The Birth of Incubator Concepts in Dallas: Trinity Groves v Sylvan| Thirty

Artist Renderings: Sylvan| Thirty and Trinity Groves.

In early December, we reported the announcement of the Sylvan| Thirty Culinary Incubator concept. In short, the still unnamed space is designed to help start-up food entrepreneurs launch their own businesses. Local chef and Earth Mother, Sharon Hage, is the director of the center which is slated to open in the early spring of 2013.

A few days ago, I received a press release: “Dallas to be Home to Nation’s First Restaurant Incubator.” The one-and-a-half page announcement outlined the grandiose plans behind Trinity Groves, a 13-acre development also dedicated to helping local wannabe restaurateurs get up and running. I filed an story on Trinity Groves yesterday.

I think it’s interesting Dallas will soon be home to two incubator programs. Especially since they are both located in west of the Trinity River. I decided to compare the two programs.

Jump for the full report.

The two concepts couldn’t be more different. The philosophy behind the Sylvan| Thirty “culinary incubator” is organic and the program is more malleable. “Incubatees” (I guess that is what you would call them!) must sign up for a 9-month program which includes classes on subjects such as how to attract capital or identify a target audience. There will be a huge commercial kitchen which will be shared by the participants who are encouraged to help each other. At the end of the 9-month gestation period, they can sign up for further instruction or fly off to start their own business. Incubatees (it’s growing on me) are not indebted to Sylvan| 30.

Just down the road is Trinity Groves where the mindset is all about creating successful restaurants. To become an incubatee, one must present the Food and Concept Advisory Committee with an idea for a restaurant that will not only work in a 2,500 square-foot space in Trinity Groves, it has to good enough to, eventually, roll out multiple units. The good news is that the program is structured to give each incubatee an even playing field: each restaurant space is the same size (2,500 square feet) and no concept can cost more than $500,000 to finish out. If the incubatee has money to put toward the project, they get a higher percentage of the total ownership. If no money is contributed, they still receive 40% of the business. Trinity Grove will help attract investors for each entity and take 10% for their efforts. The remaining 50% belongs to the investor. If the original restaurant fails to “have wheels” or doesn’t perform to code, the incubatee will get booted. The original investor stays with the space and gets the next batter up so to speak. Phil Romano told me he’d like to see each restaurant to do between $1million and $1.5 million in sales a year. I understood that those numbers wouldn’t go into effect until most of the project is underway.

Brent Jackson, president of Sylvan | Thirty developer Oaxaca Interests is taking unique approach to populating his center. Jackson is hand-picking like-minded tenants to surround the incubator space. “Through the benefit of some patient partners, we’ve enjoyed taking a more organic approach to how we viewed our incubatees and our tenant base,” Jackson said. “We picked tenants because of the bar they set for themselves and for their ability to work with others and collaborate.” Two well-established businesses set to open at Sylvan| Thirty are Cox Farms Market and Matador Meat & Wine. “We provide a forum and a management system that will oversee, but really the incubator itself will provide invaluable learning experiences so that they can go and grow and go into another project,” Jackson said. “There is no commitment that we ask any of them to go into another project that I own. It’s their own company. However, there is an opportunity here if they want to stay.”

I see merit in both programs. Phil Romano knows how to identify and developing successful multiple-store restaurant operations. I’m sure he’d like to find the next Jeff Sinelli hiding in the underbrush. Trinity Groves is certainly about making money, but at the heart of the program there appears to be a belief in “untapped human capital” as well. Trinity Groves it the American Idol of incubators. Add goody for Trinity Groves’ first success story.

Sylvan| Thirty will provide a lower point of entry into the start-up-business system and there is less pressure to perform. If, after nine months, the incubatee feels confident enough to go out and start a restaurant or sell their products, they can choose the scale that feels right to their situation. Once a line of jams or a restaurant opens their doors after completing the Sylvan| Thirty culinary incubator, they would be one show in a series on PBS’s Masterpiece Classic.

“I believe rising tide lifts all boats,” Jackson said. “I’m glad to see what the folks at Chicken Scratch and Trinity Groves are doing. The more the merrier.”


  • Darren

    Nancy, that last comment has me scratching (har har) my head. Is Chicken Scratch going to be something other than just a restaurant?