Stephan Pyles is, as they say, having a moment. Hot on the heels of opening Sky Canyon at Love Field, he now has four successful restaurants in Dallas, including his eponymous flagship, Samar by Stephan Pyles and Stampede 66. Of all these, Stampede 66 is his most personal project.
Opened last fall, the Uptown hot spot was inspired by the Phillips 66 truck stop cafe his parents ran in Big Spring, and the visually engaging space is full of conceptual art, visual puns and sentimental homages to Pyles’ formative years in West Texas.
“This is more about my childhood than [the now-defunct restaurant] Star Canyon was,” Pyles says. “I wanted to go back through time to these roots. I tell people it’s what my truck stop cafe would have looked like if I had taste, control and money at the age of 10!”
To execute his vision, Pyles tapped Kimberley Miller of Design Duncan Miller Ullmann and the Stash Design team; artist pals Polly Gessell and Santiago Pena contributed art and sculpture. The 7,000-square-foot Stampede 66 is still evolving as Pyles fine-tunes every detail of his dream.
A screened-in porch just off the main entrance is a reminder of where Pyles would hang out with this grandmother and serves as a virtual “campfire” for customers as they wait for a table.
Just one of the amusing accents that runs through the restaurant is a back wall of branded reclaimed wood that lists the names of small towns in Texas in order of maximum punnage — all the way from Lotta through Climax to Concepcion. The exception to this amusing rule? Three panels are devoted to Pyles’ colleagues Katherine Clapner (Dude, Sweet Chocolate), Matt McCallister (FT33) and Tim Byres (Smoke).
In front of the wall stands a light-strung, wood-and-tin canopy Pyles refers to as “the pavilion.” He explains, “When I was growing up, we’d go to the lake and the big thing was picnicking under the pavilion. It’s an homage to my Aunt Jean.”
Above the curvaceous banquettes hang “windows” into a Texan landscape — actually flat-screen TVs showcasing footage commissioned by Pyles for the space. “I had my videographer go to Yoakum, Texas, to a ranch. It’s all filmed over a three-day period.”
The stars at night are big and bright under a light mimicking the Texas sky — or at least they will be, once it is finished to perfection. Pyles is planning on adding clouds and sequin stars. Patrons lucky enough to sit under Santiago Pena’s driftwood and metal tree will see the cycle of dawn through dusk as they dine.
Above the bar hangs a collection of longhorns, the largest of which is more than 100 years old and was gifted to Pyles by his “other mother” Mable Stanley, who is also the inspiration for Mable’s Buttermilk Biscuits on the menu.
A rattlesnake of fused glass, metal and corn husks by Pena writhes along the banquettes, one of the favorite spots for Stampede 66 regulars to sit.
Television screens throughout Stampede 66 flash notable quotes about Texas by the likes of Tommy Tune, Janis Joplin, Carl Sandburg and James A. Michener. Although icons of the state — horny toads, mesquite trees, cows, horses and rattlesnakes — are all given their due, Pyles relegated tumbleweeds to the back room’s light fixtures.
“I don’t like them,” he says, laughing. “I got a burnt orange Firebird for my 19th birthday, and a tumbleweed rolled across my hood, broke my antenna off and dug a groove into my car!”
Just over the kitchen stampedes a herd of wild mustangs. Created in perspective by Santiago Pena, they appear to be running toward the viewer, and the largest horse is 66 inches long, 66 inches tall and has exactly 66 strands of steel in its mane.
Along with all of Stampede 66’s other sculptural elements, they were forged in a fast-and-furious, four-week window by Pena, who says Pyles is “a constant in a non-constant world.
"He knows what he wants, and you’d better bet your ass that once he puts his eye on what that ‘want’ is, he is bound and determined to get it.”