a point of pride for anyone who flips over a carton to see that

distinctive Tetra Pak symbol on some of their favorite items and thinks about their friends and neighbors who staff the factory right here in Denton. “Our people are very committed to what we are doing here,” Wood says. In addition to Texans, Tetra Pak employees in Denton have the opportunity to work closely with people from across the world, either on the factory floor or virtually. “We’re such an international, diverse company, and it’s almost like we’re family,” Wood says. “We travel back and forth within our family so much, so it’s not really so much of a change when we have someone from Brazil come here, or when we go

there. We’re very open and transparent.” Peterson points to the friendships made between Tetra Pak employees based in Denton and those from different countries. “It’s neat to be here in Denton and also be able to travel around the world. You have a whole new global network when you join this company,” she says. Wood and Peterson find the world’s best chocolate in locations around the world then bring chocolates back for co-workers to enjoy. But what do people from other countries want to experience when they come to Denton? “They want to eat BBQ,” Wood says, “and a lot of steak!” —Rachel Hedstrom

So how does one facility make approximately 5.6 billion packages in one year? Mark Wood, a World Class Manufacturing coordinator with Tetra Pak in Denton, describes the process. It starts with the raw material, a bleached board in two different weights, which arrives in rolls a little over three miles long that weigh one ton. “We run a roll continuously through a seven-color printing process, using a water-based ink that is good for the environment,” Wood says. “We print four-process colors on top of each other to give the photographic picture — the almond or the broth pouring out of the package, for example.” Different food manufacturers use distinct colors to identify their respective brands, so Tetra Pak prints uniquely colored borders on the batch they are running for each customer, making it easy for consumers to identify products in their local grocery store. After the paper is printed and scored so

North American Tetra Pak HQ in Denton


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that it will form perfectly shaped containers, it’s spooled back onto a one-ton roll and taken to the coating process. The Denton plant produces an aseptic packaging that allows food products to be “shelf stable,” meaning they can be safely stored at room temperature in a sealed container, rather than immediately requiring refrigeration. Layers of polyethylene and aluminum foil are added to create this unique packaging, which was developed by Tetra Pak’s founder, Dr. Ruben Rausing, in the 1950s. It’s a style of packaging for which Tetra Pak is well known around the world. Each layer of packaging is designed to help protect the food or drink it will eventually contain in its own specialized way. The outer polymer layer protects from moisture, while the paper board gives the package strength and rigidity. A second polymer layer glues paper to a layer of foil, which serves as a barrier to light and oxygen and enables the sealing of the product. Finally, layers of polymer protect the product inside. “We take a one-ton roll and turn [it] into very small reels, about one-third the size of the large roll, so it’s easier to handle at the filling machines,” Wood explains. “Then, it’s palletized, shrink-wrapped and trucked to our customers.” Those customers then fill the Tetra Pak cartons with any number of different food and beverage products. In Denton, the facility’s lead time — the time from when a customer places an order to when it reaches their doorstep — is a remarkable nine days. After it is filled with food or beverage, it makes its way into your home.

Photos courtesy of Tetra Pak



Photo courtesy of Brad Vaughn


rad Vaughn, owner of Denton Knife Works, has been making knives as a hobby for years, but it wasn’t until five years ago that he began offering his high-quality, hand-crafted blades to the public. A serial hobbyist, Vaughn did woodturning when he lived in Colorado and has also crafted Native American flutes and pens. After moving to Denton and setting up his shop in his backyard, he met a neighbor who’d been making knives for 30 years. His interest in learning a new skill was piqued, and the neighbor helped teach him the craft that eventually led him to his business.

pair of jeans finished with a clear a fiberglass resin. Most of Denton Knife Works’ sheaths are made of Kidex, an impact-resistant plastic heat-formed to fit each knife.



Vaughn’s most popular knives are “everyday carry” straight blade knives that are 3 to 6 inches long and carried on the belt as a utility knife. He also makes bowie knives, martial arts training blades and kitchen knives such as cleavers and chopping knives. Materials for the blades can include recycled steel, aluminum or even farrier’s rasps. Handles run the gamut in terms of materials and styles, including wood handles with specialized burl patterns and micarta handles made of layers of denim pressed together, which results in a handle that looks like a

Who: Denton Knife Works What: Hand-crafted knives Where: Denton Bravo for: Creating one-of-a-kind blades with a lifetime guarantee More info:, 972-835-1375

MAKING IT To create a knife, Vaughn starts with a pattern. He draws it on the metal and then cuts it out. Next, depending on the material, he will grind the profile of the knife, polish the surface, heat treat the metal to harden the blade and clean it. Next, the handle wood is cut to fit the knife and sanded down so that it fits both the knife and a person’s hand. Finally, the blade is sharpened, and Vaughn makes a sheath.

Vaughn also does custom orders. “If you see something you really like, you can send a picture to me and I’ll AutoCAD it up, go out to the shop and make it,” he says. The craftsman and his wife, Leah, bring Denton Knife Works products — many of which are one-of-a-kind creations — to the Denton Community Market on Saturdays in the spring, summer and fall. He also offers knife-sharpening services. All Vaughn’s knives have his maker’s mark on them, come with a lifetime guarantee for repair or replacement and can be sharpened for free. —Abigail Boatwright

Every element of this knife from Denton Knife Works was made by hand by Brad Vaughn.

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Discoveries Who: ThermoTek What: Medical, aesthetic and industrial devices Where: Flower Mound Bravo for: Relieving pain for people with edema, reducing hair loss after chemotherapy and helping with every mission to Mars over the past 12 years More info:, 972-874-4949

Tony Quisenberry is surrounded by some of the many devices he has developed. The wall behind him is filled with patents he has received.


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Those machines became the flagship product of ThermoTek, a now-25-year-old Flower Mound company with 65 in-house employees and five in other parts of the country.


“We’re now the leader in devices that relieve pain and reduce the pressure of edema, and we added a feature with a compression element to prevent DVT,” says the biomedical engineer and serial entrepreneur. “Then we ventured out and created a machine that controls the temperature and frequency of X-ray equipment, so that became the beginning of our OEM market.” From there, ThermoTek continued to evolve; Quisenberry created caps that can be worn during chemotherapy to prevent hair loss, built compressors to cool laser and semiconductor equipment and even developed specialized heat-removal devices used in space programs. “Every mission to Mars over the past 12 years has used our parts to keep the antenna in the right heat range,” Quisenberry says. “We do a lot of different things.” For Quisenberry, ThermoTek is a dream come true — and not just because it’s a multimillion-dollar company. “I’m a nerd from day one,” he admits. “I’ve always wanted to do things that hadn’t been done before, and I enjoy helping people. This lets me do both.” —Paula Felps

Photo courtesy of ThermoTek


fter his neighbor’s wife had knee surgery, Tony Quisenberry saw her using messy ice packs and bags of frozen peas to ease the pain. He thought there must be a better way. When he couldn’t find a solution, he invented one. Retreating to his garage, Quisenberry built a device that electronically circulates water through pads, simultaneously keeping the water cold and eliminating the need to switch out ice packs. “By the time his wife had her second knee surgery, I’d made a machine for her to use,” says Quisenberry. “It worked so well that he said I should make some and sell them. So I made a few more.”

Who: JW Leathercrafters What: Leather belts, wallets, purses, phone cases and more Where: Denton Bravo for: Honing his craft for half a century to create true works of art for customers around the world More info:,


ames Welborn has 50 years of experience working with leather, starting back in junior-high shop class. The police officer turned computer programmer and software developer retired in 2013 and turned his attention to making leather goods and starting his business, JW Leathercrafters, in Denton. Today, the company offers wallets for men and women, clutch purses, cell phone cases, gun holsters, art, business card holders, belts, guitar straps and other small leather goods. Welborn’s main avenue for sales is the Denton Community Market, where he has been selling to appreciative customers for eight years.


“When people come by my booth, they tell me that you really don’t see this kind of work anymore, and it’s true,” Welborn says. “There’s not a lot of people that do it. It’s not like you can go out to the mall and pick up a hand-tooled wallet or purse. This is becoming a dying art form, and it’s something that I enjoy.” Welborn is also available for custom orders of handcrafted leather items. And while most of his customers are located right here in Denton County, he has also sold to clients across the country and around the world. —Abigail Boatwright

James Welborn

Photos by Abigail Boatwright

MAKING IT To create a wallet, Welborn starts with a side of leather purchased from a supplier. He cuts the leather into the size he needs, then wets it, traces a pattern onto it and uses hand tools to carve or make impressions for a 3D look. Next, he stains the leather to the correct shade, applies a finish and creates the interior of the wallet. He attaches the tooled back to the interior by hand sewing or lacing it together.

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What: Playground equipment, treehouses, rock climbing walls, picnic tables and more Where: Justin Bravo for: Bringing families together — away from their screens More info: backyardfunfactory. com, 940-479-2439


aking play time a priority has been serious business for one local company since 2004. “Family interaction with their children on a personal playground has never been more in demand,” says Jarrod Jeffcoat, president of Backyard Fun Factory.


The family-run company builds playground equipment, treehouses, rock climbing walls, picnic tables and almost anything needed for

outdoor enjoyment. They specialize in customizing and delivering products that help busy families come together. “Family is who we are and what we’re about,” Jeffcoat says. “In order to get customers excited about our product, we have to be authentic and believe in what we provide.” This means using quality materials such as California redwood because of its longterm durability. Backyard Fun Factory has experience building everything from small side-yard playsets to 160-foot-long mega structures that weave in and out of trees. Its whimsical designs include curved roof lines and crooked windows to stimulate the imagination of kids of all ages. Everything is manufactured in the company’s factory in Justin and installed across the USA. There is also a 3,000-foot indoor

showroom in Fort Worth. “You are buying from a builder, not an importer. Not many can say that anymore,” Jeffcoat says.


The products let families shut off their tech devices and bond with each other over good old-fashioned play. “We believe that we have a responsibility to create a product that brings families together and is better than any other,” says Jeffcoat. “In order to do that, we have to believe in each other and hold each other accountable, much like a family unit.” This focus on family also is evident in the company’s annual Amazing Love Giveaway, which gifts a playset to a family that has suffered a hardship or gone above and beyond to serve others. “We get as much out of the gift as the families that are chosen,” Jeffcoat says. —Mary Dunklin

The Williams family were the 2015 winners of BFF’s annual Amazing Love Giveaway.


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Photo courtesy of Backyard Fun Factory

Who: Backyard Fun Factory

Who: Barbara McCraw What: Beautiful handmade quilts Where: Denton


arbara McCraw always wondered about the woman named Peggy that her relatives talked about. Her questions were answered when a marriage certificate confirmed that Peggy was her great grandmother. In bed that night, McCraw envisioned a quilt on the ceiling. In the center, she saw the wedding of her great grandparents William Banks and Peggy Phillips at a plantation. She began taking notes so she could create a real version of the quilt.

Photo courtesy of Barbara McCraw


That quilt, called Family Reunion, won Best of World at the 2019 World Quilt Competition. It marks the peak of honors for McCraw, a Denton resident and retired medical technologist whose work has been exhibited around the U.S., as well as in Africa and Europe. For two and a half years, she spent nearly eight hours a day bringing her family history to life. “I wasn’t intimidated,” she says. “I was honored to do it.” The 80" x 80" Family Reunion quilt is built around the wedding image, which is surrounded by 12 blocks featuring other relatives and symbols. For a block with her and her mother holding

Bravo for: Winning Best of World at the 2019 World Quilt Competition hands, McCraw transferred photos of their heads and sewed in fabric for their bodies, embellishing her mother’s blouse with pearl beads. Her granddaughter’s section features six pictures connected by chains to emulate a Victorian photo double locket. Another block shows her old sewing machine with a cabinet drawer that wouldn’t close.

HOOKED ON QUILTING The quilter first learned to sew on such a machine at age 12 — taught by a neighbor in exchange for babysitting the neighbor’s children. “That was a deal,” McCraw says. “She had some bad kids!” When she moved to Carrollton in the 1990s, she learned different types of crafting from the Metrocrest Newcomers Club but instantly became hooked on quilting. She became known for infusing her quilts with creative techniques and references to black history. Her quilt, Victorian Jungle,

features a Victorian vase with Africa-inspired prints on the flowers. Another work uses offset lines rather than the traditional block style to reveal the shape of the skirt of a woman who represents Oya, the Afro-Cuban Goddess of Fire. “I never expected any of this,” she says of her success and accolades. “I just love what I do.” —Jessica DeLeón

More info:,

Barbara McCraw’s award-winning Family Reunion quilt

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Who: Bonded LP What: Lightning protection systems Where: Argyle Bravo for: Saving lives and properties across Texas and the Southeast More info:, 800-950-7933



n average of 27 people die each year from lightning strikes in the United States, according to the National Weather Service, and the National Lightning Detection Network found that Texas had the highest overall number of strikes in 2018. That’s why home and business owners are turning to Argylebased company Bonded LP to protect against this destructive and deadly force of nature. Bonded LP lightning protection at the Denton County Sherriff’s Posse

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The innovative protection devices installed by Bonded Lightning Protection Systems provide safeguards at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, the University of North Texas Apogee Stadium, Denton’s Access Bank, Denton Energy Center and many other residences and properties across the region. In the early 1980s, former Denton police officer Tony


Bonded LP uses an intricate system of copper and aluminum rods and cables and surge protectors, following the standards of such institutions as the National Fire Protection Association, Underwriters Laboratories and Lightning Protection Institute, says Beth Weddle, the company’s marketing manager. Varying construction methods and materials within the overall process can make it challenging to protect structures from lightning strikes. Technology-infiltrated homes and useable rooftop spaces, for example, can challenge a lightning protection business to provide safety for residents while concealing a system to make it aesthetically pleasing. “Bonded LP is meeting that challenge while keeping safety at the forefront,” Weddle says. —Annette Nevins

Photo courtesy of Bonded LP

David and Mike Riley

Riley purchased the company from a Denton County family friend. Today, the business employs 125 in cities across the southeastern United States, including the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio. Riley and his son David, who joined him in 1982, have made it their mission to learn everything they could about implementing life-saving measures into construction projects. “Reliable protection against lightning is possible and readily available,” says CEO David Riley. “[It places] a responsibility on property owners and construction professionals to seek this protection as a life safety measure.”

Who: Lion Bear Naked Soap What: Nontoxic, certified-organic, natural soaps and cleansers Where: Denton Bravo for: Doing their part to save the planet by moving from plastic packaging to recyclable pouches and making other eco-friendly choices More info:, 940-337-2737


ason and Alex Schreiber of Denton are noticing how clear their skin appears — and how much energy they seem to have these days. The couple credits the chemical-free soap that they make themselves for these benefits. But transforming their personal eco-friendly endeavor into a successful business has had advantages that go well beyond their glowing skin and an energetic demeanor.

“Our 2-year-old has had all her clothes washed in natural soap — she’s bathed in it, and the whole house has been cleaned with it — since she was born,” Jason says. After finding they couldn’t control scents from other products when selling at retail stores — a consideration that’s important for customers with eczema or psoriasis — they opted to offer sales exclusively (What’s a lion bear anyway? “Say it

with a Texas accent, and it’s an expression of ‘lying around bare naked,’” Jason explains. “It emphasizes its organic pureness.”)

GROWING LIKE A SUNFLOWER Sales have doubled in the decade since the Schreibers first tried their products on friends and family and farmers market shoppers. They’ve moved from plastic bottles to recyclable spouted pouches to limit waste.

In the next year, they hope to reintroduce a body wash that can be used for shaving and bathing and a vinegar-based spray cleaner. As they outgrow their backyard shed, they are looking for a larger space that can be powered by the sun. “Some think if it’s natural, it doesn’t work, but we are out to prove that wrong,” Jason says. “It does work, and it can be affordable too.” —Annette Nevins


The founders of Lion Bear Naked Soap Co. started their company All Lion Bear Naked products are made with a about 10 years ago, cool temperature process the Schreibers say when Alex, who better controls pH levels compared to tradistudied kinesiology tional hot methods of product creation. It also at Texas Woman’s retains the vitamins of the sunflower oil, which University, began is made from seeds grown on a Minnesota examining the family farm. It takes three weeks to make liquid chemicals we use. soaps and four weeks for the laundry powder. “We were shocked at what we found,” says Jason, 40, a computer technician for an area school district. “It was concerning for our health and environment.” As a solution, they began making their own soap and cleansers in their backyard shed — without the sulphates, bleaches and harsh chemicals found in many commercial products.

Photo by Jeff Woo, Denton Record-Chronicle


Jason Schreiber (right) — who owns Lion Bear Naked Soap with his wife, Alex — poses with employee Chris Klabunde.

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Who: Peterbilt What: Trucks, trucks and more trucks! Where: Denton Bravo for: Being Denton County’s largest private employer and leading the charge toward electric vehicle technology in commercial vehicles More info: peterbilt. com, 940-591-4000


Today, the company, which has housed its main manufacturing plant and headquarters in Denton County since 1986, is the county’s largest private employer, with about 2,500 workers. During 2019, it rolled an average of

170 trucks off the line every day, up from about 20 trucks a day the year before. And while much has changed since Peterman founded his company, Peterbilt continues to thrive on innovating and looking at opportunities waiting down the road. “Peterbilt is leading the charge in electric vehicle technology,” says Tim Olson, PR manager for Peterbilt. “We have 16 electric trucks in operation that have logged over 40,000 miles, and we plan to be in production this year. Electric trucks offer the industry another tool to perform their day-to-day operations while meeting green initiatives and reducing total cost of ownership in key applications.” As electric trucks become more mainstream, he says the company will continue finding new applications for the vehicles and developing their technologies.

Peterbilt is Denton County’s largest private employer.


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But electric vehicles aren’t the only way that Peterbilt is bolding moving toward the future. In 2018, the company unveiled an autonomous truck at the Consumer Electronics Show. This year, it displayed a more evolved version of that vehicle and continue working toward the day when self-driving trucks become a reality. “Autonomous technology is developing and improving each and every year,” Olson says. “We’ve made significant improvements in the technology [but] there’s still much work to do to get to Level 4 autonomy.” He says they’ll continue doing that work and see where it takes them. As automation is implemented into trucks, there are fewer chances for human error — the most common cause of incidents on the road — and greater opportunities to dramatically improve safety and efficiency. While there’s a tremendous amount of buzz about the possibilities, Olson says there’s still much more to discover. “We don’t have all the answers on the future of autonomous trucking, which is why we continue investing in the research and development of this technology.” —Paula Felps

Photo courtesy of Peterbilt

Peterbilt’s Denton HQ


n the 1930s, a logger named T.A. Peterman wanted to get his lumber to the mill faster than he could via the traditional method of hauling it with horses or floating it downriver. So he started rebuilding surplus military trucks to create the kind of heavy-duty vehicles that could do the job for him. With each attempt, his efforts improved, and by 1939, Peterman launched his own company, aptly named Peterbilt. In the eight decades that have followed, Peterbilt has continued its quest to build a better truck and stay miles ahead of the competition.

Who: U.S. Foam Corp What: Colorful foam balls Where: Lake Dallas Bravo for: Keeping kids happy for three decades More info:,


olorful, squishy and safe, foam sports balls are a childhood necessity. They are ubiquitous in schools, on playgrounds and in messy kids’ rooms across America. And thousands of these soft sporting goods are made right here in Denton County. Headquartered in Lake Dallas, U.S. Foam Corp. produces the popular toys in a nondescript factory along State Highway 121 Bypass, just east of Old Town Lewisville. The 45,000-square-foot manufacturing facility pumps out big and small foam footballs, basketballs and soccer balls by the pallet-load, along with eye-catching clip strips and display packaging.

the local business, rolling the foam toys into its POOF line of sports products. “We’re incredibly excited to join the Alex Brands family and the possibilities it brings,” says Nathanson in a recent press statement. If the deal goes through, the new ownership reportedly plans to keep the Lewisville factory in full swing, producing products under the

POOF name once the acquisition is final. With warmer weather on the horizon, north Texas residents can rest assured that they’ll still have a ball this spring. —Leslie J. Thompson

MAKING IT Although the products themselves are made for child’s play, the production process is a bit more complex. A mix of liquid polymers is combined with water to trigger an exothermic reaction that creates polyurethane. Blowing agents are then added, generating gas bubbles that give the foam an open cell structure wellsuited for shaping into car seats, pillow stuffing and, of course, brightly colored balls.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Foam Corp


U.S. Foam Corp. has been cranking out the fun for nearly three decades, and the company is clearly doing something right. “Over a 30-year period, we’ve sold products to every major retailer in the country at one time or another,” says company president Judd Nathanson. The manufacturer also captured the attention of Michigan-based Alex Brands, Inc., which announced its intention last fall to acquire

For 30 years, U.S. Foam Corp has sold to major retailers across the nation.

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Compare this 1966 Super Bowl ring with the 2019 design on the next page to see how much more complex and detailed championship rings have become over the years.

Who: Jostens What: Custom class rings and championship jewelry Where: Denton Bravo for: Making 35 of the last 53 Super Bowl rings More info:


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Along the way, the company expanded to include yearbooks, announcements, caps and gowns and more. It also makes commemorative jewelry for the National Football League, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, NASCAR,

the World Series of Poker, Boy Scouts of America and others. As demand for Jostens’ products grew, so did its need for space. By 1969, the $100-million-a-year company moved its headquarters to Minneapolis — and opened a manufacturing space in Denton County. Today, Denton’s workforce of about 450 turns out around 5,000 rings a day. Some are historical, others are personal, but they all tell a personal story with metal and stone. Of all the jewelry that Jostens produces every year, none is as coveted as its Super Bowl championship ring. Although championship rings have been awarded to sports teams since the 1922 World Series, the Super Bowl ring has become an iconic, larger-than-life symbol of victory. And, beginning with the first Super Bowl in 1966, Jostens has been there to commemorate the occasion.


“Super Bowl rings really started as a smaller memento, but they have changed so much,” says Chris Poitras, vice president of the College & Sports Division for Jostens. “For example, we made the

Photos courtesy of the NFL


ine years after starting a jewelry and watch repair business in Owatonna, Minnesota, Otto Josten introduced a piece of jewelry that quickly became part of the high school tradition: the class ring. His new company, Josten’s (the apostrophe was later dropped), featured rings in just one size and void of any gemstones. But despite their plain appearance, they were a new concept in 1906, and it’s an understatement to say they caught on. Today, the class ring is as much a part of the high school tradition as a cap and gown — and the Jostens name is synonymous with it.


A wax replica of the ring is sized for each wearer.

Top three photos by Bobby Abernathy/Denton County Communications; bottom right photo courtesy of the NFL

Jostens engraves and polishes each ring.

Molten metal is heated to just under 2000 degrees.

Kansas City Chiefs’ first Super Bowl ring back when they won Super Bowl IV. That ring didn’t even have their logo on it. The way the rings have changed are indicative of how prestigious these teams have become.” Today’s Super Bowl rings are massive metal works of art that tell a story with gold, diamonds and other precious stones. Each ring features the team logo and is crammed with details that symbolize the story of the winning season. “The rings become a blank canvas, and every nook becomes an area to tell a story,” Poitras says. “The stories have become more

complex in articulating the history of the franchise, and as the athletes have become bigger in stature, the rings have become larger as well.” “This is the pinnacle of achievement, and these rings are among the most prized,” he says. “When teams receive their rings, you can see their emotion and attachment to it. We’ve told their story and you can see that it brings back memories of a game or an event from that season … The Lombardi trophy stays in the team showcase, but this is something they have, something they can pass on from generation to generation.” —Paula Felps

There’s hoopla nationwide before the Super Bowl, but Jostens’ work doesn’t begin until the game is over. “Most teams are superstitious, so it’s not something we talk about it until after the Super Bowl. Once we know the winner, then we can go to work,” Poitras says. In the weeks following the big game, teams from Jostens and other ring designers present design concepts and ideas to the winning team. The winner takes six to eight weeks to decide who will make their ring, and then there are six to 10 weeks of design and craftsmanship before the rings are finally presented during a ceremony in early June. Since Denton is its largest manufacturing facility, that’s where Jostens makes most of the championship jewelry it produces. Jostens has created 35 of the last 53 Super Bowl rings, including the last four. The 2019 Super Bowl ring for the New England Patriots was the largest championship ring ever made. Each had more than 400 round diamonds and six marquise-cut diamonds, totaling 8.25 carats. An additional 1.60 carats came from 20 blue sapphires. “Every ring is handcrafted and personalized; no two rings are the same,” Poitras says. “Each one is personalized with the name and number of the player, and every single one of those rings is made from scratch within our facility. Each one is touched by more than 40 people in the process of making it.” Every member of the organization gets a ring, not just players and coaches, so orders range from 500 to 2,000 rings, depending on the organization. “It’s a great source of pride for Jostens, for our entire organization, to be able to play a small role in helping tell that organization’s story,” Poitras says. “We are so honored to be part of that.”

The New England Patriots 2019 Super Bowl ring is the largest championship ring ever designed.

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What: CNC machining (aka, building physical parts based on computer designs) Where: Denton Bravo for: Creating vital parts for everyone from NASA and the military to Samsung and Peterbilt


on Halsey has seen a lot of changes in the manufacturing industry since he opened his business in 1979. Despite new competition and ever-changing technology, his company’s philosophy is simple. “The way we operate is we make good parts,” says Halsey, CEO of Halsey Manufacturing in Denton.


The company performs CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) machining, which

More info:, 940-566-3306

is another way of saying that it allows users to create physical parts based on computer designs. Other capabilities of his business include laser etching; 3D printing; cutting and engraving on materials such as metal, glass, plastics and wood; and other high-precision design and machining. Halsey Manufacturing has a varied clientele that ranges from individuals seeking to make just a few items to large companies such as Samsung, Lockheed Martin and Peterbilt. Don Halsey, CEO of Halsey Manufacturing

Some clients know exactly what they need; others use Halsey’s expertise to create new items. “You just never know what’s going to come in the door or what it’s going to be down the line,” he says. Projects that the company has taken on include everything from making parts for NASA and the military, engraving Yeti-style cups and other personalized items and even creating a fixture to secure cameras on the bumpers of police cars. “We can’t make a truck, but we can make a lot of the different parts that are needed for one,” Halsey says.


His childhood curiosity “for how things operated” led him to get a degree from North Texas in production operations management. He also spent years as an apprentice, learning all he could from others. Those skills helped him see the importance of manufacturing. “Everything you see or touch has been manufactured in some form or fashion,” he says. As a member of the North Texas chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, Halsey passes his decades of experience on to the next generation by donating tools to local tech programs and providing apprenticeships at his company. —Mary Dunklin


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Photo courtesy of Halsey Mfg.

Who: Halsey Manufacturing

Who: Western Son What: Vodka (plain and flavored), bourbon, gin and canned cocktails Where: Pilot Point


ver wonder how that vodka got into the bottle? Find out during a behind-the-scenes tour of Western Son Distillery in Pilot Point. Only nine years young, Western Son handcrafts its products in small batches. The vodka, which is distilled 10 times from 100% American corn, is now available for purchase in nearly every state, and every single bottle comes out of Pilot Point. Three tours are offered on Saturday afternoons (1, 3 and 5 p.m.), most often led by master distiller, Vincent “Vinny” Messina, who takes guests on an adventure through the 30,000-squarefoot facility to reveal Western Son’s distilling and bottling process from start to finish. “One of the newer things we’re offering on these tours is ‘fill your own bottle,’” Vinny says. Guests can upgrade their ticket for this opportunity at the time of the tour.

batch.” Raspberry, the company’s latest release, garners rave reviews, and award-winning Watermelon makes a big splash, as do Grapefruit, Peach, Cucumber and Lime flavors. They all go down easy, and the added zing gives cocktails made with Western Son an extra-special twist. Western Son also produces single-barrel bourbon, two types of gin and four premixed RTD (ready-to-drink) canned cocktails.


The tour ends in the tasting room, where guests can purchase bottles for home as well as Western Son merch. The Hospitality Center and Bar is open before and after tours for handcrafted cocktails, and on nice days, the party atmosphere spills out onto the porch. Right now, Western Son is No. 4 in Texas for sales of

Photo courtesy of Western Son


Besides its 80-proof, gluten-free original vodka, the brand’s main claim to fame is its flavored vodka, which comes in eight flavors. “[We use] real fruit, so it’s naturally sweet,” Vinny explains. Blueberry is Western Son’s bestseller. “It makes up 20% of our business,” says Vinny, adding that it takes “3,000 pounds of blueberries per

Bravo for: Competing with big names to become the No. 4 best-selling premium vodka in Texas and the No. 7 flavored vodka in the nation More info:, 940-324-0008

premium vodka and No. 7 in the country for sales of favored vodka. But unlike its big-name competitors, Vinny says “we’re still independently owned. Y’all can come in, peek behind the curtain and see it like this from the ground level. Pretty cool.” The company’s success also helps our soldiers. A portion of the profits from each bottle is donated to the Peter Burks Unsung Hero Fund, a nonprofit that collects and delivers care packages to deployed service members. Since December 2007, the organization has sent more than 13 tons of supplies to soldiers throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. —Ellen Ritscher Sackett

MAKING IT To create one of Western Son’s most popular cocktails, The Pioneer, combine 1 ½ oz. Western Son Raspberry Vodka, six raspberries, ½ oz. simple syrup and ½ oz. lime juice then sit back and enjoy!

Vincent “Vinny” Messina leads weekly tours.

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“Our family makes furniture for your family,” says the 58-year-old.

Who: The Leather Sofa Co. What: Handmade leather sofas Where: Lewisville Bravo for: Building a 52-employee, five-facility company from a $37,000 investment More info:, 972-353-7770

The Lurie family (left to right: DeAnn, Tanner, Stevie (miniature schnauzer), Seth and Mitch. Below: the company’s Victoria design


etting fired on his first day as a furniture sales manager, Mitch Lurie says, is one of the best things that happened to his career. “My boss refused to tell me why,” he says. “So I pledged to never work for anyone again.”


In 2004, Lurie and his wife, DeAnn, invested $37,000 to start their own company, The Leather Sofa Co., selling furniture supplied by an outside vendor in Denton. They bought the factory too and began making their own furniture.


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Eventually, they moved the company’s hub to Lewisville. Today, The Leather Sofa Co. has 52 employees and showrooms in North Dallas, Frisco, Grapevine and Fort Worth as well as a 59,000-square-foot retail and factory outlet facility in Lewisville. Lurie, a former professional soccer player who moved to Texas from his native South Africa at the age of 25, loves the challenges of running his own company and the joy of working with his family. The Luries’ 23-year-old son, Seth, joined the sales team last summer. Even their pet dog, Stevie G. (named after a soccer player) hangs out at the Lewisville facility.

While the pieces are still hand-made, The Leather Sofa Co. has added computer-digitized patterns for a CNC wood router and a leather-cutting machine that is among the largest in the nation. This innovative technology has helped the company offer about 100 styles, including sofas, chairs, theater seats and more in styles ranging from Western to traditional to contemporary. Their unique designs include 15 styles of furniture legs, 23 options of nail heads and 300 types of regular, tooled and hair-on-hide leathers. Ninety percent of the leather comes from Italy, and all pieces are made of hardwoods, high-density, high-resiliency foam and nylon stitching. “No two pieces are alike,” Lurie says. The company has expanded its retail presence to include wholesale and online sales. To keep up, Lurie worked with computer experts to develop the company’s own software, which helps customers track purchases from design to delivery, a process that takes about four weeks. “We treat every piece of furniture as if it’s going into our own living room,” Lurie says. —Annette Nevins

Photo courtesy of The Leather Sofa Co.


Who: Art Glass Ensembles What: Stunning stained-glass windows, gifts and art Where: Denton


hen Christie Wood announced that she was leaving a 21-year career as a computer analyst to pursue her passion for stained glass, her mother was less than thrilled. Making a living as an artist is tough, she argued, and the tech industry offered far more job security. “My dad said, ‘You’ll be fine,’” recalls Wood, with a chuckle. Proving her father right, she has found steady work as a stained-glass artist for 25 years, and business is booming. “It’s a broad enough business that you can switch gears if the economy changes,” says Wood, who got her start filling wholesale orders for giftware. “If we’re going into a recession, I know people aren’t spending money on new commissions, but they’ll spend money on repairs.” When the economy picks up, requests for new commissions start coming in again.

Photo courtesy of Christie Wood


Wood runs her enterprise, Art Glass Ensembles, from a converted house on Bolivar Street near downtown Denton and employs four assistants to help her manage a constant stream of orders. She currently is working on stained-glass window renovations for several churches, smaller gift items for retailers and an

This intricate stained glass window is installed at St. Barnabus Episcopal Church in Denton.

intricate bathroom panel for a private residence. The craft of stained-glass art has changed very little over the centuries, Wood notes, although computer-aided design does make planning easier. “There’s a specific design program that I use that knows the different lead widths, the differences between lead, zinc and copper, and the different kinds of glass from the different glass manufacturers,” she explains. The software helps Wood map out the myriad puzzle pieces that turn her detailed drawings into works of art, but creating the finished product still requires hours of meticulous labor.

or west,” she says, adding, “It’s a fragile material, and yet it’s a building material, and yet it’s art.” The same could be said of her business, which has proven both durable and gratifying. “One of these days, I will retire,” says Wood, “although not anytime soon.” —Leslie J. Thompson

Bravo for: Building a business that is resistant to the ups and downs of the economy More info: artglassensembles. com, 940-591-3002


As for why she left her previous profession in the IT world, Wood says that she was captivated by the beauty of stained glass. “The look of it changes according to different lighting and different times of the year — whether it’s overcast or bright sunshine, whether it faces north or east

The artist stands next to her life-sized stained-glass sculpture of local blues icon Pops Carter, currently displayed inside Festival Hall at Denton’s Patterson-Appleton Arts Center.

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Since that first headboard, Caitlin has continued to develop her woodworking skills and began working full time at their shop in Bolivar, west of Sanger, in 2018. Today, Knabe Woodwork helps customers add rustic farmhouse elements to their homes with a broad range of offerings. The couple specializes in barn doors and custom wooden signs but also creates name puzzles, coffee tables, bookshelves, benches, islands, farmhouse tables and more to provide clients with just the right piece to complement their interiors. Customers can select the size, style and finish for pieces, and any text, finish, size and shape for signs. “They are completely

Nick and Caitlin Knabe


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Who: Knabe Woodwork What: Rustic farmhouse furnishings, barn doors, signs and more Where: Bolivar (west of Sanger) Bravo for: Going from a DIY headboard for their own home to over 12K Facebook fans in just six years Info:, 469-514-3690 customizable — we build everything project by project, and everything is specific for the client,” Caitlin says.


Along with customizable signs, barn doors are their most popular product — they have built nearly 400 and counting. Each one is unique and numbered. The Knabes meet with clients to discuss preferences and then install the hardware for the door, taking measurements to ensure that the door will fit the opening precisely. Next, they build the door, which usually takes about a week, and hang it for the client. “We are very hands-on when it comes to building our products, and we have such a good relationship with our clients,” Caitlin says. “Some of them have become family, and we have a lot of returning clients.” —Abigail Boatwright

Photo courtesy of Knabe Wood Work


n 2014, armed only with high school woodshop experience, Denton natives Nick and Caitlin Knabe used scrap wood to make a headboard for their own bed. The husband-and-wife team posted about their project on Facebook, and before long, they were getting multiple requests to make headboards for other people. The couple decided to rise to the challenge and offer their products to the public.



leven years ago, architect Maritza Uzcategui lost her vision as a result of renal failure. But this Venezuelan-born Dentonite is not easily discouraged. Without her sight, she could no longer work as an architect, but she wanted to continue expressing her creativity, so she enrolled in jewelry-making classes and fell in love with the process. Who: MU Jewels What: Handcrafted jewelry made by a blind jeweler

Photos courtesy of Miguel Rojas

Where: Denton Bravo for: Overcoming obstacles to create beautiful jewelry without the aid of sight More info: Instagram @mujewelsdesign, MUJewelsDesign

Maritza Uzcategui at work

Six years later, under the name MU Jewels, Maritza has created more than 1,000 designs including bracelets, necklaces, tiaras, charms, rings, earrings and more. Ideas and inspiration come from everywhere. “I get ideas from web videos I hear, from family, friends, my grandson — his toys are sometimes great for me to get ideas from,” she says. “The new collection is inspired by being strong, keeping yourself happy, loving yourself and living life!” she says. “The collection is mainly bracelets, but custom orders like charms and earrings are welcome!” Find her work online or at the Denton Community Market. —Kimberly Turner

So how exactly does someone make such exquisite pieces without sight? Maritza mainly works with copper wires of various thicknesses — depending on the design and project — and begins each project by separating them by size and cutting them to length. Then the magic begins. She explains: “I go over in my mind on how to bend the wires and twist them to get the figures and shapes that I imagine I will end up with. While on this mental process, I, at the same time, run my fingers through the wires and give them the shapes and twists as I imagine them in my mind. It is kind of hard to describe it since it is already really natural for me. Try closing your eyes and touching your charm, ring or bracelet, then try to think how you would get to make something long like the wire to feel like the one you’re touching. I guess this would be the best way of describing it.” She uses various stones, crystals and beads to decorate and complete the designs. Her son and daughter (in law) help her separate the beads and finishing elements by color and type and choose color combinations. She’s exceptionally grateful for the assistance, but when asked what her biggest challenge is, she laughs and says, “having to trust others on the combinations and colors and what they think is pretty or not — and when I lose what I was working on because it falls on the floor!” “My son and his wife — I like to call her my daughter — have been the greatest support and the reason I don’t give up on wanting to keep working to share my ideas and pieces,” she says. “My grandson is learning to be a really good helper too!” Once Maritza has completed the piece, it is cleaned and her daughter (in law) does silver electroplating for that final elegant touch.

This gold-plated spiral necklace ($30) is available on Etsy.

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Who: Landry Print Co.

Where: Denton Bravo for: Embracing their adopted hometown and using that Denton pride to create art More info:


hen graphic designer Jude Landry moved to Denton with his wife, Alisha, to take a job at UNT in 2014, the couple was immediately charmed by their new hometown. They came up with the phrase and design for their “Oh no you Denton” products because, Jude says, “All great cities have cool art about them — New York, San Francisco, Chicago — you go to any city and there’s great locally themed art, so we wanted to be part of that.”


Jude and Alisha Landry


They were shocked by how well the products went over with locals. He says the “Oh no you Denton” products “immediately took off. We figured people would like it, but it sold way more than we ever would have imagined.” Jude had been selling prints and posters in his online store since around 2010. Today, he also sells at the DIME Store in Denton. He and Alisha have since grown Landry Print Co. to include stickers, T-shirts and other products with Jude’s clean, structured style. “I’m influenced by graphic designers who illustrate

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because — and this is a broad statement — but they tend to have a certain clean and geometric aesthetic that I’m drawn to that is a little more rigid than the loose painterly-ness of traditional illustrators. I like grids. I like structure. I like when something looks really well put together and considered. I find it beautiful and aesthetically pleasing.”


He picked up the craft of screen-printing in graduate school while working as a designer at a T-shirt shop, and that medium has also influenced his designs. “Any time you work in a certain medium as an artist, you want to embrace the

Landry’s Denton–related designs proved to be unexpectedly popular.

limitations of the techniques or materials you’re using. For example, every color has to be printed one layer at a time, so I limit my colors to usually two or three. I like the limitations of color and size. Like, none of my artwork runs to the edge of the page because I can’t print that big, so there are these little built-in limitations that get incorporated into the art. You do it over and over again, and it becomes kind of a signature in some way, but it’s not always intentional.” Landry Print Co.’s current designs include a poster of Denton’s hypothetical subway system, colorful stylized posters of the Denton Courthouse, “Tex’ Me” Texas shirts and more. —Kimberly Turner

Photo courtesy of Jude Landry

What: T-shirts, stickers, posters and custom prints


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Tommy Meyer has walked — and flown — in his father’s footsteps.


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Photos courtesy of Jack Fleetwood

Nearly 93 years ago, Charles Lindbergh waved at a little boy from his biplane — and it changed history. Today, that boy’s son continues building on his father’s legacy. BY PAULA FELPS


lame it all on Charles Lindbergh. In 1927, one month after his historic solo nonstop trans-Atlantic flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris, France, the pilot celebrated by flying his famous Spirit of St. Louis plane above Forest Park in his hometown of St. Louis. Standing in the crowd that day was a 9-year-old boy named George Meyer, and when Lindbergh leaned out of his plane and waved, young George was sure that wave was meant just for him. “My dad swore Charles Lindbergh was waving just to him, not to anyone else in the crowd,” says George’s son and Double Oak resident Tommy Meyer. “He would say, ‘No, he was looking straight at me!’ He felt like he had been given a sign.” That moment inspired George to start building model airplanes and ultimately opened the f loodgates to a full-on airplane obsession. First, George built and flew model airplanes, then display models for museums. Some of his work landed in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and by the early 1950s, George decided that if he was good enough to build working, scale-model airplanes, he could probably build the real thing. For the next six years, he spent every spare moment building parts and assembling a full-size, working biplane. “My dad finished the plane in 1957, when I was just a boy,” Tommy recalls. “I grew up watching him build that plane, and he passed that love of planes on to me.” George wanted to name his biplane Little Toot, after a Disney tugboat character that Tommy and his brother loved. Concerned that there might be a copyright issue, he reached out to Walt Disney Studios and asked permission. Much to his surprise, Disney not only gave its blessing to use the Little Toot name, but

Tommy Meyer spent more than 14 years creating Big Toot, the big brother to his father’s original Little Toot.

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the studios even designed the image for the biplane’s nose. Once he finished his plane, George flew Little Toot to the 1957 Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) convention and flew out with the EAA’s top honors, the Mechanix Illustrated Trophy for Outstanding Achievement. The little plane was such a huge hit that the EAA soon began including photos of it on membership recruiting brochures.

In His Father’s Footsteps

As Little Toot’s popularity grew, Tommy was quietly honing his own skills. He began building model planes and took drafting classes in school so he could learn how to draw the airplane’s complicated parts. Before long, hard work paid off for Tommy just as it had for his dad; his airplanes won the National Model Airplane Championship in 1960, 1964 and 1968. In 1962, while still in high school, he used his drafting skills to replicate the Little Toot biplane plans, which allowed others to learn how to build the planes for


themselves. Because of that, Tommy estimates that about 50 more Little Toots were built. He would later have the opportunity to help refurbish several of these planes. By the time he graduated from high school, Tommy was as fascinated with aviation as his father, and he’d already learned to fly. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that he joined the Air Force, where he went into aircraft maintenance. “I probably should have been a pilot,” Tommy says, “but I was happy working on the planes. I was proud to be in maintenance.” And, of course, that only deepened his knowledge of the inner workings of airplanes — expertise he would draw on, years later, to help achieve his father’s next vision. A fter ser ving in the A ir Force, he sta rted work ing a s a dra f tsma n for Exxon/Mobil, married his wife, JoAn, and started a family, but his passion for planes never waned. “Our family had moved to Florida in 1959, and when Hurricane Celia came through in 1970, it damaged Little Toot’s wings,” Tommy recalls. By then, Tommy

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and his wife lived just three houses down from his mom and dad. “The fuselage was totally intact, but the wings were badly damaged,” he says. “My dad wasn’t up for rebuilding it, so I said I would.” Although he moved the plane to his home so he could work on it, work and family responsibilities pulled at his time, and he admits that he wasn’t even sure where to start when it came to rebuilding the damaged plane. Finally, George said that if Tommy wasn’t going to work on the plane, he wanted it back, and then, without Tommy’s knowledge, George quietly sold Little Toot to an airshow pilot. “That’s when I started working on refurbishing other Little Toots,” Tommy says. He also began trying to buy back the original Little Toot. During the 10 years it took him to buy back his father’s original plane, he had restored a couple of other Little Toot biplanes. His first restored plane, which he named “Tommy’s Toot,” won EAA awards in 1997 and 1999. But it

Photos courtesy of Tommy Meyer

The cockpit of the two-seater plane

was getting his father’s original Little Toot back that excited him most. Once he had the plane back in the family, he upgraded it to a 150 horsepower engine, repaired the wings and completely refurbished it. In 2000, Tommy flew it to the EAA AirVenture show, where it won the Paul H. Poberezny Founder’s EA A Craftsmanship Award — the same award his father had won 43 years earlier with that very same plane. But even as Tommy worked on Little Toot, he had something much bigger in mind. “This was all about following in my dad’s legacy,” he says. “Before he died in 1982, my dad told me that he always wished he had built a two-seater. I knew that I had to do it.”

A Bigger, Better Toot

The biggest challenge, Tommy says, was that building a two-seater “was above his pay grade.” Before he could start building the plane, he had to deepen his knowledge and stretch his skill set. He studied the Little Toot plans he had drawn so many years ago and looked at what he needed to change. He helped others with Little Toot restorations and constantly thought about what could be done differently to create a larger plane. Finally, in 2004, he started drawing plans for the plane that would become known as Big Toot. “It took me almost 20 years to develop enough skill to even begin something like this,” he says. He built the entire plane in his home workshop, but says the Big Toot plane you see today is actually the second iteration of the plane. “I actually built two airplanes, because I’d draw [a part], go out and weld it, and then realize it would work so much better if I made this one adjustment. So then I’d go back and redraw it. It might take me half a day to do it the first time, but the next time it might only take 30 minutes. I did that with pretty much every part of this plane.” He spent 14 years drawing, welding and redrawing parts. For the paint and interior, he drew inspiration from the original Little Toot, creating a matching big brother to the original plane. Even the logo on the nose is a modification of the original Little Toot Disney design.

But when it was finally ready for a test flight, Tommy had to take it back to the drawing board. “You know, when you build something like the space shuttle, it’s not going to be perfect the first time,” Tommy points out. “My first one f lew good, but we had some problems.” After a few adjustments, Big Toot was ready to take to the skies again, and Tommy called on Joe Flood III, an airshow pilot and a member of the renowned Flying Flood family. “He flew it and it turns out this airplane is a 230-mile-an-hour rocket,” Tommy says. “It lands good. It tracks straight. This airplane is so special to me.” In July of 2019, Joe flew the plane to the AirVenture in Oshkosh, where the crowd laid eyes on Big Toot for the first time. The plane not only won the Bronze Lindy trophy in the Plans Built division, but it finally fulfilled the legacy that Tommy had worked so hard to accomplish for his father. “I know he was looking down and smiling that day,” Tommy says.

Not Finished Yet

Although completing Big Toot signaled a major milestone, Tommy now is rolling up his sleeves to work on an even better version. “I think of this as the prototype,” he says. “There’s not another one like it in the whole world, and there never will be. But now I’m building the second one and making some changes that will make it better. Each time we build it, it gets better.” His home and workshop have become museums that pay tribute to Little Toot and to the lifelong work of Tommy and George. Filled with awards, photos, drawings and memorabilia like shirts, jackets, hats and model airplanes, it is a constant reminder of what this father-and-son team has accomplished. But of all the reminders of what they’ve created, perhaps the thing that stands out the most is a nearly century-old banner that declares, “Lindbergh Did It!” “That’s from the day my grandparents took my dad to see Charles Lindbergh fly over Forest Park in 1927,” Tommy says. “They bought him this banner and he kept it all those years. If it hadn’t been for him being so sure that Charles Lindbergh was waving at him, who knows if all this would have happened.”

In 1957, Little Toot won the EAA’s top honor for George Meyer.

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April 24, 25 & 26

`80s, Tower of Power near single-handedly carried the torch for full-on 10-piece ba even including a conguero/percussionist. Faithful fans flocked to their concerts and their new albums that kept the real soul vibe alive for decades. Indeed, the horn se pivotal to Tower of Power that unlike most band stage setups that have horns in th T.O.P.’s renowned and respected horn section is right up-front with the lead singer Tower of Power will take the main stage on Friday, April 24, 2020 at 9pm.

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DOYLE BRAMHALL II Saturday, April 25 FRI, – 9pmAPRIL 24 @ 9PM


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Doyle Bramhall II is an American musician, producer, guitarist and songwriter known for hi Eric Clapton, Roger Waters, Sheryl Crow, Nora Jones and many others. He is the son of the and drummer Doyle Bramhall.


Bramhall grew up in Austin, Texas. By the age of 15, he was rubbing shoulders with the Vau APRIL 24, 25 & 26, 2020 brothers (“they were like family to me”) At 18, he was tapped by Jimmie Vaughan to jo

Friday 5-11p.m. Saturday 10and a.m. p.m. • Sunday 11 the a.m.tragic - 9 p.m. Fabulous •Thunderbirds, two- 11 years later, following death of Stevie Ray

Quakertown Parkfellow • 321 Austin E. McKinney 2 blocks of theteamed Courthouse Square he and guitar •ace CharlieNESexton with SRV’s Double Trouble rh

section, drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon, to form the band Arc A band released aNo strong self-titledor debut album in 1992 but broke up before they co Coolers Dogs! follow-up. Bramhall then signed with Geffen Records and embarked on a solo caree A Litter-Free & Recycling Event! pair of albums – Doyle Bramhall II(1996, Geffen Records) and Jellycream (1999, RC won A-Train— the hearts of music critics as well as a couple - Roger Waters an Take the an easy 3-block walkoftomusic the icons park! Clapton, who would soon call upon his services.

Bramhall and sang both backup vocals during Roger Waters’ Dentonplayed Festivalguitar Foundation • P.O. Box lead 2104and • Denton, Texas 76202 2000 In the Fleshworld tour but• his association with 940-565-0931 1-940-566-7007 fax the Pink Floyd singer was cut sh he received a call from Eric Clapton. Bramhall recalls Eric admitting that he was a hu work, and going on the say that “’I’d love to get together with you because I'm mak with B.B King.’” M A R C H /A P R I L 2 02 0 D E N T O N CO U N T Y



Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Craft Cocktail Class

When: March 19, 6 p.m. Where: Bendt Distilling Co., 225 S. Charles St., Lewisville Mixology experts will teach you to create two popular craft cocktails then enjoy

When: March 13–15 and 20–22 Where: Black Box Theater, 318 E. Hickory St. Denton Community Theatre presents Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in which two hapless minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet get a chance to tell their story. The story by Tom Stoppard is directed by Micha Marie Stevens.

Denton Redbud Festival

When: April 4, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Where: Denton Civic Center & Quakertown Park, 321 E. McKinney St., Denton This award-winning Arbor Day celebration promotes community beautification and Denton pride. Tree and plant sales, gardening supplies, handmade products, family-friendly activities and live music ensure that this festival has something for everyone. The festival traces its roots back to an annual TWU festival that ran from the 1930s until 1981 to celebrate the school’s beautification and tree-planting efforts. In 1994, Keep Denton Beautiful gave the festival new life in honor of Denton’s designation as “Rosebud Capital of Texas.”

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Photo courtesy of Bendt Distilling Co.

the fruits of your labor. Light bites will also be provided, and the tasting hall opens an hour prior to class time. Book now at for $30 per person or $50 for a couple.

4th Annual Vietnam Veterans Car & Truck Show

When: March 21, 11 a.m. Where: Cycle Center of Denton, 321 Acme St., Denton This popular annual show hosted by Time Machine Car Shows has 27 classes, including motorcycles, cars, trucks, veterans’ choice, people’s choice and more. Enjoy the vehicles and try your luck in the 50/50 raffle for great door prizes.

Photo courtesy of Foam Glow

Our Father’s Car Show

Foam Glow 5K

When: April 25, 6 p.m. Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Denton Walkers and runners are blasted with UV-reactive glowing foam then illuminated with black lights for this exhilarating race for all ages and experience levels.

The nontoxic foam comes in a variety of colors, and participants enjoy a foam glow dance party with a live DJ when they finish. Every finisher receives an augmented reality medal that comes to life with the aid of your phone as well as an event shirt, glow bib, glow-in-the-dark tattoo and one of the best nights of their lives.



When: March 21 Where: 2217 N. Carroll Blvd., Denton This charity car show raises funds to purchase land to build a housing community for homeless veterans. The event features live and silent auctions, food vendors, booths, a raffle and, of course, a great, family-friendly car show. Proceeds benefit We Got Your Six, a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans.

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FlintConf 2020


When: March 6–7 Where: Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio, 411 E. Sycamore St., Denton This two-day, three-stage music event highlights the talents of female musicians to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise money for Girls Rock Dallas and DMAC

Denton’s You Are Here Program. This year’s performers include Mallory Jones, Relick, In Spite of Madness, Emma Ricks, Lorelei K, Plato’s Theory, HONIN, Doomfall, Lizzi Trumbore, Miranda Kennedy, Melissa Ratley, Ms. La, Jessie Frye, Summer Dean, Holly and The Mystery Lights, Trees Marie and the Heavy Hearts, Claire Morales, Helium Queens, L25music, Mean Jolene and more.

When: April 10, 8 a.m. Where: Stoke Coworking, 608 E. Hickory St., Suite 128, Denton According to organizers, “FlintConf brings together entrepreneurs, creatives, freelancers, side hustlers and students in any stage of their business development to learn how to optimize available resources to start and grow a successful business.” The one-day conference will help connect you to the resources you’ll need to be successful in business. Connect with other entrepreneurs and leaders in art, music, technology, services and consumer products and learn from one another. Tickets include breakfast, lunch, snacks and inspiration and start at $25 for early-bird tickets.

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When: April 24–26 Where: Quakertown Park, 321 E. McKinney, Denton This massive event, which is free to the public, has become one of the largest tourist attractions in Texas during its four decades. The juried art show, food, family activities and dance are just the start of this signature event. Enjoy jazz, folk, blues, country, rock tejano, conjunto and even polka music as well as three community stages where locals can showcase their talents. This year’s lineup features Tower of Power, Doyle Bramhall II, Brave Combo and many more.

Doyle Bramhall II photo by Alysse Gafkjen; FlintConf photo courtesy of Stoke Coworking

40th Annual Denton Arts and Jazz Festival

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