How Cook’s Garage grew from restaurant serving a side of music to huge concert space … (and about all those signs)

What started out as a warehouse on the lot of a family business, Cook’s Garage has become a venue for concerts, car shows, rodeos and more.

Cook’s – where U.S. 87 and 114th Street meet – is a restaurant and concert venue the Cook family started in 2017. The Cooks grew up in Tahoka where owner Mistie Kahl still lives today.

The majority of the concerts have been country, but rappers Ice Cube and Nelly have also played Cook’s.

The outdoor concert area and dozens and dozens of gas station signs are visible from U.S. 87 – but concerts are also held in the restaurant space.

The beginning of Cook’s Garage

The business was once a storage facility for a paving and roofing company owned by Rusty Cook, Kahl’s sister.

Kahl used the space to throw a party, with no idea where that decision would lead.

Mistie Kahl.

“We were basically a warehouse. I cleaned it out and had a party. Someone said ‘Hey, can I borrow it next and it just went on and on,’” Kahl said.

Rusty said yes. But after the tenth party, Kahl was concerned because people were damaging the space.

But there was a demand, so they decided to rent the space for parties, she said.

“Trevor, my oldest (son), has a car shop next door and said, ‘Hey that party last night, they had like 10 kegs. We should have our own bar (and) we should sell them the alcohol,’” Kahl said.

Kahl told him she thought they’d need a food permit too, kind of hoping that would discourage the idea, which she was against.

But her two brothers said yes and the restaurant side of Cook’s Garage was born, she said. Naming the business after her family’s name, it consisted of the kitchen, cocktail space and dining area when it first opened.

Live music introduced

Cook’s Garage didn’t always have live music. It was Trevor’s idea to have a place where his friends could play live, Mistie said.

One of those friends was fellow Red Raider William Clark Green, who’s gone on to a successful country music career.

The family set up a stage in the corner of the restaurant.

“They had this thing that one day they were going to have a big festival. Will was going to sing and Trevor was going to throw a party because he could always throw good parties. They wanted to do a BYOB because they wanted all their friends to come over and be able to afford it and not have to go somewhere and pay $12 for a beer,” Kahl said.

“I love Will, he’s like family,” Kahl said.

That became Cotton Fest. Along with the festival, Trevor’s other musician friends could get their name out and experience playing in front of people, she said.

“They’re good guys, they’re good people. Some of them were big when they started here and some of them have gotten bigger,” Kahl said.

They attracted country artists like Koe Wetzel and Parker McCollum.

“Koe is one of my favorites, always will be. Super respectful, super nice and just super good guy. … I love Parker too … just good people, they work hard,” Kahl said.

A moveable outside stage followed, followed by the big stage on the south side of the lot.

They put a lot of effort into the stage – reaching out to some of the bigger artists to learn what their ideal stage would look like, including reaching out to Green, Wetzel and their production teams.

“We were able to get bigger artists [to] take us a little bit more serious. We put a lot of thought process into the stage, like ease of access for the artists. It helps with a lot of the artists because some of the artists will not perform on a moveable stage,” Kahl said.

With the addition of the stage, they went from crowds of a couple of hundred people to ten thousand, she said.

Crowd enjoys a show at Cook’s Garage outside concert venue while sun is setting.

About those signs and other events

One of the most recognizable parts of Cook’s Garage is the large number of vintage gas station signs dotting the outside spaces. They’ve collected them for years, Kahl said, coming from loving vintage items. They also have neon and other signs from all sorts of businesses spread around the property, including a metal Piggly Wiggly sign.

“I’ve always dealt in vintage stuff since I was in high school, I’ve owned an antique store at one time. I always say I should have been born at a different time,” Kahl said.

The signs come from all over the country, helped by the TV show “American Pickers.”

They’ve hosted a variety of events.

“We hosted a Trump rally … we didn’t organize it. There was a guy out of Seminole who organized it,” Kahl said. “A couple of different people have come through and spoke on different issues, that kind of thing, but we really haven’t done them in a long time.”

Gas station signs line the parking spaces and elsewhere at Cook’s Garage.
Neon and other signs are also featured at Cook’s Garage.

Work ethic and growth

Kahl wants Cook’s to be a place where the artists and hosts of other events want to come back. They never imagined the venue would evolve to what it is, but it’s been a learning experience and taken hard work from the entire family.

“We absolutely had zero restaurant experience, never been in a commercial kitchen before. It took the first year for us to learn it,” Kahl said.

Adapting and pivoting helped them to where Cook’s is today, she said.

“It takes time [to] get our name there to those artists. I want them to come to us and not us going just to them,” Kahl said. “We try to really take care of the artists when they’re here and honestly, I think it’s our facility. I mean we’ve done a great job putting it together.”

Texas Tech Rodeo

Cook’s became home to the Texas Tech Rodeo the past couple of years. Coach Jerrad Hofstetter said Cook’s creates a great atmosphere and experience for families.

“There’s not a lot of places you can go watch a rodeo and have a full course meal at the same time. … You can go there for the full day and make a family trip out of it,” he said.

Hofstetter started using Cook’s Garage as his rodeo venue in 2020 when COVID forced them to find an outdoor space.

“We were kind of bouncing around trying to figure out where to have our rodeo anyway, we had done it at the fairgrounds the year before and we really just didn’t love the location and atmosphere out there,” Hofstetter said.

“We had talked to Cook’s about doing a fundraising rodeo over Fourth of July weekend,” he added.

Hofstetter’s son and Kahl’s son Trevor were also friends from college.

Hosting their college rodeo is a different challenge than a fundraiser because it’s the largest college rodeo in the country, he said, but Cook’s was willing to take on the challenge.

“It really was just a big blessing in disguise because we’ve stayed with them and partnered with them. It’s turned into a really big event,” Hofstetter said. “I love my kids getting to work with them because they’re a very hardworking family and I like for our kids to get to see that.”

Cook’s caters well to their program and has allowed them to feed off each other, he said.

“It’s so different. There’s for sure not another college rodeo like it but there’s not many rodeos where you just go and build an arena on the paved parking lot and we use that,” Hofstetter said.

The rodeo’s given Cook’s national publicity, he said.

“We’re nationally televised on the Cowboy Channel and a lot of people see Cook’s Garage and they relate the two of us together,” Hofstetter said.

People who’ve seen the rodeo on TV want to come and visit, he added.

Ice Cube concert at Cook’s Garage.

Bringing in big names

Madyson Polozola, events director at Cook’s, said it’s been one ongoing learning experience.

Madyson Polozola.

“We’ve learned a lot about ticket scaling, learned a lot about booking; our ability to get bigger artists and pay bigger artists and how you pull off some of those big shows,” Polozola said. “Every show we learn something new, we need to try something different (and) we grow every show.”

Timing is a huge when trying to book big names, she said.

“Trying to figure out when is a good time for a private event versus when is a good time to do concerts,” Polozola said. “We’re in a college town so that plays a really big factor in when we can pull certain artists. When the kids are gone, there’s certain artists that we can’t route through here if they appeal to that younger college-aged crowd.”

A major part of Cook’s growth has been due to their versatility and different artists and shows they’ve brought in. Polozola said it’s due to the connections they’ve made and ability to adapt with each show.

“The Texas Tech Rodeo brings a lot of people out here and really helps us out a lot. We’ve had Koe Wetzel and Cody Johnson. Those are huge sell-out shows that fill out our entire outdoor venue and we make a lot of really good connections that way,” Polozola said.

Branching out beyond country has also helped Cook’s build its name as a concert venue.

Author: Caleb Kostencki