For the past month, Jeff Williams, managing partner at Aspen Creek Grill has involved the community in the restaurant.
"Buck Norris" hangs above the front door to greet customers. The mounted taxidermy mule deer buck got his name from a customer through a Facebook contest in which people suggested names.
Restaurantgoers immediately see the reclaimed barn wood, the snowshoes and artwork depicting scenes of snow-covered mountains that give the place the feel of a ski lodge tucked away in the Rocky Mountains.
Aspen Creek Grill opened Dec. 12 at 1725 W. Southwest Loop 323 in Tyler. The restaurant specializes in American cuisine that the chefs refer to as "amazing fresh food that is made from scratch."
"Almost all of our items are made from scratch," Williams said. "Our hospitality and fresh food combined with our GROW (give customers the right of way) approach help us stand out in Tyler and East Texas."
The 25-year veteran of the restaurant industry moved back to Tyler from Nashville in late 2016. Jeff Williams may be a familiar name to many in Tyler because of his work at Traditions Restaurant and Catering.
"This is the fifth Aspen Creek Grill in Texas. I'm very proud to be a part of it. I'm excited about having the community involved in the restaurant," Williams said.
Williams is calling upon all East Texas hunters to help him decorate the bare wall. The wall is saved for the biggest East Texas buck that a customer is willing to proudly display in the restaurant for the rest of the community to admire.
"If anyone wants to have bragging rights to that wall for their hunting trophy, I want to hang the biggest buck in East Texas on that wall," Williams said. "If there's a wife or significant other out there who thinks that your hunting trophies don't go with the decor she has chosen for the living room, bring it to us and we have a special place for it."
Aspen Creek Grill specializes in hand-cut steaks, but its fresh-squeezed draft margaritas are a big favorite with the customers because of the unique draft system with which the bartenders can pour a margarita on the rocks in seconds.
"A lot of the customers are getting to know our freshly squeezed margaritas," bartender Karen Pope said. "This is a really friendly atmosphere where relationships are being built."
The restaurant prides itself on their two heaping side dishes that come with every entree. So far, the top sellers have been the country fried steaks, chicken fried steak, the 8-ounce sirloin and the "fall off the bone" ribs.
The restaurant's sound system allows the TVs in the bar area to be heard only in the bar while those seated in the side booths can hear music and not have to be bothered by sporting events they are not interested in.
A common question among restaurantgoers is where to eat for under $10. Aspen Creek has an early dining special that consists of 10 entrees for $9.99 from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Aspen Creek Grill is working to get ready for Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine's Day. They have plans for contests through their social media pages. They will be kicking off community relations-style events to connect with the community and local schools.
"It's my belief that people eat with who they know," Williams said. "We're really proud of the way we make our food and relate to our customers."
Aspen Creek Grill is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.