Saturday, January 29, 2022 Jan 29, 2022
36° F Dallas, TX

Culinary Capitalists

Three Dallas restaurateurs prove you can run a successful eatery even if your background isn't in the kitchen.
By  |
Hoque, pictured at his new Wild Salsa, is transforming Downtown Dallas’ Main Street with restaurants like Dallas Chop House and Dallas Fish Market. photography by Billy Surface

The landlords offered him a sensible sweetheart of a deal. “It was ridiculously cheap and they were willing to do a lot of the buildout—new air conditioning, new bathrooms, new grease trap. They basically rebuilt the kitchen, then gave me flexible rent terms that made it less risky. I felt like the planets were aligning.”

After pumping around $125,000 into the space—he bought $10 chairs and $60 tables from Garden Ridge—Jerrier quickly realized that running a restaurant was exponentially more complicated than anything he’d done before. And that everything that could go wrong, would. “I made a lot of mistakes—the POS system, construction— and there was a point when I realized I can’t do this myself—wondering why the plumbing stinks, sorting through pest control people, trying to find someone to clean the vent hoot,” he says. “Then I realized that, just like in the corporate world, you succeed when you surround yourself with good, competent people. Making the pizza is the easy part.”

Jerrier returned to his winning formula: finding out what the metrics are and managing to those. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to units measured and developing key performance indicators. If I say we need to have $2,000 in lunch sales, then I have to have the data to support that by knowing what we sell a lot of, what we need to sell more of, and knowing what the sales-to-employee ratios are at different times of the day.”

Food costs are the perfect example. “I have this ridiculously detailed spreadsheet that shows me how much our ingredients cost per gram, how much labor will be applied to a margherita pizza, things like that,” he says. “That’s what GE will do to you. There’s a lot of science and data behind why we do what we do. Sure, some of what we do is just for fun, but a lot of it is driven by numbers. At the end of the day there should be no surprises.”

Now that Jerrier has a little walking-around money, he’s investing in modest upgrades to Cane Rosso, like adding a fireplace to the patio and bike racks out front. “I call it my hipster trap. I’m going to give a free pizza to the first guy with a beard who shows up on his bike in a fedora and size double-zero skinny jeans,” he says.

“Seriously though, people say I’m so brave to have taken this leap. Heck, it only took me 21 years. Truth is, I work harder on this that I did with acquisitions and IPOs. But it’s the training I received while I worked for all those ‘real companies’ that’s the biggest factor in why I’ve been successful,” Jerrier says. “We don’t make decisions based on emotion; we base them on the numbers. Sure, on a per-hour basis I don’t know if I make minimum wage yet. But it’s certainly more interesting than implementing IT systems for regulated utilities.”

[inline_image id=”4″ align=”” crop=””]
Village People

Not so very long ago, 38-year-old Brian Twomey, the ambitious boy-next-door behind restaurants The Common Table, Marquee Bar & Grill, Village Theatre, and Loft 610, was a financial analyst—intellectually stimulated, but itching to do his own thing. He knew he had a choice: He could follow in his banker father’s footsteps slogging through a career in marketing and finance, or he could play the riskiest of hands—the restaurant hand—and in doing so run the risk of failing on Dallas’ most visible stage.

His background was not entirely devoid of restaurant relevance. Twomey majored in finance at Baylor and received an MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. At his first career outpost, Citigroup, he learned to walk and talk like a commercial lending analyst. At his next stop, Pizza Hut Inc., he polished up his marketing chops, managing a $2.5 billion sales portfolio. 

“At Pizza Hut, I fell in love with idea of taking care of people and designing products to meet a consumer need,” Twomey says. “Then, when I moved to Coca-Cola as a customer insights consultant, I suddenly had the world’s largest consumer insights database at my fingertips. It didn’t take long for ideas to percolate.”

Two to three years in, Twomey started noticing a macro trend. People were continuing to move to the suburbs for quality of life; unfortunately, independent restaurants had yet to make the outward move as well. So, with admirable vision, he opened Plano’s Loft 610, a concept centered around aspirational urban living in the suburbs.

“Loft 610 was successful for the first two years. But once the economy hit, it was harder and harder to have fine dining up there,” he says.
“There are a lot of rooftops up there but not a lot of single people going out.”

[inline_image id=”5″ align=”” crop=””]
Around the same time, Twomey partnered with Corey Pond. The duo started layering their ideas—Pond is in the beer industry and Twomey is in food. Together they opened Common Table in Uptown in June 2010.

“It all happened a lot faster than I anticipated,” he says. “My business doubled in size in six months. Handling a second restaurant, faced with what would become the biggest projects in my career thus far, I knew it was time to sell and get out of Plano.”

Soon after the sale of Loft 610, a real estate agent told Twomey about an opportunity at Highland Park Village. Turns out the owners, Ray Washburne, et. al, had a grand vision to refresh the village and add three new restaurant spaces. “The Realtor said, ‘I can probably get you a meeting, but you’ll have to act fast,’ ” Twomey recalls. “It was the chance of a lifetime, and I wanted to make sure I could get at least one of my ideas developed, so I devised three different restaurant concepts for the spaces, as well as one for the theater.” The first was a sushi concept, the second a Japanese concept, and the third was a straightforward concept based around the talents of Loft 610 chef Tre Wilcox.

[inline_image id=”6″ align=”r” crop=””]Twomey began seeking out funding and management partners. “I was lucky enough to get in touch with Pizza Hut president [and former COO of Yum! Brands] Peter Hearl,” he says. “I pitched him on the idea during the ride home from a ranch weekend. I told him that, if I was going to do this right, I needed help from an operational standpoint. By the end of the ride, we had a deal.”

As part of Hearl’s due diligence, he summoned his son Mark, a vice president with JPMorgan Chase, down from New York City to evaluate the situation. “Mark and I are about the same age and hit it off really well,” Twomey says. “On his last day he was here, we were hanging out at Mi Cocina at Highland Park Village, and I said, ‘You should come down here and be my partner, my COO.’”

It took a little leaning from all sides, but by June 2010, Mark was on board. “He’s my partner in all aspects of operating Marquee Grill and Village Theatre,” Twomey says “I’ve always been able to recognize the power and importance of having the best possible people working
with you. If you can get that right, it makes everything else a hell of a lot easier.”

After they got the green light from Washburne, Twomey and Hearl embarked on a year of development. Between the first architectural meeting in October 2009 to opening day in April 2011, the duo completely reconstructed the restaurant and the Marquee Theatre building—a tall order considering the theater’s spot on the National Historic Registry. “We had to get town approval for every single thing on the exterior that we wanted to touch,” Twomey says. “So we thought long and hard about precisely what we wanted to create. We built it so every part of the design is relevant.”

Then he set about assembling his dream team, bringing in Wilcox as executive chef and Justin Beam (whose pedigree includes both Fearing’s and Craft) as general manager. Beam then introduced Twomey to Jason Kosmas, and the cocktail menu—and Marquee’s talent core—solidified. Following an initial investment of $4 million to $5 million, Twomey says, the Marquee/Village venture should bring in better than $12 million this year.

“For a while, with the exception of my wife and children, Highland Park Village was the most important thing in my life,” Twomey says. “I put everything into that proposal. I left Coca-Cola to do my own thing 10 days before my second child was born. At the time, I asked my wife, ‘Are you sure you’re okay with me doing this?’ She said, ‘Brian, I believe in you, and if you don’t do this now, you’ll regret it.’ Let’s face it, her support has made this whole thing possible.”