The Fly by Night Cattle Company isn’t located in the most well-known, populated spot. When the steakhouse first opened nine years ago, some thought the idea of a steakhouse outside of the city and on an actual working ranch would never work. Co-owner Jennifer Craft recalls that pivotal moment for the restaurant vividly.
“Bill (Craft) and I will never forget. We had a drink rep come out here and install a system for us," Jennifer explained. "We requested one for the restaurant and one for the bar area. He said, 'well, I’m not putting one in the bar area because y’all will never make it out here.’”
Challenge accepted. And nine years later, the challenge was overcome.
The big draw to The Fly by Night Cattle Company in Cleburne, Texas, goes further than what's on the plate. Its country atmosphere and ambiance are the only things allowed to be well-done. The steak? Medium-rare.
“You can have a great atmosphere, but if you don’t serve quality food, you’re missing the mark anyway,” Jennifer said. Her favorite item on the menu is the tenderloin steak. Bill recommends the ribeye. Both recommend the steaks being grilled to medium-rare. "To get the best flavor out of a steak, if you leave it around that medium-rare you're gonna get the most flavor out of your steak," Bill explained.
The Fly by Night Cattle Company is not your typical, local western-themed restaurant planted somewhere in a city or suburb featuring a western setting and menu. It is a working ranch located in the country right outside of Cleburne. Its location is perfect for those classic Texas sunsets, rolling pastures, and, of course, the cattle. “We built the place with the idea of having a restaurant that wasn’t like any other restaurant,” Bill said. “We just built the restaurant right here on the property and decided we would try to do something different.”
The Fly by Night Cattle Company’s unique journey, growth, and passion for western culture follow that of Bill. He is a Texas A&M graduate and has lived in Cleburne his entire life. After his time in the dairy business, Craft switched over to registered Brangus beef in the 1980s.
“The main reason or difference between dairy cattle is, one, you don’t have to milk twice, three times a day,” Bill explained. “There can be a lot more intensive management, breeding, and that type of thing in the dairy business. But it was one of those 24/7 jobs you can’t get away from. That’s the dairy business. It’s a hard life.”
The Fly by Night Cattle Company's growth from small, humble beginnings epitomizes the western culture and builds upon its unapologetic western atmosphere: where growth comes from hard work from the crack of dawn till sunset. The restaurant’s success story had its early share of challenges.
“When we first opened the restaurant out here on the ranch, we just had one very small bar and a dining room and we found out within about three months that we had to expand," Bill said. "So we added about 700-to-800 square feet onto that. We rolled along there for a few years and three or four years ago we added the bar. In the meantime, we opened up about a 5,500 square foot venue to do special events.”
The Craft’s goal for The Fly by Night Cattle Company goes beyond just Johnson County and just success in Texas. They want The Fly by Night Cattle Company to be a place where everyone can enjoy and experience an authentic western atmosphere. It places a spotlight on the actual country – where there is a narrow signal and vast lands, where people care more about being in the moment than posting about it on social media.
More and more people want to embrace the country. The Crafts and The Fly by Night Cattle Co. wish to provide that. “I think sharing this restaurant and this atmosphere, people just naturally want to be more country,” Bill said. “They want to be out in the country, and it’s their chance to come out here on weekends and get away from it all.”