The Bishop Arts District is about to get an Australian accent.
Isla & Co., an Australian all-day cafe, will open this fall in one of the most iconic addresses in Dallas dining. Lucia moved out of the small space and around the corner in early 2021; Isla & Co. hopes to debut this September.
Although it’s an Aussie-run business, the cafe started in Brooklyn and is expanding rapidly across the country, with locations opening soon in Connecticut, Atlanta, and South Florida. Some Dallas foodies may raise their eyebrows at the arrival of another chain from the coasts, especially in an address long occupied by one of Dallas’ most famous independent restaurants.
But Isla & Co. sounds plenty interesting. (Speaking of sounds: it’s pronounced “eye-la.”) The restaurant’s leadership group is eager to spread their vision of a laid-back, all-day neighborhood gathering place.
“We try and have a really high quality product, but we try to have a really relaxed Australian style of service,” says David Orr, who’s living in Dallas temporarily to oversee the project.
“People go to Australia for the natural beauty and to see Sydney and the harbor and the Outback, but when they come back, they talk about the people and the experience, how laid back it all was.”
The restaurant’s goal is to build a sense of community around its all-day mentality. Come in for coffee and breakfast, then pop back around for cocktails after work. Orr’s team chose Bishop Arts in part because the neighborhood already has such a tightly knit, walkable fabric.
Orr compares Australia’s melting-pot cuisine to America’s, pointing out that each have influences from many historical waves of immigration. “Australia was settled by Europeans, but we’ve also got close proximity to Southeast Asia.” There are Italian touches on the menu, too, courtesy of executive chef Matt Foley, a former executive sous chef of two-Michelin-starred Marea in New York. (No, he isn’t a motivational speaker.)
The New York location’s menu shows influences of the Mediterranean (whipped feta with veggies, fried halloumi cheese) and United Kingdom (sausage rolls, fish and chips), along with a vegetarian Thai curry. The Dallas menu may differ, of course, but this rings true to the concept. The crispy halloumi, by the way, is Orr’s favorite: “It is Mediterranean but it’s huge in Australia.” It should be huge here, too. Could there be a better food than a slice of cheese you can grill?
Australian food does not mean loads of steaks, or a menu of crocodile and kangaroo meat. It does, however, means lots of good coffee—Isla & Co. operates its own roasting facility—and cocktails with an accent. The Wizard of Aus cocktail features Australian whiskey, lemon, egg white, and a float of Shiraz wine. There’s also a Negroni, using gin that has been steeped in Shiraz grapes, and a boozy combination of bourbon, amaro, and eucalyptus bitters.
The Lucia space was famously tiny, one of the reasons that its owners, Jennifer and David Uygur, decided to move around the corner. Isla & Co. is looking at ways of maximizing that space, including expanded outdoor seating along the block. Oh, and they have a secret weapon.
“Coming from New York, we are pretty familiar in dealing with tight quarters,” Orr explains. “This is definitely on the smaller side of where we can operate. Our New York team have engineered every square inch of the space to maximize it.”
Orr, who was raised in the rural Outback, feels at home in Dallas. “I think the climate’s pretty similar,” he says. “I think the people are a lot more similar [than in New York]. It’s a more laid-back, friendly environment. I get a lot more of people’s pride in Dallas. People want to show you around, get to know you. Back home it’s the same thing. When there’s someone new, you love to show them a good time, to find out what they’re doing and why they’re here.” A few minutes later, he adds: “Also, the golf courses play a little bit more like home.”
He’s also been around the corner to dine at the new Lucia, which he says is “great.” So he knows the reputation of Isla & Co.’s newest address.
“We’ve got big shoes to fill,” he tells me. “We’re bloody excited. It’s a tough act to follow.”
Isla & Co., 408 W. Eighth St. Expected to open in September