When James Equels joined the Tanglefoot restaurant group after high school graduation in 2017, little did he know he was joining an entrepreneurial empire set to transform the culinary landscape and growing appetite of Temple, Texas.
Born and raised in Temple, James describes the city as his hometown where friends and family stay true to their roots as the city blossoms into a Central Texas boomtown.
“It’s a great place to be,” Equels says. “It’s a big city with a small-town feel. There are a lot of hidden gems here from the lake and hiking trails to the historic district and smaller surrounding towns that show off a lot of Texas charm.”
After working for Tanglefoot’s Bird Creek Burgers for a year, James decided to try something new and moved to nearby Austin for a change of scenery. However, the high costs of living and tiring pace of working in the capitol city quickly urged James to return to Temple when he got a great opportunity to come onboard as Tanglefoot owners Jacob and Bruce Bates and Bo Harvey launched Treno Pizzeria and Taproom in 2020.
Inspired by restaurants and breweries in other states, the trio envisioned Treno as a vibrant, welcoming, family-friendly restaurant serving gourmet pizzas and self-serve beer on tap. The restaurant also serves as a synergistic symbol of downtown Temple: a thriving place for people and families to eat, shop and enjoy the city to its fullest.
“You see the revitalization in Georgetown and Waco,” says Harvey, “but Temple has a lot of infrastructure and people to support those things, too. Temple is on a precipice and the time is now. Our city deserves a fun family-friendly pizza joint. We can do it in Temple, and we can do it better than other places. Our goal is to provide a safe enjoyable time for people to share together.”
Equels came back to the Tanglefoot family to help open Treno as a kitchen lead, an endeavor that was hard-hit by the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020. With construction delayed, the team made a compromise to continue running the Treno Pizzeria food truck and creatively market the brand while serving the community. Drive By Pies, perhaps the most delicious solution birthed by the pandemic and social distancing limitations, helped Treno develop a devoted local fanbase.
Now open at their brick-and-mortar location at 112 S. 1st Street in downtown Temple, Treno is up and running with James and his crew serving up nightly specials designed by Jacob for hungry, adoring fans.
Central Texas mural artist Laced + Found created this Treno mural to attract visitors in downtown Temple
“We’ve got a really good team,” Equels says. “Everyone understands what we’re here for and we’ve got solid communication. We’re here to make good food and to make our customers happy. That’s the day to day. But long term, we’re building a community. It’s cool to see how much the city is growing. There are still more restaurants to open. I’m here to see the success of the company and what else we can bring to Temple.”
As for Equels’ next steps? He his eye on the prize of a management position to help open future Tanglefoot restaurants and train employees for quality assurance. For now, he encourages visitors to stop by Treno to grab a pint and a slice and follow that up with a stop at The Yard Food Truck Plaza for dessert.
“There’s a cupcake lady that makes really good stuff. You don’t want to miss that.”