Klyde Warren Park news as of late tends to ruffle feathers. At the end of last year, the downtown Dallas park announced a forthcoming multimillion dollar water fountain, drawing mixed reactions and hefty criticism. The latest dispatch from the downtown park: Dallas chain Mi Cocina will serve its Tex-Mex and Mambo Taxis to parkgoers and nearby urbanites this fall.
Known henceforth as Mi Cocina on the Park, it replaces the glass-walled Savor, which closed in August after seven years at Klyde Warren. Mi Cocina’s newest outpost has a target opening date of September 1.
As with philanthropist Nancy Best’s fountain announcement, Mi Cocina at Klyde Warren has its share of skeptics already. Some folks online have called the team-up disappointing and predictable. Park boosters liken it to an addition to Central Park; others say it’s more like an Olive Garden in New York City’s Times Square. Klyde Warren Park president Kit Sawers isn’t deterred. “One of the things that, frankly, is most exciting to me, especially being from Dallas, is that people care about this place so much. When people care about a place, they’re going to express their opinions,” she told SideDish.
There were several contenders, including over a dozen local operators, that Klyde Warren’s powers that be had considered. Sawers says there were myriad reasons they eventually went with M Crowd restaurant group’s Mi Cocina.
“It’s an iconic Dallas brand and so is Klyde Warren Park. So that was a good fit. We liked the fact that Mi Cocina was so family focused across all generations, and frankly, across all different socio-economic brackets; people go to the Mi Cocina throughout the community. We also liked the fact that it was a bigger company who could expand when we had events in the park and be able to serve cocktails or little snacks in addition to what our food trucks have during our larger events. Also, probably the biggest reason is we did a lot of surveys of parkgoers and via our newsletter and with our friends groups, and Mi Cocina was the one restaurant that was mentioned over and over again by name as being a perfect fit…because of the price point and for all different reasons. So we feel like a lot of ways we’re just providing with the community requested.”
She’s aware that some Dallasites might have preferred “a brand new concept … or maybe something from another part of the country.” But a new and lesser-known restaurant poses more risk than an established brand, and taking risks is “really not in the best interest of the park,” she says. Remember, part of the intent of having a restaurant in the center of the park is to help fund its broader operations. Savor, even though it lasted seven years, had plenty of near-empty afternoons and evenings. Its price point was higher. An established brand like Mi Cocina seemed like a surer bet for success, even if it’s not as exciting as taking a risk on a unique concept.
“Having an iconic brand open up in the middle of a pandemic is definitely a safer bet than a brand new concept, for example, and this is a 10-year commitment,” says Sawer. “It’s important that this restaurant be successful because it’s an economic engine for the park.”
According to a press release, Klyde Warren expects to receive a percentage of sales, as well as monthly rent, from Mi Cocina on the Park. That will provide significant support to the nonprofit’s $5 million annual budget. “It could be anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the park’s revenue,” says Sawer, adding that more money means more public programming for the community.
The press release also points to other successful park-restaurant models, like Central Park in New York City—which, at nearly 900 acres, is the paragon of public parks and an ambitious ideal to strive for—and Millennium Park in Chicago, another urban green space stunner with a restaurant (though one mired in scandal).
Meanwhile, directly across Woodall Rodgers sits Miriam Cocina Latina, run by local restaurateur Shannon Wynne and head chef Miriam Jimenez.
“I thought it would be kind of odd to go in across the street from us and down the street from Meso Maya,” says Wynne, though he had been somewhat in the loop for awhile. “Ray [Washburne] told me months ago that they were looking at it, and everyone has reasons for doing what they do.”
Wynne is of the mindset that rising tides raise all boats, that the concentration of Tex-Mex restaurants, however acutely proximal to each other, is fine. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says. “I think the people that are loyal to Miriam know her and know her food.”
Whether it’s friendly competition or an unofficial battle of the Tex-Mex remains to be seen. Until then, expect Mi Cocina staples, like a wine-based version of the famous Mambo Taxi. Out of the kiosk window that used to be Relish’s burgers and hot dogs, Mi Cocina on the Park might offer picnic baskets for parkgoers—reserve one, pick it up, and steal a square of grass or a seat at a table for such picnicking needs. There also will be an option to call Mi Cocina on the Park to place an order that someone will bring out to whatever patch to which you’ve laid claim at the park. If the pandemic is still in full effect by September, that might be a good way to attract diners who are still too nervous for the more perilous indoor setting.
For those wondering, the Thomas Phifer-designed building will very much retain its architectural essence, but there will be six months of planning and interior renovating to fit Mi Cocina’s style and needs. M Crowd plans to spend $2 million on the updates.