News Article | 6/10/2005

Victory brings fine dining to the table

Superstar chefs and big-name restaurants are the newest guns in developers’ arsenals.

How’s this for ammunition? Chef Tom Colicchio has signed on to bring Craft, his famed New York restaurant, to W Dallas Victory Hotel in the Victory Park complex surrounding American Airlines Center.

The Victory restaurants, which also include Nove Italian, a sibling of N9NE, and locals Victory Tavern and Luna de Noche, are scheduled to open by August 2006.

Hillwood Capital, Victory’s developer, is counting on the restaurants to serve as prime traffic draws, a role traditionally played by large retailers.

“The restaurants, food and drink, are our anchors,” said Jonas Woods, president of Hillwood. “We’re not doing any big department stores.”

The restaurants will be traffic generators, he said. Some spots could see annual sales of up to $11 million by attracting residents of the development, locals and out-of-towners looking for an easy weekend getaway, Mr. Woods said.

Even without big names, a mix heavy on restaurants and entertainment has already proved successful at Uptown’s West Village.

Richard Baker, manager of the Crescent, has acknowledged that landing Nobu was a pre-emptive strike against the allure of a W Hotel and the star power that Victory Park is attracting.

Ironically, the Victory developers first approached the Japanese restaurant empire of Nobu Matsuhisa, only to be turned down.

Besides celebrity chefs and high-profile restaurants as customer lures, these marquee moves reflect another national trend. Ultrachefs are branching out, says Matthew Mabel, president of Surrender, a Dallas-based management and hospitality firm.

Brand names

Although Nobu Dallas is the 10th restaurant to bear the much-heralded name, Nobu is more a brand than a chain, Mr. Mabel explained. “People are learning to duplicate quality,” and that distinguishes a collection of restaurants from the predictable consistency of casual dining chains.

Las Vegas is where developers first learned that big investment was a way restaurant transplants could match the quality of their top-tier New York antecedents.

Does this sudden influx mean Dallas is the next Las Vegas? Not exactly. The restaurants now doing Dallas already have branches in other places. While the debut of destinations such as Craft and Nobu add to the city’s food scene, “it isn’t the same as getting recognized” as a dining destination, said Mr. Mabel. At this point, at least, it’s more about developers, incentives and deals.

Still, famous names add excitement, since “we’ve all traveled and we’re flattered they came to see us.”

Real estate dealmakers “are very aggressive right now about bringing big names in,” says restaurateur and industry observer Jeffrey Yarbrough. That means big-name chefs “are seeing opportunity with our culinary scene.”

Originally, Victory developers were looking at a tenant mix populated by familiar names such as Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. But the economic downturn of 2001 forced the company to scrap that approach.

When planning picked up again in earnest, the group decided to focus instead on attracting big-name – but not ubiquitous – restaurants that would be new to Dallas-Fort Worth.

The N9NE (pronounced “nine”) Group was the first to come on board, Mr. Woods said. Others were approached but took a pass.

“We had the original conversation with Nobu about coming to Dallas,” he said. “We were going after that caliber of restaurateurs.”

About a third of the 310,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in Victory’s phases II and III is set aside for dining and nightlife, Mr. Woods said.

W Hotels approached Mr. Colicchio about expanding to Dallas. His Las Vegas Craft Steak is in the MGM Grand. “Dallas is an important market,” he says, and the city has a rich food history with homegrown stars such as Stephan Pyles, Kent Rathbun and Dean Fearing.

Local appeal

But developers don’t just go for out-of-towners. They look for highly regarded locals who add their own credibility to the mix. Lisa Galvan’s Luna de Noche Tex-Mex restaurant (four Dallas-area locations and one in Seagrove, Fla.) got a slot. Patrick Colombo, who operates Ferré and Steel, is behind Victory Tavern, a casual, contemporary American concept.

Kenichi falls somewhere in between. Created by chef Kenichi Kanada and restaurateur Bill Rieger, the original was in Austin with the smaller, more exclusive second unit in Aspen.

The big guys also have smaller caliber weaponry. Mr. Colicchio is bringing a side project to Dallas, his high-end ‘Wichcraft sandwich shop, while N9NE will be accompanied by the tony lounge Ghostbar.

E-mail [email protected] and [email protected]


These are the headliner restaurants slated for Victory Park:


Where else? New York and Las Vegas

Style: New American cuisine; diners select ingredients from an a la carte menu.

Tab (for one): About $100

N9NE Steakhouse

Where else? Chicago, Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Calif.

Style: Chicago steaks in hip, contemporary setting

Tab: About $50


Where else? Austin and Aspen

Style: Sushi and Asian-fusion cuisine

Tab: About $50