Trinity Groves Report: First Restaurant in Restaurant Incubator Program is Approved

Trinity Groves: Shepard Fairey mural on the wall of Trinity Groves Headquarters (420 Singleton). Partners Larry “Butch” McGregor, Stuart Fitts, and Phil Romano. (photo by NN)

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.

Mike Babb and Phil Romano. (photo by NN)

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…

The first official media tasting held in the main office. (photo by NN)

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.

First ribs to be served at Trinity Groves. (photo by NN)

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.

Shepard Fairey’s mural on the building at 400 Singleton.I love the plastic bag in the tree. It reminds me of the movie American Beauty. (photo by NN)


  • Mike Hiller

    Nice update, Nancy. Didn’t know about the bbq place (though those ribs look like they could’ve used a little smoke…maybe even a Karubecue)

  • Michael Martensen

    Great stuff for Dallas. I hope they stick with the independent enterprenuers that are changing the Dallas food culture and not stick a steakhouse or tex mex place in the development though they have a place and I dine in these places it is time for the city to move beyond steaks and combo plates.

  • Brad, glad you got it!
    MM: all the restaurants will be opened by those who complete the incubator programs. More details tomorrow.

  • downtown_worker

    This may be the beginning of the end of the Dallas Farmers Market.

  • Kirk

    That looks like a young Dotty Griffith in Fairey’s mural…

  • BigDSenorita

    “I’ve tasted better barbecue”.. Barack Obama’s name spelled wrong. “That’s my $150,000 wall.”

    If this isnt the best example of a hot public relations mess, I dont know what is.

    We’ll believe it when we see it. Expect instead cheap apartments and half or more of the restaurants to fade away as time goes on.

    I mean, people, think about it. If these people were REALLY going to do this, wouldnt they have made dang sure they had it open and running when tens of thousands of people head over there for the opening of the bridge in 3 weeks? This is pure PR ploy…and a bad one at that.

    Bad PR

  • BigDSenorita

    Oh and the “first offiical media tasting”…

    was that pan-seared reporter or barbecued blogger being noshed on by all those white people?

  • Dr. Freud

    Hmmm. Bad PR? You read it and got passionate enough about it to comment, didn’t you?

  • Amy S

    Big D Seniorita – maybe a few less margaritas, Chica.

  • James

    I guess I’m the only one wondering why ice cream needs protein, and how it makes it healthier?

  • Pingback: The Birth of Two Incubator Concepts in Dallas: Trinity Groves v Sylvan|Thirty | SideDish()

  • Jill

    I agree with BradPR. We’re always going to do great things and it never pans out. Although, we did manage to get the Food Trucks up and running and when Lola’s closed, I thought we’ll never have a restaurant of this caliber again. Then the chef and his wife opened Lucia’s.

  • palebo

    Until now, Oak Cliff was a great place to have very diverse and unique opportunities for food.
    Once you see the name Phil Romano attached to something, be scared, be very scared.
    @James – nope, you’re not the only one to wonder about adding protein to Ice Cream to make it better or healthier

  • Amy S

    @palebo – I don’t understand the Phil Romano crap you are serving. He doesn’t need to make his money this way, but is willing to invest in some land, and to help new businesses obtain the capital that is needed to open. His conceptual restaurants for Brinker went on to be some of their best selling chains, his nose for good restaurant concepts rivaled any chef’s nose for good food. Eatzi’s stands as his belief in his own concepts, since he bought it back from Brinker several years ago and it is still popular and successful in its market. These are not the future Lola’s or Lucia’s, but the future Dickey’s or Chipotle.

    And 8.25% of each of dollar of sales from this project will come back to the city the state and DART, doesn’t that count for something? Me, I’d like a few more library hours, so I’m all for anything that drives sales tax revenue.

    Let me explain the restaurant industry in as few words as possible. It is high risk. It requires lots of capital. It takes somebody who likes high risk with lots of money to help make it happen. Or as the old joke goes, “How do you make a small fortune in the restaurant industry?” “Start out with a large fortune.” Badum, bump.

    Many times small owners can’t get a conceptual restaurant funded by an SBA loan if they are unproven and with insufficient assets to guarantee a loan.. Sometimes it takes someone with guts, and a large wallet to get it done. And in the real world of business startup financing, that means a portion of the ownership.

    Bravo to Mr. Romano, and to all those willing to take such a risk. May it have a return, but if not, may you not.give.up.

  • Well said Amy S. I’m just happy there will be BBQ, but it’s gonna be tough to compete with Odom’s (who has some of Dallas’ best ribs) just down Singleton with ribs looking like that.

    West Dallas is a very large and very ignored part of Dallas. It’s larger than the entire Park Cities and is currently home to a single large scale grocery store (a Fiesta at Hampton & Singleton) and few options for dining out minus the fast food along Singleton. I know families in the area, and they’re very happy to see anyone investing in their neighborhood.

  • I was fortunate enough to be there at that time. May I just say….that was THE BEST BARBECUE I have had in the 16 years living in this country. Excellent.

  • Wow, amazing to see incubators to start restaurants. Keep Texas entrepreneurship growing. I wish there’s was at least some type of incubator we started our house cleaning business. Later I found that the SBDC provided some help. Which we took advantage of classes, which helped us a lot. But incubators are totally the way to go.