Yesterday, I was invited to lunch at Trinity Groves. I sat at a large table surrounded by the partners involved in the massive project and several members of the Food and Concept Advisory Committee. As one of the partners, Phil Romano, chewed my ear off with details, Mike Babb filled my plate with barbecue.
Babb is the first “graduate” of the Trinity Groves Restaurant Incubator program. In short, Trinity Groves is the 13-acre restaurant-retail-artist-and-entertainment development at the base of the west end of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge which developers Phil Romano, Stuart Fitts, and Larry “Butch” McGregor expect to be what Silicon Valley is to high tech or what Ghirardelli Square is to San Francisco.
As Romano eased back on his sales pitch, Babb told the story of how he ended up snagging the first restaurant to open in Trinity Groves. It’s a classic tale: Man with boring job loves to smoke meats on the weekends. He delivers it to church functions. Somebody at the function asks him to cater her daughter’s wedding. Someone at the wedding has to have Babb’s ‘cue for a family reunion. Babb loses his job and becomes a caterer. His friends love his barbecue and urge him to open a restaurant. Babb hasn’t a clue on what to do. Somehow he found Phil Romano. BAM!
“I love barbecue and the blues,” said Babb. “My place is going to be indoor and outdoor. It’s going into that space right over there.” He points toward a 2,500-square-foot space which is currently a hollowed-out purple building. The name of the restaurant hasn’t been finalized.
I was honored to be the first media person to taste the first “product” to come out of Trinity Groves. It wasn’t the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted but it was also cooked someplace else and delivered to the project offices in tin pans. The ribs were tender and the accompanying sauce was more sweet than hot. The cole slaw was the best part of the meal. Babb admits he’s still tweaking his banana pudding recipe. But that is what the incubator program is all about.
As the plates were cleared, Romano wound up for his next pitch: “We’re going to have a food center and entertainment zone. We’ll have a brewery [Four Corners Brewing], a 10,000-square foot cooking school, ice cream shop where we will put extra protein in the ice cream to make it healthier, a fish market bigger than Pikes [in Seattle] with a major player coming in to do it, an oyster bar, a butcher shop making sausages, a German market, a local cheese maker and I’ve already talked to Paula, a chocolatier, a South American florist, a coffee roaster, a baker. You’ll see artist galleries and designers, jazz clubs, belly dancers, and Luna tortilla is moving their tower here and we’re putting in a glass wall so you can watch. Real diversity.” (Yes, belly dancers. Remember, this is Phil Romano I’m talking to!)
Stay with me…
As Romano spoke, I looked up and spotted Milestone Culinary School Cooking School Director chef Sharon Van Meter. “Sharon is opening the 10,000-square-foot culinary facility and a beignet-and-coffee-themed restaurant,” Romano said. I asked Van Meter to elaborate. “I am moving my cooking program from the Milestone building on Knox over here,” she said. “It will be a home for chefs who want to do a cooking school and we will continue to do a lot of corporate team building sessions.” (Milestone is moving their business from Knox to a yet-to-be determined location.) She plans to be the first business to open by mid-summer 2012. “That is unless the brewery guys beat me to it,” she said referring to Four Corners Brewing which has already purchased equipment and pulled permits.
As Romano walked me to my car, he pointed to Shepard Fairey’s mural on the building across the street. Fairey is known for his iconic “Hope” poster of Barack Obama. “That’s my $150,000 wall,” Romano said. There are two more murals by Fairey at Trinity Groves. To read an excellent interview with Fairey and feast your eyes on real photographs of his work by Elizabeth Lavin, check out Peter Simek’s conversation with the artist on FrontRow.
Tomorrow, I’ll attempt to explain the financial logistics of Trinity Groves’ incubator program and compare it with the “culinary incubator” going in about four Rottweiler-guarded warehouses down the street at Sylvan Thirty. And, what effect Trinity Groves will have on the city-run Dallas Farmers Market. Nobody wants to talk about that elephant in the room.