While browsing online a few months ago, I happened upon a photo of an enticing cheese creation captioned “Grilled Mac & Cheese.” I made it my mission to seek out this drool-inducing dish for dinner and wound up in a hole-in-the-wall called Papa Bears, tucked away in an older shopping center off Parker and Alma in Plano.
I met Papa Bear himself (Chef Chris Reese) when he personally delivered our dinner to the table. It was then that we struck up a conversation and I learned the fascinating backstory of this passionate and perseverant chef. The off-the-menu Grilled Mac & Cheese lived up to my expectations, and I also fell in love with his pulled pork sandwich and burger. After finishing our delicious meal, I snagged Chris’s contact information, because I couldn’t wait to feature him in an article here in Plano Magazine.
Several months have passed since my initial visit. Now serving his food in a different location, I’m excited to share Papa Bear’s story.
Chris has recently partnered with the great team at Angela’s at the Crosswalk in downtown Plano, bringing with him his famed burgers, catfish, pulled pork, and, yes, of course, that Grilled Mac & Cheese. Those of you familiar with Angela’s are already aware of Angela Murphy’s delectable selection of desserts and of Chef George Moore’s home-style cooking, so it seems Papa Bear will be a natural fit.
About the merging of the two teams, Chris said, “Music is a universal language, and food is a universal language. And so just by talking to the team here, I realized we’ve got a lot of things in common, like we are going after the same thing. It’s not about just mass-producing food and people scarfing it down and leaving. We want people to come in and actually enjoy the food, enjoy the staff, enjoy the music and the atmosphere.”
Growing up as a missionary’s son, Chris has lived all over the world. Spending time in Uganda, Malaysia, and around the U.S. gave him lots of worldly flavor and influence in his cooking today. “The one unifying thing, even being overseas, is food,” explains Chris. “The heartbeat of your house is always around food. So that’s what I’ve always wanted to bring to my restaurants. I want everyone to put your cell phones down, and let’s just talk.”
Chef Chris studied at Central State, focusing on Culinary Arts and Sociology. Then, after graduating, he and his wife opened their first restaurant in Charlotte, NC when he was just 21 years old. Reese’s Snack Corner would be the first in a lifetime of restaurants for Chris and his family.
Here in Texas, Papa Bear and his family opened a spot at Twin Coves Marina on Lake Grapevine, on July 4, 2014. It started with a casual conversation in a bait and tackle shop between Chris and a man who turned out to be the president of the marina. As they chatted, the president found out that Chris was a chef, and Chris found out that the president had a 6,000 square foot restaurant he was trying to open that summer on the marina, which he offered to Chris. Chris was a teacher at the time, which meant his summers were free. At first he was hesitant to accept the offer, but after talking to his wife, they decided since they spent so much time at the lake, why not open a restaurant there?
He laughs as he recalls opening day on that July 4th holiday, with boats as far as the eye could see, all approaching his restaurant for lunch. He recounted the adventure that day with just he and his family of five serving almost 1,000 people. Sadly, that restaurant was forced to close when the lake flooded later in the year, and Papa Bear and his crew went in search of a safer space, inland.
Many Plano diners found Papa Bear last year at his new namesake spot, Papa Bears, and he quickly amassed quite a following with neighbors on the NextDoor app and on social media. So naturally his followers were devastated to see Papa Bears close its doors this February.
Chris was actively working on a new, better location for his eatery, when, by a twist of fate, his path crossed with one of the owners at Angela’s at the Crosswalk, Julie Holmer. When they met to explore the idea of joining forces, their rapport was instant and unexplainable. There are lots of things that impressed owner Julie about Papa Bear. “I love his energy–his positive energy,” she said. “I mean, just in the short time that he’s been here and interacted with the employees, all the employees have responded favorably, and he brings great experience from owning restaurants.”
Angela’s at the Crosswalk has been open since 2011 and is most known for its upscale comfort food and from-scratch pastry offerings, served in a beautifully welcoming space reminiscent of a European bistro. Watch for big things coming from Angela’s in the coming months as they work to introduce a refreshed, collaborative menu featuring some of Chef Chris’s characteristic plates.
Namesake of Angela’s herself, Angela Murphy, summed it up well, “When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”Angela's at the Crosswalk >