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The Story Behind Bringing a Restaurant Back to a Dallas Landmark

Hunt Realty's Tyler Kleinert and Blau + Associates' Elizabeth Blau share why launching new restaurant concept Crown Block may shape the future of Dallas dining.
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The Hunt, Kleinert, and Babikian families. From left: Nick Babikian, Connie Babikian, Ray Hunt, Nancy Ann Hunt, Tyler Kleinert, Mackenzie Kleinert, Ashlee Kleinert, Chris Kleinert (and not pictured, TJ Kleinert)

The iconic restaurant space atop Dallas’ Reunion Tower will welcome patrons next week after nearly three years of vacancy. The venue was formerly home to Wolfgang Puck’s revolving restaurant Five Sixty, which shuttered in April 2020 as a result of the shutdowns during the pandemic. Now, the tower’s owners, Hunt Realty Investments, have teamed up with Las Vegas-based Blau + Associates to launch Crown Block, an elevated steak and seafood concept set to open Monday, April 17—nearly 45 years to the day from when Reunion Tower’s doors first opened.

“We had an opportunity to reassess our asset at Reunion Tower—what the restaurant situation was going to be,” says Tyler Kleinert, leader of Hunt Realty’s retail investments and grandson of Reunion Tower developer Ray Hunt. “When Puck moved out, and we knew we needed to find a new restaurant, we took a little bit of a different approach this time.”

Kleinert’s team hired Las Vegas-based Blau + Associates—led by Elizabeth Blau and her husband Chef Kim Canteenwalla—as consultants, hoping to leverage their James Beard Award-winning culinary knowledge and operational expertise to discern which cuisine and restaurant operators would fit well inside one of Dallas’ most recognized landmarks. Blau + Associates has been previously hired to consult on culinary concepts for the Golden State Warriors, when they relocated from Oakland to San Francisco, and for Walmart as it builds out eateries at its new corporate campus in Bentonville, Arkansas. The company also operates nine restaurants in Las Vegas and Vancouver, Canada.

“We conveyed to them that we want this to be a place that continues to be a celebration destination and also something the locals feel proud of and something that is authentic to the space,” Kleinert says.

Special occasions would be key—more than 700 couples get engaged at Reunion Tower each year—but Hunt didn’t want the new concept to be pigeon-holed as a place for proposals and other milestone meals: They hoped to be a part of the locals’ regular restaurant rotation as well, Kleinert says. Additionally, the restaurant’s proximity to Kay Bailey Convention Center as well as the Hyatt Regency meant appealing to business travelers would also be essential.

“A huge component of our real estate business here at Reunion Tower is the Hyatt Hotel. We’ve got 1000 hotel rooms, it’s one of the largest hotels in Dallas,” Kleinert says.

Blau and her team are well-versed in the details of running a destination restaurant: Blau + Associates operates five restaurants in Parq Vancouver, an entertainment area in its namesake city that houses a casino, 30,000-foot outdoor area, JW Marriott Hotel, and an Autograph Collection hotel. The company also partnered with Buddy Valastro, star of TLC’s Cake Boss, to operate Buddy V’s inside The Venetian in Las Vegas.

“We know that we’re going to get people traveling to Dallas from all over the world,” Blau says. “What’s most simple and straightforward, especially for people who come from Las Vegas and are rooted in doing casino work, is a steak and seafood concept. It is something that’s accessible to everyone.”

When Kleinert and Hunt began interviewing operators to set the new concept in motion, they realized they had already met the people with whom they wanted to work. “Our hope and goal was that the restaurant operator would be someone who we had a relationship with, and through the process of being our consultants and helping us find the operator, we struck a really great relationship with them,” Kleinert says. “You can always start with [a relationship] and figure out the rest later, and that was our approach here.”

Blau wasn’t eyeing a Dallas expansion at the time, but when Hunt proposed her team lead operations for the new concept at Reunion Tower, she jumped at the opportunity. “It was not really a very difficult decision for us,” Blau says. “Dallas is an incredible restaurant market. It always has been. Even at [my alma mater] Cornell’s hotel school, it is known that Dallas is an incubator market for pretty much every chain in the country because of the broad-based demographic here in the city.”

“It made perfect sense for them, and absolutely made sense for us,” Kleinert says. “You’re already seeing the major chefs from major cities come to town. I think it’s making a statement that Dallas is a true restaurant town. Attracting talent gives other restaurateurs ideas and inspiration to come to Dallas and see the great opportunities that there are. You’ve got a wide variety of cuisine already, and I just hope that this is a part of that narrative and continuing to build Dallas as a true restaurant destination.”

Creating a Sense of Place

Once the agreement was in place, the two teams set to work on the menu and infusing “Dallas DNA” into the execution of the restaurant, as Kleinert puts it. Blau and Chef Canteenwalla took a roadtrip through Texas, stopping at Rosewood Ranch in Ennis and Happy Cow in Fredericksburg to experience some of the best of the state’s ranching and beef, then passing through Dripping Springs to visit Barton Springs Mill and coming back through Waco to visit Balcones Distilling. “We’re in this incredible tower,” Blau says. “So, to have this responsibility to also be ambassadors for all of this product coming out of Texas and the region was really important to us and the DNA of the concept.”

She also toured many of Dallas’ many iconic steakhouses, hoping to help differentiate Crown Block within the region’s market. “We take a broad-based approach to our menu; some things are kind of serious, but other things are fun,” Blau says. For example, Chef Canteenwalla spends three days preparing each batch of Crown Block’s Triple Cooked French Fries, but the concept’s menu also showcases lighthearted items such as Macaroni and Cheese Waffles with a cheese dipping sauce.

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Blau also feels the menu’s range and the quality of the products used will set the concept apart. “There’s as much an emphasis on our steak program, as on our seafood program,” she says. Additionally, an entire plant-based menu will be available for patrons, inspired by Blau’s dedication to eating meatless twice weekly. “It’s not an afterthought of ‘Oh, well, you can make this vegetarian or vegan for you,'” Blau says. “It’s really a purpose-built menu that will give you exciting options.” Gluten-free options, including a key lime pie, were incorporated with Kleinert in mind, too. “Tyler’s gluten-free, and so we’ve even devised some things that you would not even know are gluten-free,” Blau says.

Meanwhile, a team member at Hunt came up with the concept’s moniker, referencing the uppermost part of an oil rig. “Here we are in a ball at the top of the tower, so it made sense,” Kleinert says. “It was a perfect match.” Together, the teams selected art that also leaned into the location and Hunt’s history, including a piece incorporating historic oil price sheets, and a sculpture by Alejandro Luna, which uses resin and oil drill bits to create a crystal-like effect. “We’re not trying to be thematic at all, we’re just really trying to celebrate Texas as best we can as newcomers to the city,” Blau says.

Blau also sparked one other big change: the restaurant will no longer rotate. “The idea came from Elizabeth and Kim, and it was one that, after it was thought through, was very well-received from our team, understanding that it was a guest-driven decision,” Kleinert says.

Blau feels that the moment guests walk into a restaurant creates a sense of place and fixed expectation. If they see a different portion of the restaurant each time they enter, that sense of place would be lost. “When you come off that elevator and now we can create this bar with really the most dramatic view of the of the Dallas skyline, we think that it dramatically enhances the experience,” Blau says. A private event space on the floor below can still rotate when rented, she adds.

Blau and Chef Canteenwalla have rented an apartment in Dallas, and will split time between Las Vegas and North Texas. They hope to open locations for some of their other restaurant concepts in North Texas soon. “Our Honey Salt concept is farm-to-table-inspired, but it’s meant to be a neighborhood restaurant. It’s much more casual than Crown Block, and to be honest, I haven’t really found anything like it,” she says. “We would love to bring Honey Salt here.”

“I feel like we have a really great sense of the city now and where our cuisine could fit in,” Blau says. “There’s a reason this is a test market because people in Dallas love to eat out. I think as long as people continue that passion, there’ll be great business opportunity for operators that are bringing things that are unique and individual.”

For Kleinert and Hunt Realty, Crown Block is the beginning of what they hope will be an excellent design for the entryway to the city as viewed from I-35 North. “We have our own vision moving forward for the overall reunion site. Reunion Arena is no longer there. We’ve got 20 acres of developable land here. So, being able to start first with a world-class restaurant really puts us in a good position to help think through and build out the rest of the site,” Kleinert says. “It’s something we are very focused on.”

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Kelsey Vanderschoot

Kelsey Vanderschoot

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Kelsey J. Vanderschoot came to Dallas by way of Napa, Los Angeles, and Madrid, Spain. A former teacher, she joined…

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