Jason Taylor can guarantee — 100%, without a doubt — that the beef patties in the hamburgers at his JT2 Gourmet Burgers & Ranch Market in Lindale are fresh from the ranch.
In fact, a few weeks earlier he was raising the cattle that furnished the meat.
"Everything we serve comes from our ranch," says Taylor, as he emerges from the kitchen wearing a black cowboy hat and a shirt with the JT2 logo on it. "There's no question where it comes from."
He opened the restaurant last year as an extension of his JT2 Cattle Company. He also sales beef products at a meat counter in the restaurant and direct-delivery to subscription service clients.
The JT2 name reflects both his name and that of wife, Jolie. He says it was always their dream to embrace the values of ranching and bring fresh meat to people.
Taylor grew up on a small farm in Central Texas. One of his first loves was football. He played football at Angelo State University in San Angelo. At Texas A&M University, he served as a graduate assistant working with the football team and earned a doctorate degree in leadership development.
After college, he was involved with web-based technology companies, most notably PeopleAnswers, which develops talent assessment software tools to help companies better match applicants with jobs.
Although successful in the high-tech world, he was not always fulfilled.
"I like that wholesome lifestyle," he said of his yearning to get back to the land.
Taylor had already spent months searching for the perfect place to launch a ranching operation when he came across a 1,100-acre spread in parts of Smith and Van Zandt counties.
"What you have here are these green rolling hills. I knew this was something I could work with."
The property also had plenty of fields, trees providing shade and natural water sources. It was perfect.
"We started JT2 Beef (six years ago) with one thing in mind," says Taylor in a message on his company website. "We wanted to offer folks ... a way of getting all-natural and pasture raised beef, with no hormones, antibiotics or steroids. We also wanted to fully control how our cattle are raised to ensure they have the happiest and most stress-free life possible.
"That's why we don't source our beef out, but instead we raise it right here on the JT2 Ranch."
On any given day, there are about 625 head of cattle on the ranch. Taylor raises a breed that is a mix of Angus and Brangus.
During a tour of the ranch with his dog Benny riding in the truck bed, Taylor points out about 60 of the stocky black cattle under a tree up a hill.
"There's some," he says as the cattle pick up their heads from eating grass and look our way. "They want to know what we're doing."
The cattle are grouped by age and weight. In the next few days, this group will be moved to a different location.
"What we do on the ranch is that we have different pastures that are divided up," he explains in a video. "And we purposely rotation graze and what that means specifically is we won't keep them on any one pasture too long."
Another group is huddled near a fence line.
"You'll always see them together like this," Taylor says. "They have that herd mentality."
When the steers reach about 1,250 pounds they are ready for slaughter.
"What we've found is that this gives us our greatest yield for this particular breed. ... That 1,250 pounds gets us the types of steak we want, the size cuts we want, plenty of ground beef and plenty of products for you."
The ranch has a subscription service in which customers pick cuts of meat that are packed in dry-ice and shipped to their homes.
Taylor says JT2's "straight off the ranch" branding was also a perfect fit for a hamburger restaurant.
He purchased what was once a seafood joint on U.S. Highway 69 between Interstate 20 and Lindale. The menu includes "old-fashioned" hamburger platters, fries and desserts made on site. Chicken fried steak, New York strip and sirloin are often available as well.
The restaurant is decorated in a western motif. Plenty of photos of the ranch are on the walls. A sign behind the counter reminds patrons that JT2 beef is "all natural."
Taylor is convinced that grass-fed cattle, that are not injected with hormones, produce better tasting meat.
"Because our beef comes straight from the lush pastures on our East Texas ranch, you can truly taste the difference. Our flavor signature is unmatched and the texture is unmistakable."