Let’s Drive: Fort Worth restaurant owner showcases his 12-car showroom
By Scott Nishimura
Photography by Jill Johnson
Art direction by Ayla Whittingto
Emil Bragdon’s family and car collection outgrew his bachelor pad, so he built a home that offers plenty of room for both.
Emil Bragdon designed his new luxe hillside home in far west Fort Worth with a number of amenities, including a pool and spa, eight-seat home theater with old-style upholstered double doors, two-lane bowling alley, custom pool table and a rooftop patio with expansive views. Then there’s the attached 12-car, showroom-style garage Bragdon added to the design.
Despite its size, the garage doesn’t dominate the home. Designed with a drive-through lane that allows Bragdon to easily hop in any of his rides and take off, the garage houses his nine late model and vintage vehicles. They include his 2018 McLaren 720S (our cover photo), 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid sedan, 2016 Tesla Model X SUV, 1994 Dodge Viper, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, 1981 DMC DeLorean, 1998 Hummer H1, 1993 Ford Mustang Cobra and 1949 Ford “Shoebox” Coupe. Within the next year, Bragdon expects to take delivery of a new Tesla Cybertruck.
In other words, 360West’s pitch to feature Bragdon — also a private pilot who owns a Cessna 172 single-engine airplane — in our September Let’s Drive! Issue hit its target. “I do love cars,” he says.
Bragdon, a longtime Fort Worth bar and restaurant owner who grew up in Irving, estimates he has owned at least 30 cars. He traces his passion to his youth, when he hung a poster of a Lamborghini Diablo in his bedroom. “Cars like that are unattainable when you’re a kid,” says Bragdon, who later owned a Diablo.
Bragdon got hooked on fast cars while watching street races, leading to his ownership of 12 Ford Mustangs in the 1987- 1994 model years. “You start getting knowledge of how to make your car faster,” says Bragdon, who worked in restaurants and tended bar to make money before opening his first place in 2005. “I got hooked on fast cars. Most people live paycheck to paycheck. I was living paycheck to ‘pay for more car parts.’”
Bragdon’s success in restaurants, bars and real estate investments has certainly helped him stack more cash to pay for those cars and parts. Today, he owns six establishments: Reservoir off Fort Worth’s West 7th Street and at the Toyota Music Factory in Irving; and The Whiskey Garden, Your Mom’s House, Junk Punch and Koe Wetzel’s Riot Room (a partnership with Wetzel, who is a country musician), all off West 7th. Bragdon, who estimates he employs about 300 people, plans to open three more places off West 7th within the next 12 months: Western Pawn Eatery and Drinkery, The Diamond Door and a not-yet-named underground cocktail lounge. He and Wetzel also are scouting locations for a Riot Room in Austin.
Bragdon’s growing career and family — he and his girlfriend have two young daughters and a third due late this summer — have only somewhat contained his zeal for cars. Proficient at maintenance, he doesn’t have the time to spend hours each day working on the cars, so he keeps three mechanics in the region busy. (During our visit, the DeLorean and Mustang were in the shop.)
“Most car guys start learning how to do things,” he says. “I wouldn’t call myself a mechanic, but I’ve learned how to do most maintenance.”
It’s the same approach he’s maintained to building his business. “I’ve had 11 restaurants and bars,” he says. “You learn by doing it, doing it, doing it.”
His cars, including the ones he no longer owns, all come with their own stories.
His first car, a used Porsche 944, was bought by his mother. It subsequently burned up in an electrical fire; even its tires melted. “The electronics in that car were not good,” he says.
His high school graduation gift from his mom was the 1994 Dodge Viper he still owns, a powerful car he calls “dangerous.” He has replaced the engines in two of his current fleet — the Camaro and the Ford Coupe — with Corvette LS3 high-performance engines, anathema, he acknowledges, to Ford fanatics. He pursued the previous owner of his McLaren for two years because of the car’s unusual color and flew to Los Angeles to buy his DeLorean, a car that had been used in the movie “Blow,” starring Johnny Depp.
He also traveled to Little Rock years ago, carrying $58,000 in cash, to buy his used Hummer H1. After knocking on the door of a building he thought looked like a “crack house” to find the car’s owner, he initially encountered a man who asked Bragdon if he was “packing.” “I look back on this and think how stupid this was,” Bragdon says. “It was completely ignorant, and I’m amazed I’m alive to tell this story.”
Growing pains prompted Bragdon, now 40-something, to move into larger digs. His loft at an airplane hangar at Hicks Airfield in north Fort Worth overlooked a “living room” floor jammed with cars, a garage lift and the Cessna.
“I knew my family was growing and I couldn’t live in a bachelor pad much longer,” he says.
Besides the fact that he, his girlfriend and their two daughters had to sleep in the same bed together, the living room clutter meant it was almost impossible for Bragdon to choose a different car to drive on any given day without having to move other vehicles.
“I wanted a dealership-type garage,” he says. “Anytime I moved something, I had to move 10 things. If you don’t drive these cars, things start to go wrong. When I designed this house, I wanted to be able to jump in and drive it right away.”
Bragdon spent 10 months looking for land and found the 1.4-acre site west of Loop 820. He designed the home with help from an associate who’s done the blueprints for his bars and a structural engineer.
Newly moved in as of May but still unpacking, Bragdon finds managing his fleet much easier.
The two Teslas are his daily drivers and are the only cars in his fleet that he bought new. “It’s the best daily driver I’ve ever owned,” he says.
He adores Teslas for their speed and technology, among other factors. Bragdon gave his Model S Plaid, one of the industry’s fastest production cars, a run recently at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis.
Using the car’s smart technology via mobile app, Bragdon can do everything from remotely starting it and setting the desired interior temperature to “summoning it” if, say, it’s raining and the car is some distance away in a parking lot. Teslas use a variety of cameras and autopilot technology to judge where the car is and what’s going on around it. “Your car will pick you up,” Bragdon says.
The autopilot also allows Tesla owners to cruise down the highway and perform tasks (e.g., answering texts and emails) while driving. “You do have a little free time,” he says. “The first time I did it, it was spooky.”
Tesla’s Supercharger network also means it’s easy to access recharge stations if he’s on the road, Bragdon says. His Plaid has a range of 396 miles, he says; the older Model X, 230.
While other electric car brands are emerging, Bragdon says he’s reluctant to try another new nameplate. He once owned a Fisker Karma, but when the company failed, “I couldn’t find anybody to work on it. It was a nightmare.”
Fall is road trip season, but Bragdon prefers to fly his plane on long trips rather than drive — for the time savings. The exception: He prefers not to fly in July and August. “It’s too damn hot,” he says.
Aside from the Teslas, the other cars in Bragdon’s fleet don’t have specific roles. “To me, they’re fun cars,” he says.
During the big ice storm of a few years ago, he took the Hummer out and ferried employees to work. The DeLorean was remarkable for its lack of power, but “if I want something without power, that I just want to cruise in, that’s it,” Bragdon says. “If I want to go out in something that rumbles, that’s the ’69 Camaro.”
They all get their road time in, he says.
“To me, cars are meant to be driven. Sure, they’re works of art, but enjoy.”