A short distance from the corner of Bishop Avenue and Davis Street, several blocks of development have been nearing completion, slated to open as new restaurants in June. This portion is the latest extension of the Bishop Arts strolling area, which becomes animated on weekend afternoons and under glowing lights at night.
Multi-story complexes stretch along Melba Street, but there are also the shops under a covered walkway. This new cluster is grouped around a Persian-tile fountain that gurgles in a tranquil courtyard shaded by a stately oak tree. These are the first foray for Exxir, a real estate development company founded by the Nazerian family and headed by the sibling team of Michael and Natasha Nazerian, into the hospitality realm.
I first became acquainted with the project as I researched an article about the Guadalajaran ceramic factory that is behind façades and art collaborations in Dallas (the article is in the June issue of the magazine and will be online later this week). Exxir’s mixed-use development, known as Bishop North, uses a fair amount of the tile.
Already, they were careful about choosing the tenants—David and Jennifer Uygur’s charcuterie haven Macellaio, fresh and veggie-centric Tribal All-Day Café—across the way. They are attempting to build their own tiny empire around a garden that links each of the restaurants and encourages their visitors to sit and stay a while. It’s a tiny empire aiming to combat what Michael sees as the biggest challenge to post-WWII cities like Dallas and Los Angeles, “built for cars, not people,” lacking in authentic neighborhoods that foster community and as he says, “those things that make life worth living.”
“We felt, number one, that meaningful outdoor space is hard to find,” Michael says, and that tethering their cluster of four new locations to a Main Street sort of experience was a priority. They are also making sure their openings cater to a variety of price points.
“My anthropology background means I’m really interested in and fascinated by what we need and crave,” Natasha says, referencing her background in environmental anthropology. It has led her to mull over how best to foster spaces that encourage being present and in tune with one’s surroundings. They plan to use live arts as a way to encourage energy and foster connection between visitors. “We want to be around other people,” she says.
She believes there is a demand for a tranquil, public place in which to unplug, where trees can be an expression of history. This is the driving impetus. Initially, the idea was to open one concept that took over the whole garden. That shifted into the current constellation of niche spots, all under the direction of Jeremy Hargrove (formerly co-owner of the now-closed restaurants Madrina and Proof + Pantry), who has taken the food and beverage development helm as COO of Exxir Hospitality. Nick Hurry has been hired as executive chef, Anne Parravano as pastry chef.
Good Companions: a historic Craftman-style house has been converted into a cozy English cottage-style coffee shop, a 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. location with a fireplace and couches for lounging, sticky buns and house-churned butter. There will be bites like kouign amann pastries and prosciutto baguette sandwiches that can be taken out and eaten under the oak tree or with a glass of natural wine, an obsession of Natasha’s that will find expression here. The name is inspired by Michael and Natasha’s grandparents, who belonged to a British cycling club of the same name. (“Cycling is a big part of Oak Cliff,” Michael says.)
Paradiso: the central structure is a restaurant that’s meant to be a celebration of simple, seasonal ingredients, with whole grilled fish on a wood-fired grill, an atrium room, wood-fired pizza and fresh bread, tall doors that open onto the courtyard, and mezze carts that will carry little servings of fresh cheeses, house-made charcuterie, beet salads, grilled peaches, or bruléed figs. Meanwhile, another cart will feature wines—a natural, white, red, sparkling—within easy reach. Pastas will be made in-house (ultimately, they hope to be drying them as well), as will all the breads and cured meats. The kitchen doubles for Good Companions, its sheeter turning out croissants.
Botanist: a cocktail lounge with a gloriously vast copper bar and a dim, vintage ambiance, with floral references in cocktails and décor that take you back to botanical illustrations. They hope Botanist and Paradiso will be open until 2 a.m.
Tejas: an outpost a block away, a casual, breezy, counter-order corner intended to speak to the roots of Texas with a roster of three to four breakfast tacos, the same number of burgers, and a few all-day tacos (brisket, of course). Its focus will be a few things done well: tortillas and burger buns made in-house, locally sourced ingredients (local eggs, beef from 44 Farms), with on-tap Palomas, horchata, and cold brew that you can order from a walk-up window.
This is all part of a ticklish reality in a changing neighborhood, watched closely for its barometric readings on and implications for gentrification. “We want it to be a destination,” says Michael. “We feel like the space will drive people from all over Dallas. But we also are in Bishop Arts, we are in an actual neighborhood, so we want to have locals. We want regulars to have it and love it and come several times a week.
“We see what’s beautiful about Bishop Arts right now. It’s not about telling people what it should be,” he continues.
It remains to be seen how this plays out, this sort of garden of earthly delights. One thing is certain: open until 2 a.m., tapping au courant desires and trends, it’s something Bishop Arts hasn’t seen really until now, sans Ten Bells. Natasha poses the underlying question that will remain the X factor. How do you create soul in a place?
“It’s a grand experiment,” says Michael. “It’s not just some developer trying to land a spaceship, but rather [saying,] ‘Hey, we built this space for you; will you come add your energy to this space?”
This article previously misidentified Jeremy Hargrove’s title with Exxir as food and beverage director; he is COO of Exxir Hospitality. It also stated that Exxir was founded by Natasha and Michael Nazerian; it was founded by the Nazerian family.