How Two Unlikely North Texas Stars Are Trying to Bring Families Together

North Texas restaurateur Paul Vinyard and conservative talk show star Glenn Beck have at least one thing in common outside of conservative politics – a love of fried chicken.

And though it may sound a little odd to anyone who hasn’t watched Beck evolve over two decades or who hasn’t set foot inside a Babe’s Chicken, the two men share something else – a desire to bring people together.

Beck, of course, has been known as a conservative firebrand who stoked the partisan fires with the best of them on his Fox News show and later with the Glenn Beck Program and TheBlaze TV Network. But he’s also been someone not afraid to go against the conventional tides when his principles and faith called him to.

At the height of the Tea Party movement years, he pivoted with a massive Washington DC rally that called on people to lower the volume and rancor of political discourse. During the second Obama term, while many conservatives were understandably growing more concerned about illegal immigration, Beck started a movement to provide support for unaccompanied minors who were crossing the border. He was famously a Never-Trumper even as it cost him audience support.

And while today Beck is still as sharp of tongue as ever on his program talking center right politics, he’s also a man who founded Mercury One, a nonprofit foundation based in Dallas, Texas and a Humanitarian Aid and Education organization focused on restoring the human spirit. Mercury One provides aid and support in the areas of disaster relief, humanitarian efforts, veteran causes, support for Israel, education initiatives, and rescuing and restoring persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East. Mercury One’s The Nazarene Fund has directly assisted over 30,000 Christian and other persecuted religious minorities displaced by ISIS in the Middle East by evacuating them to safe havens and providing for their needs.

Beck’s Mercury Studios in Irving are a sight to see. It’s billed as the biggest TV and movie studio between New York and Hollywood, with props and memorabilia from the golden age of radio and TV spread amongst high-tech broadcast studios and a working newsroom. And yet despite all the dazzle and buzz around him, Beck comes across as warm and earnest. It’s the honesty of 20-years of sobriety. Sitting on a couch in his Mercury Studios in Irving, dressed in a Western denim shirt, Beck carries a hopeful twinkle in his eye even as he laments the state of politics today.

“I think in 20 years people on both sides are going to be embarrassed,” Beck says. But he hopes that people can start to find common ground despite their political differences, and that there can be a return to old-fashioned civility on all sides.

Turns out that spirit of bringing people together is probably what brought Beck and Vinyard together. Well, that and the fried chicken.

“We had been followers of Glenn when he was in New York,” says Vinyard in his deep West Texas accent. “When he moved down here in 2011 there was a gentleman who invited us out to the studio. Glenn had eaten at the Babe’s Chicken in Roanoke, and we wanted to get to know him better.”

Vinyard’s restaurant company, which he started in 1981 with his late wife and is still run by the family, now has nine Babe’s Chicken locations (Babe was Mary Beth’s nickname), one Bubba’s (it’s Paul’s nickname) with another on the way, and one Sweetie Pie’s Ribeyes and another on the way.

“We have a learned a tremendous amount about politics and world history from Glenn. We learned about his Mercury One foundation, and we were moved by the good work they do with that and the Nazarene Fund,” Vinyard says. “We became consistent supporters he eventually broadcast one of his shows from our Babe’s in Cedar Hill.”

Vinyard sees his Babe’s concept as a replacement for the kinds of family get-togethers and reunions that he grew up with in West Texas.

“It’s so often hard for folks to get together these days,” Vinyard says. “In my day everyone came from 50-100 miles away, and the women all brought food and the kids played in the park. The men would get together and talk and so would the women – we would do that two or three times a year. But it’s increasingly difficult for people to do that. They’re more spread out. There’s less land or they have smaller homes or apartments.”

“That’s why we have the big tables at Babe’s – we want to accommodate two or three generations of families. Maybe the music is a little loud and the kids are playing around,” he says. “Most modern restaurants like to do a twist on cooking, and it’s chef-driven and that’s great. But our goal is to do your grandmother’s cooking just right. We stole the recipe from my mother. It’s just small batches done over and over throughout the day – the hot chicken concept.”

Vinyard and Beck are aware of the backlash that can happen when politics and business mix. The Vinyard family is a contributor to the non-profit that Beck runs. And given that it’s about bringing people together, whether for charity or over hot chicken, maybe that’s the first step in bringing together the American family. And who doesn’t love fried chicken?