Just Add Water (and Chef)
How Dallas’s Trinity Groves gives new restaurants a leg up.
So you want to start a restaurant. No problem—you’ll just need to secure investors, find a space, manage the renovations, hire a staff, run the gauntlet of city permits, and somehow find the time to, you know, cook. But if you happen to live in Dallas, there’s a better way. Since 2012, culinary up-and-comers have been routing their dreams through Trinity Groves, a buzzing hundred-acre complex at the western end of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Conceived of by longtime restaurateur Phil Romano (Fuddruckers, Macaroni Grill, Nick & Sam’s, EatZi’s), Trinity Groves is an incubator that provides financial support and infrastructure to rookie chefs with a worthy vision in exchange for a stake in their project.
It works like this: chefs endure a rigorous application process; a winning idea has to fit into the required module space, with a budget not to exceed $500,000; Romano pays for four months of operation and provides front-of-house management, allowing the chef (who must also be the owner) to focus on food and kitchen works. There are no guarantees on the lease, but if it works, Romano and the program chiefs put the profits back into the concept and decide whether it continues as is or grows into something to sell or franchise. If it flops . . . next!
It’s a savvy way for Romano to stay ahead of the curve on new trends in the industry (the incubator team retains a 51 percent stake in all restaurants) while also giving back. Of course, on any given night the real beneficiaries are the diners, who can stroll through this food court on steroids, choosing from a diverse array of menus that run the gamut of styles, including Middle Eastern, Spanish, gastropub, and pan-Asian. Early hits to emerge from the incubator are Casa Rubia and Resto Gastro Bistro. This summer, Trinity Groves will reach capacity for the first time since the first winner, Babb Brothers BBQ & Blues, opened its doors in late 2012. Choosing from the seventeen restaurants is a good way to get to know the next big thing while it’s still hatching.