There’s a lot to take in upon entering Town Hearth, the newly opened Design District restaurant. There are 64 chandeliers, an MG Roadster, a Ducati motorcycle, and a yellow submarine. It’s opulent and machismo, but also warm. And it’s all from owner Nick Badovinus’ head. All Dallasites can likely identify a Badovinus restaurant (Neighborhood Services, Montlake Cut, and Off-Site Kitchen), but his habit of concepting and culling everything inside is less widely known.
I caught up with the restaurateur to talk about what makes Town Hearth so personal, the trials of wanting 64 chandeliers, and what restaurants and live theater have in common.
Why did you choose the Design District for Town Hearth?
I knew I wanted it to be a transformational space; a true escapist opportunity for our customers. The Design District is something I’ve been exploring for about 10 years. It’s easy to get to, but there is a spirit of adventure in coming here.
That yellow submarine looks familiar. Was it from the old Timothy Oulton store?
I had long been a fan of Timothy Oulton’s design work and style. I loved the store in Dallas. It was a great place to go and spend a couple of hours daydreaming. It was badass and inspiring, and the people were super cool.
When I was little, restaurants we went to always seemed to have something magical about them. A fish tank was something I associated with a cool, legit restaurant. I saw the sub in Timothy Oulton and thought that would have been the ultimate restaurant fish tank when I was a kid. Forty years later we did it. It became a kind of touchstone for what I wanted Town Hearth to look like.
“This is the physical manifestation of one order of fish and chips at a time.”Nick Badovinus
Why have you chosen to be so hands-on with the design of your restaurants?
For me, it’s just an extension of the culinary process. All my restaurants are very personal, and I know what I want these places to look like. Each restaurant has a narrative that’s about a passage through my life. I also love the shopping and learning process. It’s just not fun to give that up.
You mentioned narratives. What part of life does Town Hearth represent?
The reason I did Montlake Cut and Town Hearth back to back, is because I thought Montlake perfectly set up Town Hearth chronologically. MC is me as a kid. That first cup of coffee, chasing girls, trying to catch salmon—it’s all very much my pre-professional life growing up in Seattle. Town Hearth is representative of my past 20 years in Dallas. There’s a lot of optimism that comes with striking out on your own. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here. This is my first place where it’s not quite as much about family, it’s about big hopes and taking a big swing. That’s what the imagery is about. It’s being in harmony with the machine, and trying to go fast—really fast. It’s rustic and opulent all at once. It doesn’t get more primal and simplistic than cooking over the fire, but there’s also something luxurious about sitting down to a great cut of meat. It’s always a bit more than you need. That’s where the chandeliers came in.
Are the chandeliers also from Timothy Oulton?
Yes. I knew I wanted a bunch of chandeliers, so I just said, ‘Screw it. How many chandeliers do you have in North America?’ I have seven left over. We put them together ourselves.
Town Hearth is the first time we really took the gloves off in terms of budget. We paid cash. We didn’t raise money. This is the physical manifestation of one order of fish and chips at a time.
What do you want the Town Hearth experience to be like?
As a result of Instagram and the internet, you see so much convergence in the marketplace today; a lot of places look the same. I wanted Town Hearth to be singular that way. You have to take some chances. I really wanted the room to be one hell of a set. Over-the-top and theatrical, but not cartoonish. A stage set can’t be subtle or it won’t reach everyone in the audience. A restaurant is like live theater in that way. I wanted the Town Hearth to put people in a good mood and just be fun—and be something worth seeing.