At this point in the pandemic, diners might assume that if their favorite restaurant hasn’t yet reopened in Dallas-Fort Worth, it’s never coming back. But at least five restaurant owners are playing the long game, promising they will return with renovated dining rooms, new menus and a fresh outlook after a tough year.
The scenario isn’t ideal, says Nafees Alam, CEO and co-founder of DRG Concepts, which operates Dallas Chop House, Wild Salsa, Wicked Butcher and others. By keeping some of his restaurant closed, “you lose your employee pool,” he says. “And you get disheartened.”
But his downtown Dallas restaurants thrive on convention, hotel and tourist traffic, and he didn’t think they would be viable if he opened in the past 15 months.
“We’re going to hemorrhage money” [if they open now], he says of Wild Salsa and Dallas Chop House, two of his downtown Dallas restaurants. (Two others, Chop House Burger in downtown Dallas and in Fort Worth, remained open for the entire pandemic because the business model was more to-go friendly.)
“It’s a complete rebuild process. We learned a lot — we are lucky, we survived, we are alive. The comeback is going to be challenging, but it’s going to be good.”
While other Dallas-area businesses like Trinity Hall Irish Pub in Mockingbird Station and Twisted Root Burger Co. in Deep Ellum reopened about a year after the dining-room shut down in March 2020, these five businesses below are waiting even longer.
Here are their reasons:
When Garden Cafe’s general manager Mark Wootton closed the Old East Dallas restaurant at the beginning of the pandemic, he surely didn’t intend to remain closed now.
But if the little BYOB brunch spot was going to live on, it needed to sell beer and wine. (Most restaurants in Dallas couldn’t survive today without selling alcohol; it has significantly higher margins than food.)
You can guess what happened next: The process took eight months of wrangling with the city and the neighbors over permits. Garden Cafe eventually got the appropriate approvals and has now secured a beer and wine license with the TABC. Next, Wootton’s renovating the restaurant, switching it from counter service to full service, updating the menu, and tacking on dinner service.
Wootton promises that Garden Cafe will “still have the same feel — the same DNA,” which is important to its fans. But it’ll have later hours and a new menu.
Garden Cafe is expected to reopen in late summer 2021.
Garden Cafe is at 5310 Junius St., Dallas.
Although Downtown Dallas French restaurant Bullion has been closed for the entirety of the pandemic, its former vice president of hospitality had some of the most creative ideas we’d seen to try to make a fine-dining restaurant relevant while dining rooms were closed. Bullion first tried BTG, or Bullion To Go, which delivered high-end pasta kits, cocktail kits and the like, starting in July 2020. Soon after, Bullion offered drive-through COVID-19 tests in the parking lot — yeah, curbside COVID tests at a French restaurant.
It appears the efforts weren’t enough. The restaurant remains closed, and its leadership and chef team have been disassembled.
Company reps weren’t willing to discuss what’s to come at Bullion, but they assured us that the brand will be resurrected. The website says the restaurant “will be back with a new, inspired dining experience in 2022.”
Hope you’re feeling patient.
Bullion is at 400 Record St., Dallas.
Downtown Dallas restaurant Wild Salsa, which has been closed since March 16, 2020, is eyeing a fall 2021 reopening. CEO Alam is taking a slow approach to reopening some of his restaurants — helped by the fact that he says he had “extreme cooperation” with his landlords while the restaurant was not making money.
While it has been shuttered, crews gutted the kitchen and are replacing the plumbing and some of the kitchen equipment. The DRG team is also making some fixes to the interior and exterior after the restaurant was damaged during the protests in summer 2020. And they’re working on converting the back patio to an all-weather patio that’s more enclosed.
“A restaurateur doesn’t really get this kind of free time to sit back and think how to make a comeback,” Alam says. “The silver lining for all of this has been that [DRG Concepts co-founder and owner] Mike [Hoque] and I got almost a year’s time to sit back and figure out how to come back better and stronger for the next 10 to 15 years. It’s almost like a DRG 2.0 for us.”
Wild Salsa is at 1800 Main St., Dallas.
Dallas Chop House
Another of Alam’s downtown Dallas restaurants, Dallas Chop House, has been closed since March 2020. It’s undergoing renovations and is also plagued by Alam’s worry that the restaurants shouldn’t reopen until more businesspeople and travelers return to downtown Dallas.
Dallas Chop House is expected to reopen after Wild Salsa; no date is available yet.
Dallas Chop House is at 1717 Main St., Dallas.
Italian restaurant Dolce Riviera is hidden in a corner of the Harwood District — the kind of place you have to know about. So know this: It’s been closed since March 2020 because of the pandemic, but the owners say it will live on.
The company hired chef Tom Griffin, from Boston, to be Dolce Riviera’s executive chef. He’s expected to rewrite the restaurant’s menu. The patio and coastal Italy vibe at the restaurant will stay.
“Many are excited for the return of Dolce Riviera — our Italian getaway nearby Bleu Ciel and Katy Trail — and so are we,” says Michael Muskat, vice president of hospitality at Harwood International.
That’s about all we know, for now.
Dolce Riviera is at 2950 N. Harwood St., Dallas.
A quick word on a few Dallas restaurants that closed temporarily:
Dallas Morning News readers had asked about three other restaurants that they found closed recently. Here’s an update on those — though they don’t belong in the list above because their shutterings were much shorter.
The original Ascension Coffee, located in the Dallas Design District, closed May 19, 2021 for a renovation. The building will be expanded by 1,000 feet, which will give the funny-shaped space a little more breathing room. Company owners will also install “softer seating,” for a more inviting coffee, lunch, dinner or wine experience. CEO Bill Schaffler says that when Ascension reopens — probably in mid-July 2021 — it’ll have room for live music on weekends. It’s one of many changes the company has been making in the past year.
Harwood Arms, a pub in the Harwood District, was open for parts of the pandemic but closed again on June 1, 2021. The bar was damaged in the February 2021 snow storm. Company execs expect it to reopen in July 2021.
Vietnamese-inspired East Dallas restaurant Mot Hai Ba was closed for a few weeks for renovations and a menu refresh. Mot Hai Ba is back open as of June 16, 2021.