Tender Smokehouse will open in Frisco in spring 2019.

Tender Smokehouse will open in Frisco in spring 2019.

Ben Torres/Special Contributor

In September 2017, a group of friends opened barbecue joint Tender Smokehouse in Celina, relying on word of mouth to get customers through the door.

"People just started spreading it like wildfire," says former Major League Baseball player Torii Hunter, one of the co-owners. "Word of mouth is still the most powerful source."

So it was by word of mouth, through a friend of a friend of a friend, that Hunter talked through Tender Smokehouse's new plan to bring in customers at their coming-soon restaurant in Frisco.

Shouldn't be hard. Tender Smokehouse has a strong online following, with Yelp naming it one of Texas' top 100 restaurants

Who is Torii Hunter? He's a former Major League Baseball outfielder. He's also been closer to Oprah Winfrey than most of the rest of us have: That's Hunter, center, with his wife Katrina Hunter on the left, making a donation  to Minnie's Food Pantry during an event hosted by Winfrey in 2018.

Who is Torii Hunter? He's a former Major League Baseball outfielder. He's also been closer to Oprah Winfrey than most of the rest of us have: That's Hunter, center, with his wife Katrina Hunter on the left, making a donation  to Minnie's Food Pantry during an event hosted by Winfrey in 2018.

Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer

The restaurant will replace 3 Stacks Smoke and Tap House, which closed in mid-2018, on Preston Road near John Hickman Parkway in Frisco. Tender Smokehouse is expected to open in late March or early April, he says.

Hunter says to expect a similar menu as in Celina, which features brisket, loaded baked potatoes, ribs and traditional sides such as beans and mac and cheese.

Tender Smokehouse is a collaboration among pitmaster Dante Ramirez ("the brains behind everything," Hunter says), Ramirez's girlfriend Audrea Weimer, Hunter's son's father-in-law Eddie Bell and Hunter's wife Katrina. 

They say the Celina restaurant attracts people from Anna, Pilot Point and Sherman, but a restaurant "down south" would offer more people in North Texas a taste. A smell, too: "When you smell the smoke and the barbecue ... you remember a summer barbecue or a family reunion," Torii Hunter says. "The smoky smell actually takes you back."

Deer heads decorate the bar area inside the new Tender Smokehouse in Frisco. It opens soon, says its co-owner Torii Hunter.

Deer heads decorate the bar area inside the new Tender Smokehouse in Frisco. It opens soon, says its co-owner Torii Hunter.

Ben Torres/Special Contributor

Hunter's business is baseball, not restaurants. He was a professional athlete from the 1990s through 2015, playing for the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers. He won nine Gold Gloves as one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, and he made five All-Star teams. Though he retired in 2015, he works now as a special assistant to baseball operations for the Twins.

Tender Smokehouse in Frisco is still under construction.

Tender Smokehouse in Frisco is still under construction.

Ben Torres/Special Contributor

"I don't say I'm retired, I say I was real tired," he says. "I was real tired of baseball." He doesn't tire of cheering on his son Torii Hunter, Jr., who plays in the Los Angeles Angels farm system.

"You can retire from what you're doing, but I've never retired the way the world does, sitting nude on the beach sitting mai tais. No, I'm not doing that," the elder Hunter says, laughing. 

"I love barbecue. I love being around the people. It's like my ministry." 

Tender Smokehouse, opening soon, will be located at 4226 Preston Road, Frisco.

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