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Pursuit of Perfection

Craig Baxter’s Interurban is his version of Field of Dreams, where his reimagined vision for contemporary American and Tex-Mex fare flourishes with personal interactions, teamwork and pride.

Rob Harmon
Marc Rains
January 29, 2018

Some people are extremely lucky to know at an early age what they want to do for a living. Craig Baxter, chef and owner of Baxter’s Interurban Grill in downtown Tulsa, is one of those people. To this day, since starting in the restaurant industry in the late-1970s, people ask him why he’s still doing it and he says it’s all he’s ever known. He still loves interacting one-on-one with customers and everything else about the whole restaurant scene as much as he did when he started.

“It was a dream as a kid actually, to own a restaurant,” says Baxter. “My friend’s dad had a place. It was part of the Elias family restaurants [Jamil’s, Eddy’s, etc.] and we would go in there when it was closed and mess around behind the bar, and one day I thought, ‘This is cool. This is what I want to do.’ That was it. That’s all I’ve ever done. Since I was 15, I’ve been in the restaurant business.”

Baxter says that even before those days, when he was very young, he saw his parents leaving tips as they frequented restaurants around town, and he thought how cool it was that servers were able to keep all the money on the tables.

“Most of my time, early on, was spent in the kitchen,” he says. “I was a kitchen manager, a chef, really everything. Once I did all that, I asked them to teach me how to bartend and do the tables and the computer side of it. I came through the ranks and ended up being a part of the Interurban restaurants.”

Scissortail Turkey Sandwich (Photo: Marc Rains)
Scissortail Turkey Sandwich (Photo: Marc Rains)

Baxter started working in 1981, after graduating high school, at the Interurban restaurant on 71st Street and Yale. In college, he worked at the original Interurban restaurant in Norman, the name being taken from the old trolley line that ran through cities like Oklahoma City and Tulsa. In the days before streets were paved very well, before the average person owned a car, electric streetcars were common throughout the United States. Originally operating from 1903-47, the Interurban Trolley Line ran from what is now Sheridan and Hudson in downtown Oklahoma City, extending west to El Reno, to Guthrie in the north and Norman in the south.

The Tulsa Interurban opened in 1978 and Baxter actually remembers the old trolley that was set up in the restaurant as a bar, now long gone after multiple renovations and a fire that happened that ushered in Baxter as the new owner.

“There were two cases of book matches and a lit cigarette left on purpose,” he says. “The security could hear something in the restaurant, and the police were summoned twice but never detected anything until it was all completely in flames. It might have been easier to start from scratch in the desert than to clean up that fire.”

Carrot Cake (Photo: Marc Rains)
Carrot Cake (Photo: Marc Rains)

Out of commission for about a year, Baxter opened it back up, as the owner, and it’s been his passion ever since.

World renowned chef and restaurateur, Daniel Boulud, once said, “To me, there is no great chef without a great team.” Baxter couldn’t agree more. Since 1981, he’s been surrounding himself with a great staff with the same mentality.

“You can’t do it alone,” he says. “A lot of my people have been here since we opened. Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you. We just love people. I do and so does the staff. Molly, my manager, has been happy here for 13 years and she’s a people person.”

He says he’s seen people coming out of hotel-restaurant colleges as graduates and join his team, only to find out that it wasn’t for them. He’s proud of the team he’s assembled, who share the same passion he has for serving customers and providing a quality dining experience for an excellent price.

“The service, quality of the menu items and the price value that we bring,” Baxter says, “is what sets us apart from a lot of other places in the area. Parking is not a problem and we’re close to the hotels.”

Baxter proudly points out that his award-winning enchiladas were once enjoyed by Adrian Peterson, the NFL star and the former Oklahoma University running back.

“There’s not a single item on the menu that we aren’t proud of,” he says. “I like to be creative in the kitchen, and we’re much more than just a restaurant that serves strictly American. Our Tex-Mex is awesome and we strive to never get a complaint. Our steaks are second to none.”

Baxter says that what he and the restaurant are all about is the personal interaction between the staff and the patrons. He sees the restaurant as a neighborhood-style restaurant, where everyone knows each other, and even if you don’t, you’re made to feel that way. He enjoys welcoming everyone, whether they’re from out of town at a conference looking for a quick bite or the regulars coming by to enjoy a meal prepared by someone who still loves what they do after all this time.

Baxter’s Interurban Grill
717 S. Houston Ave., Suite 100 | Tulsa
Monday-Friday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Saturday: 4:30-10 p.m.
Sunday: Closed