Harvest at Masonic Offers Taste of Community

Harvest at the Masonic | Image by Harvest

Stepping into Harvest at the Masonic in historic downtown McKinney, one immediately senses that this is more than just a restaurant.

From the beautifully restored 1860s buffet at the entranceway to the reupholstered velvet chairs in the dining room, complimented by the commissioned artwork featuring local farmer friends, hand-trowelled plaster on the walls, and the historically authentic eight-foot wooden window casings in the third-floor lounge, the space feels more like a love letter to the community.

Harvest has been a staple in the McKinney restaurant scene for several years and has built quite a reputation for its farm-to-table menu and its efforts to sustainably source as much of its food as possible from local farmers. Last week, the restaurant moved into its new location on the Square at the old Masonic Lodge, which owner Rick Wells has meticulously restored to its former grandeur.

Constructed in 1899 as the meeting place for the Free Masons, the 10,440 square-foot three-story building has been “preserved to its period of historic significance,” as the owner described it. Every door was saved and reused, the original windows in the building were restored, the tin tiles lining the first-floor ceiling were refinished, and the outside facade and the interior walls were renovated in keeping with the original style of the venue.

The building, like the restaurant itself, reflects the shared values of Wells and Chef Andrea Shackelford, who described the restoration project as “a labor of love, for sure.”

“To whom much is given, much is expected. Put things back better than you found them. All those Golden Rules that we should try to live by, we try to do that in our business,” explained Wells. “We do as much as we can to restore rather than buy something new.”

His business model includes sourcing food supplies, goods, and services from local “Mom and Pop” businesses as much as possible.

“I think you should buy from people you know, not go online and buy from Jeff Bezos,” he said.

Shackelford agrees, putting some of those same ideas to work on the cozy second-story dining room, which is decorated with florals, books, art, antique plates, and rich fabrics, all selected by “Chef Dre,” as friends call her. The Western hats adorning the space were sourced from her personal collection, about 50% of which she purchased at the shop next door to the restaurant.

Nearly every item in the restaurant seemingly has a personal story, many of them related to Wells’ travels.

“I found this chandelier in Austin and restored it. I found this picture in Durham. This photograph is a tree in Frisco,” he narrates as he guides a visitor up the stairwell to the second floor.

“We wanted the restaurant to feel like a very curated experience,” Wells explained, “and not just like something we bought at Nebraska Furniture Mart.”

The chairs on this floor were salvaged and given a second chance by a local upholsterer. A local craftsman spent more than a year constructing all the woodwork in the venue, including the handcrafted tables.

Standing out against the upstairs dining room’s sage green walls are paintings — which are changed out seasonally — created by local artists. Restaurant patrons can purchase any of the paintings right off the wall, just one more way the restaurant promotes local artists.

A painting in the third-floor lounge depicts famous Free Masons throughout history, including George Washington, Lyndon B. Johnson, Thurgood Marshall, John Philip Sousa, Charles Lindbergh, Nat King Cole, Albert Einstein, and many others. Wells commissioned the painting, created by local artist Jamie Rice, as a nod to the history of the building and the community, per the artist’s webpage.

The painting also includes Collin B. McKinney, a Texas congressman and namesake of the city, and James Throckmorton, an early Collin County settler and the 12th governor of Texas, whose likeness has been memorialized in a statue at the McKinney Performing Arts Center across the street.

Most notable, however, are Wells’ and Shackelford’s personal connections to the farmers, ranchers, winemakers, fishermen, and dairy producers who supply the restaurant with fresh ingredients.

“All these pictures are people we do business with within our community,” Wells explained as he pointed out the photos and paintings adorning the first-floor dining area. He proceeded to name each person, their products, and the local communities where their businesses are located: Anna, McKinney, Van Alstyne, Celina, Dennison, Lucas, Waco, Austin, and more.

Some items they have to source from a little further away, such as the grains the restaurant buys from a grower in Georgia. However, most of the restaurant’s food is sourced within a 150-mile radius of McKinney, and Wells and Shackelford visit local farmers’ markets each week to build new business relationships.

Wells has a small organic farm of his own in Lucas, which supplies flowers, microgreens, seasonal produce, herbs, and honey for the restaurant. Known as Water Boy Farms, it is operated by Harvest employees.

The restaurant serves some 200 varieties of wine, many produced locally and all made in the U.S.

Its mission is not only to serve fresh, delicious food but also to make a lasting impact on the community by supporting local farmers, ranchers, and artisans.

For every dollar the restaurant spends locally, seventy cents stays in the community, Wells claims.

“Small steps make big impacts. Small steps have a ripple effect,” he said. “This is how we believe the cultural district should be restored.”

Another way that Wells and Shackelford are making a difference in the community is through the Seed Project Foundation, which the two friends co-founded.

The foundation funds “educational, agricultural, and community initiatives that support sustainability,” according to the organization’s website. It has subsidized the construction and expansion of several school gardens in Collin County, gardening programs for adults with special needs, as well as community gardens to improve food access to those in need.

Also among the Seed Project Foundation’s endeavors is McKinney Roots, a food donation farm whose mission is to grow and distribute fresh produce to local nonprofits, churches, and schools in Collin County, “alleviating hunger with healthful, nutrient-dense food.” The farm contributes to 6,300 meals served by kitchens and groceries for 1,000 families each week.

Diners who visit Harvest at the Masonic can feel good about having a share in building up the community, but it would be a disservice to say this is the restaurant’s only attraction: The dishes served up from Shackelford’s kitchen do not disappoint.

A meal typically starts with a basket of mixed breads sourced from a local bakery, of course. Of particular note on a recent visit was a lightly sweetened sourdough bread that practically melted in the mouth, served along with a hearty wheat-rye bread, both from Empire Baking Company in Dallas.

Next to delight the tastebuds was the Blackened Striped Bass, served on a bed of black rice, roasted mushrooms, shredded red beets, Swiss chard, and micro greens, and topped with a cilantro-lime butter sauce and farm flowers.

Another unforgettable morsel was the pickled potato, found on Chef Roberto’s Pickleboard, one of the amazing appetizer selections. “Chef Roberto” is Roberto Garcia, Shackelford’s sous-chef and her “backbone” in the kitchen, as she describes him.

The offerings on the menu, based on what is seasonally available, are imaginative and creative. They are mostly the brainchild of Chef Shackelford, but she said the kitchen staff collaborates, offering opinions and suggestions. There are options for pork, beef, fish, and fowl, as well as vegetarian “Greens & Grains” options.

The restaurant’s desserts, while not elaborate, are rich and satisfying in their own right. A perfectly soft, chewy peanut butter cookie served slightly warm alongside a cold glass of milk was the perfect end to a pleasing meal.

Those who crave a nightcap after dinner or are just not ready for the evening to end are invited to take the elevator to the third-floor emerald-hued lounge, a comfortable space with multiple seating options.

The lounge offers captivating views of downtown McKinney from the massive windows and live music on the original Masonic stage Wednesday through Saturday nights.

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