Dining migration: Dallas chefs venture north to Plano

Dining migration: Dallas chefs venture north to PlanoWith Plano experiencing a 13-percent increase in the number of its restaurants since 2010 according to city data, Dallas restaurateurs and nationally known concepts continue to research the demographics of the North Dallas region. With the help of developers, they hope to capitalize on explosive economic growth born out of multimillion-dollar developments and corporate attractions.

Chef-driven concepts can already be found throughout Plano because of its growing and diverse population, said Jamee Jolly, president and CEO of the Plano Chamber of Commerce. The city’s growing workforce has also strengthened the city’s lunchtime rush, another factor Jolly said is enticing restaurants to open locations here. The robust job market has created a population that does not want to drive to Dallas for unique options, she added.

The migration of more unique dining concepts to Plano has a lot to do with the city’s attraction for corporate relocation and the construction of new mixed use developments and neighborhoods, according to those in the dining industry.

“For a restaurant, it’s hard to be successful if the only time you have people in your doors is in the evening,” said Jolly, a former executive director of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association. “Now you have a critical mass [in Plano] 24/7, whether it’s the employees or the people who live[around] there.”

‘The perfect storm’

Perhaps the most obvious example of the effects of mixed-use development in Plano is the future Legacy West, where a number of restaurants and retail will open their first Texas location. Though a grand opening is not scheduled until March 2017, tenants could start opening at the mixed-use development off SH 121 and the Dallas North Tollway this year, according to developer Fehmi Karahan. Confirmed tenants include Dallas-based concepts Bistro 31; Toulose Cafe & Bar; and Mesero, a Mexican-American restaurant by Dallas restaurateur Mico Rodriguez.

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Chef Kent Rathbun is known for being one of the first Dallas chefs to bring his original concepts northward to Plano. Known nationally for his upscale restaurant, Abacus, which opened in Uptown in 1997, Rathbun opened Jasper’s at the Shops at Legacy in 2000. He introduced his third restaurant, Hickory, last July at Granite Park. Chef-driven concepts like these are becoming new to suburban areas in Texas, which traditionally have been served by chain restaurants and franchises, Rathbun said.

“I can’t tell you how many times people tell me they never go [south] past I-635 [toward Dallas],” he said. “I wasn’t really worried about taking business away from Abacus for Jasper’s—I felt it would be an additional restaurant that people would frequent, and that’s exactly what is happening. It was the perfect storm for us.”

Rathbun said, however, it is a challenge to stay viable in a city like Plano where restaurants seem to abound.

“You can’t just put hundreds of new restaurants into a space without someone going, ‘Ouch,’” he said. “Are we diluting the market too much? Everybody wants to jump in, and thank goodness we’re here already.”

Jeff Bergus opened his second Lockhart Smokehouse off 15th Street in downtown Plano two years ago, three years after he opened the first one in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas, and is known for serving brisket, ribs and other meat selections on butcher paper.

Bergus brought his concept to Plano at the encouragement of friend Jorg Fercher, owner of Jorg’s Cafe Vienna across the street in Plano. Bergus said his business has been doing well downtown because of the collaborative efforts of local merchants to strengthen the area.

“We wanted to be in a historical district because that’s where we are [in Dallas], and we wanted a small space, so it all worked out,” he said. “The rest is history.”

Staying relevant

Dining migration: Dallas chefs venture north to PlanoWhether people are employed in Plano or residing here, population growth has been a major contributing factor to the increasing number of restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said Heather Stevens, executive director for the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association. From 2010 to 2015, the total population of Dallas-Fort Worth increased by 24 percent, she said. Texas’ restaurant industry is projected to increase 22 percent by 2025, according to data compiled by the National Restaurant Association.

When opening a new location in a new city, associating the restaurant with a unique chef who is well-known in the industry is an effective way to attract new customers to the brand, Stevens said.

“The chefs drive a lot of people to the restaurants [in Greater Dallas],” she said. “They definitely bring a unique culture and their talents. No chef is like the other.”

Dining migration: Dallas chefs venture north to PlanoAlthough Plano will continue to see an influx of new restaurants, the same can be said about closings as well. Abuelo’s, Black Eyed Pea and Patrizio’s are examples of some Plano restaurants that have recently closed. Plano’s Texas Land & Cattle, off US 75 between Parker Road and Spring Creek Parkway, closed Jan. 1.

“It’s not easy to be successful [in the restaurant industry],” Jolly said. “What’s fun and popular today might not be [in the future] unless you have the right mix of product and that you get the right audience who would be interested in what you’re offering.”

Randy DeWitt and Jack Gibbons introduced the Whiskey Cake and Mexican Sugar restaurants to Plano in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Their company, Front Burner Restaurants, is also behind Dallas restaurants Ida Claire and Velvet Taco. The pair will also bring a new wine bar, Sixty Vines, to the former Abuelo’s location at 3701 Dallas Parkway this summer.

“The Dallas and Plano area has sort of been known as the land of chain restaurants, and we personally want to change that perception,” Gibbons said. “We’ve seen a shift in the culinary needs of the Plano community over the years and find the community very open to concepts that push the boundaries of food.”

West Plano Village

West Plano Village developer Cencor Realty Services of Dallas has been developing in Plano for decades, Cencor Executive Vice President David Palmer said. The village features new restaurant concepts including Princi Italia by Patrick Columbo, founder of Cru wine bar. Other restaurants include The Royale Magnificent Burgers and Pakpao Thai, both by Aphelia Restaurant Group in Dallas.

“It’s about jobs and people and income, [and] we’re excited about the future,” he said.