Visitors to Klyde Warren Park will have their choice of a number of nearby eateries. But the restaurant on the grounds, as well as a new, adjacent Shannon Wynne concept, aren’t slated to open until after the park’s official debut.

Getting specifics about either restaurant for now is a little like trying to get King Solomon to give up the location of his mines.

Businessman John Muse, partner and chairman of HM Capital Partners and a member of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation board, is partnering with John Coleman, formerly the executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dallas, to create and operate the park restaurant. 

Muse, who describes himself as the “money man” in the partnership, says the eatery won’t be open for several more months. (Jody Grant, chairman of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation board, has put the probable opening date closer to next June or July.) Besides providing funding, Muse will determine the park restaurant’s concept and menu, which are still under wraps. The price points will be in the median range, Muse says, something that’s very important so that people from all walks of life will be able to enjoy dining there.

“We don’t want it to have the feel of being at all exclusive,” he says.

Coleman first expressed his interest in being involved in the park restaurant to Muse at the opening of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, which Coleman catered.

Muse then submitted Coleman’s name to the restaurant committee within the park foundation board for consideration.

“I recused myself from the interview, and the committee ended up picking him,” Muse says. Coleman is the restaurant’s operating partner.
 In researching possible restaurant concepts, Muse and Coleman have visited several “gastropubs”—restaurants that serve high-end beer and food. Many of those eateries typically have a bar, high-top tables, and community tables in the front with more traditional seating inside for sit-down dining. 

That said, Muse hasn’t necessarily settled on the concept for the park restaurant.

What is known is that it will have two dining options. One is a café where visitors can grab something quick such as a burger or sandwich to eat elsewhere in the park. In the other option, patrons will enjoy sit-down dining in a restaurant pavilion offering both indoor and outdoor seating.

There also will be space available to rent for private events.

The restaurant’s revenue will help to support operation of the park, Muse says, so it’s important that it be done right. Grant, the park foundation board chairman, says he hopes the food and beverage options will “cover 20 percent” of the park’s ongoing annual budget.
Architect Thomas E. Phifer of New York-based Thomas Phifer and Partners designed the 6,000-square-foot restaurant and Nancy Collins Fisher Pavilion to blend into the surrounding landscape. It will feature floor-to-ceiling glass walls, skylights that allow guests to enjoy the day’s changing light, and a sculpted ceiling spanning the indoor and outdoor space. The ceiling is designed to give the appearance of “sitting lightly” on the walls.

The restaurant’s south wall will have retractable doors that can open to allow visitors to dine outdoors on the covered terrace. When you’re dining in the restaurant, “you’ll be right there in this beautiful, serene park,” Muse says.

The terrace will have a direct view onto the Muse Family Performance Stage, allowing restaurant patrons to enjoy the park’s various free concerts and other entertainment events.

 “We picked Tom Phifer as the architect because he had done modern décor before,” Muse says. “We went to Houston to visit the Rice University commons, where he designed a building that is similar to the restaurant design.”


BOON TO AREA
Although the restaurant scene, espe-cially in Uptown, already offers diners a multitude of options, “there are plenty of customers to go around,” says Tracey Evers, executive director of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association. “Dallas diners tend to be pretty loyal and they also enjoy trying something new. Having a new restaurant open in the area doesn’t really impact business at other restaurants. They’re dubious, however, if a new restaurant closes. No one wants to see that.”

Although the park restaurant isn’t ready to go public with its concept or menu yet, the current trend for restaurants, especially in chef-driven concepts, is sustainable, seasonal food that is grown in the area whenever possible, Evers says.

Whatever the concept, the deck park and its eatery will be a welcome addition to the Uptown/downtown area, she adds.

“If it attracts people to see downtown, where we’re already having some resurgence, and Uptown, and what is happening here, it will be a boon to this area,” Evers says. “What we like about the entire park project is that, especially in this area of the city, tourism is especially important. Anything that can attract tourists to the hotels and restaurants here will benefit them. It’s so exciting to see the city of Dallas changing into not only a vibrant city but also a beautiful one, and it’s wonderful that so many people are supporting it.”

food_02 Shannon Wynne's LARK will be across the street from the park. photography by Kevin Marple

Jack Gosnell, a partner and executive vice president with United Commercial Realty-Dallas, who specializes in urban redevelopment for mixed-use projects in the urban core via the company’s UCR Urban division, says to expect new economic development around the deck park to happen at a frenetic pace.

 “Other urban parks, such as Bryant Park in New York City and Millennium Park in Chicago, have seen explosive economic development around them,” Gosnell says. “We’re already seeing an uptick in leasing along the ‘front row,’ adjacent to the park, particularly on Ross Avenue. And, although it may not be attributable to the deck park, we’re also seeing an increase in leasing in the retail district around the downtown Neiman Marcus store.”

The success of the restaurant is important, he says, but planning the concept likely presents some challenges.

“In some respects, the concept can’t be too refined because of its location,” he says. “The concept has to be fluid so that it doesn’t become static. It’s hugely important that they get it right, but we have many gifted people who have been working on the park and the restaurant for a long time, and I believe they will get it right.”

As exciting as the prospect of attracting new retailers and restaurants to the area is, Gosnell says he believes the main thing that everyone hopes the park will accomplish is to blur the line of demarcation between downtown and Uptown. Meaning that, finally, the freeway system that encircles the downtown area will cease to be viewed as a moat with too few drawbridges.

Gosnell says it will be difficult for other restaurants to open really close to the park, simply because most of the available buildings aren’t suitable. But he expects others will get as close as they possibly can.


MUM ON PLANS
Restaurant guru Shannon Wynne is among them. His new restaurant, LARK, will be in a prime spot at 2000 McKinney Avenue, just across the street from Klyde Warren Park.

“There is no more talented restaurateur in Dallas than Shannon Wynne,” Gosnell says.

Wynne, whose company, 8.0 Management, has been responsible for some of the city’s trendiest restaurants, including Meddlesome Moth, Flying Fish, and Flying Saucer, will open LARK (unofficially to be referred to as LARK on the Park), his 26th restaurant, in mid-December to mid-January.

He’s hush-hush about the interior of the 5,300-square foot site on the corner of the building’s ground floor—although he’s hinted in published reports that Dallas illustrators might be involved. Both his 8.0 restaurants in Dallas and Fort Worth displayed murals painted by prominent area artists.

The name of LARK’s chef is also still hush-hush. The only thing Wynne is willing or able to say about him is that “he isn’t from here. He’s from California.”

Negotiations with the chef are ongoing, but Wynne says he expects to have the deal done soon.

Early on, there was a possibility that LARK would locate inside Klyde Warren Park. “We considered it, but ultimately rejected it because we needed more space,” Wynne says.

He named his restaurant for the Meadowlark, a bird that is indigenous to this part of the country. The new venture is perfectly positioned to attract visitors from the park, the Arts District, Uptown, and downtown.

The fare at LARK will be fresh, interesting food, Wynne says. “The farm-to-table concept has been a little overdone, so we won’t be doing that, and we won’t be serving ‘cute’ food. There won’t be any sliders; there won’t be any mac and cheese. I’m so tired of these forced gimmicks that are just too cute.”

One thing that he’s excited about, however, is the deck park that’s been taking shape over Woodall Rodgers Freeway and what it means for the city.

“Creating this park is the most mature thing that Dallas has ever done,” Wynne says. “It is so nice to see us take risks and do things like this.”