What’s the next big restaurant chain? Veteran restaurateur Phil Romano (founder of Fuddrucker’s and Romano’s Macaroni Grill) and his investment partners are after the answer at Trinity Groves, a 15-acre “entertainment destination” made up of restaurants and shops in once-underdeveloped West Dallas.
To find it, Romano and his team are seeking out emerging talent through a Restaurant Concept Incubator program, which gives prospective restaurateurs an opportunity to pitch an original concept and launch it at Trinity Groves.
The first incubator concept to open, Babb Brothers BBQ & Blues, is a fast-casual place providing Kansas City-style smoked meats plus live music from owner Mike Babb’s blues band. The six incubator concepts that have opened since are housed a few blocks away in a strip built from converted industrial warehouses. They include Souk, a Moroccan bistro and bazaar; LUCK, a local food- and craft beer-focused restaurant; Casa Rubia, a Spanish tapas concept; Resto Gastro Bistro, a modern French bistro with a twist; Amber Jax, a casual fish market and grill; and Chino-Chinatown, a Latin-Asian fusion concept. The strip has 15 storefronts in all, most reserved for concepts coming by this summer.
To be accepted into the incubator program, prospects submit to an extensive written application and a series of panel interviews and cooking demos. Candidates also must prove that their concept has “a real point of difference,” says Romano, an important factor for attracting millennials, Trinity Groves’ target demographic. “They don’t want anything that’s been seen or done before,” he says.
Winning concepts get financing—around $500,000 in exchange for 50 percent of the business. Romano and his team serve as partners and mentors, lending hands-on help in the kitchen during menu-planning stages and aiding in development and design.
“The idea is that [investors] will come here to shop for new concepts,” says Romano. “And that’s exactly what they’re doing.” Some of the restaurants already have had interest.
The incubator concepts can remain at Trinity Groves as long as they stay above a $1.5 million annual quota. “All incubators are well on track to exceed our revenue threshold,” says partner Stuart Fitts. When they are ready to strike out on their own, there will be a line of newbies poised to take their places. Having reviewed more than 300 applications already, Romano and his partners have a waitlist 20-deep of approved incubator concepts.
Rounding out the offerings at Trinity Groves are several permanent, non-incubator businesses, such as event space 3015 at Trinity Groves, fast-casual hot dog and sausage joint Hoffman Huts and microbrewery Four Corners Brewery. Other spots will rotate concepts. Kitchen LTO, for example, is a permanent pop-up that changes its menu and decor three times a year, giving up-and-coming chefs and designers a chance to showcase their talent.