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Business

A Generational Shift at North Texas Restaurants

Next-generation restaurateurs are keeping family dynasties going—while adding new twists of their own.
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Italian Food Spread on Dining Table Aerial View
Sean Berry

The restaurant business is one of the most grueling industries out there. That’s especially true in a fiercely competitive market like Dallas, which allegedly has more restaurants per capita than any other major U.S. metro and was named Restaurant City of the Year by no less than Bon Appétit in pre-pandemic 2019. But it also is a rewarding blend of art and science and allows one to create memorable experiences for others. For some, the business is in their blood. They grew up watching their parents and grandparents build successful restaurant operations and decided they wanted to continue the legacy.

Sam Romano, son of industry icon Phil Romano, was seating diners when he was just 7 years old. John McBride, a fourth-generation descendent of El Fenix founder Miguel Martinez, initially thought he’d pursue a different career, but the lure of the kitchen was too strong.

For Alexis and Oliver Barbier-Mueller, sons of Harwood district developer Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, the segue into restaurants was an accidental path. But along with managing three other lines of business for Harwood International, they’ve built a restaurant powerhouse, with 10 existing venues and 10 more slated to open before the end of 2023. Read on to learn how they’re all finding their own way in this fascinating industry.

Keeping Family Businesses Going

Studies show that second-generation businesses have a 60-percent failure rate, while only 10 percent of third-generation companies survive. According to Harvard Business Review, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. In fact, data suggests that, on average, family businesses last far longer than a typical public company does, and they’re a leading source of job creation and economic growth. Family businesses that fail often succumb to some of the common pitfalls, finds Forbes: poor succession planning, lack of trusted advisers, family conflict, and different visions between generations. Those that thrive are led by creative and entrepreneurial next-gen leaders who have a collective family orientation.  

In this, Dallas’ Barbier-Mueller family is on the right track. Alexis and Oliver Barbier-Mueller, sons of Harwood International founder Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, were recently named co-presidents of their family’s business. They bring strong finance and development credentials to their roles, and they’ve shown that they’re just as bold as their father when it comes to thinking big. Harwood Hospitality Group, for example, one of four business verticals the brothers run, will open a new 22-story hotel within the 19-block Harwood District next year. Alexis and Oliver have also accelerated restaurant development in the neighborhood, with 10 existing venues and a whopping 10 more that are slated to open by the end of next year. 

To help keep things running smoothly, the Barbier-Muellers rely on a family business coach for support. “There are a lot of examples out there where second-generation transitions don’t work out, so it’s something we’ve tried to be proactive about,” Alexis says. “My brother and I come at things from different backgrounds, but we yin-yang very well.” Solutions to challenges often involve finding compromise, Oliver adds. “Typically,” he says, “the answer lies in finding common ground.”

For more, see our feature stories on next-generation restaurateurs: Alexis and Oliver Barbier-Mueller of Harwood International, Sam Romano of Nick & Sam’s, and John McBride of El Vecino.

Author

Christine Perez

Christine Perez

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Christine is the editor of D CEO magazine and its online platforms. She’s a national award-winning business journalist who has…

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