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By Michael Hutchins, Herald Democrat
Posted Apr 22, 2018 at 12:01 AM
Updated Apr 22, 2018 at 8:10 PM
For prospective restaurateurs, the prospect of opening a new eatery can be a daunting task. With a need for marketing, development and finance skills, the expertise needed to develop a new restaurant go far beyond the kitchen itself.
A developer in Denison hopes to open up doors to young restaurateurs to test their ideas with little risk in a collective space. Developer Josh Massey is currently planning to open a new incubator restaurant that will feature six small restaurant stations within one building at 507 W. Main, in downtown Denison.
A new incubator restaurant planned for downtown Denison is similar in concept to the Legacy Hall premium food hall in Plano. The Denison developer is planning to feature six small restaurant stations within one building at 507 W. Main.
“We are trying to give multiple prospective restaurateurs a chance to gain exposure and experience in our downtown,” Massey said.
Under the proposed plans, Massey said he hopes to develop space for up to six restaurant stalls at the location, with shared public space complete with a stage for public performances, and viewings of sporting events. The smaller stalls will allow them to test their ideas for proof of concept with a reduced risk than of opening a conventional restaurant.
With these stalls, Massey said he hopes to bring a wider variety of cuisines and schools of cooking to downtown Denison. Following public feedback, Massey said he hopes to start with a healthy fare restaurant, that would feature wraps and other healthy options, and an ethnic stall, potentially featuring Thai and Asian food. Other possibilities include a burrito stall, similar to other fast-casual restaurants in the area, he said.
With the incubator restaurant, Massey said he plans to limit each restaurant to a maximum of three years in the space. After that time, Massey said it should be clear whether the concept works, or if it may need to be modified or completely abandoned. Despite the temporary nature of the stalls, he said one beer garden tenant will be permanent at the restaurant.
Massey said the project has been in development for over a year. In total, he plans to invest more than $600,000 in the project. The second floor of the building will also see renovation and redevelopment as a set of lofts.
In part, Massey said he was partially inspired to pursue the project following other restaurant deals that had concerns with parking limitations. After doing research, Massey said he discovered that diners are willing to walk further for restaurants that feature more than one dining option.
With this project, Massey said rents would be lower than a traditional restaurant, and many of the tools and equipment will be provided with the space, further reducing the risk to the potential restaurateur.
Boon for local chefs
For the project, Massey said he is partnering with multiple groups and organizations, including Joanna Bryant, executive chef of the Grayson College Culinary Arts Program. One of the goals of the project is to retain local talent and culinary graduates, which have been leaking to larger markets, Massey said.
Bryant said many of her more skilled students are quickly hired and pulled out of Grayson County by employers who can pay them a larger salary. With local restaurants, many are already fully staffed with a trained chef, or cannot provide the same pay scale that the outside markets can.
“There are some restaurants locally ... but there is a big difference between chefs here and salaried positions,” Bryant said.
Bryant said the incubator restaurant concept is still fairly uncommon in the U.S., with only between 10 to 20 in existence. However, there is one, Legacy Hall, open as close as Plano, Bryant said. The idea for “food halls” with multiple smaller vendors followed the food truck trend, Bryant said. While the trucks remain popular, Bryant said the food hall concept allows the restaurant to stay open in inclement weather and isn’t affected by extreme temperatures.
At the start of each semester, Bryant said she asks her students why they are in culinary school. More often then not, the answer is that they dream of owning their own restaurant, she said. Despite these ambitious dreams, Bryant said the industry does have its pitfalls and many restaurants do not survive beyond a year or two.
“Many people see the Food Network, and it makes them dream of owning their own restaurant while they do not know anything about daily operations,” she said.
Potential funding sources
Denison Development Alliance Vice President William Myers, who is also assisting with the project, said it is currently waiting for approval from federal and state historic preservation commissions. The project will be funded in part using historic tax credits for renovation and restoration.
However, with these commissions, there are strict guidelines for restoration that must be followed in order to be eligible for the credits, that have led to some delays, Myers said.
“When you go into historic preservation tax credits, the state and feds go inside, outside, up and down and everything in between,” he said.
Under the original plans for the project, Massey said developers planned to use shipping containers for the individual stalls, following a similar development in Manhattan, but this ran afoul of state and federal historic commission officials.
While the project itself may fall outside the industrial purview of the DDA, Myers said the Denison Development Foundation may be able to assist with the project. Myers said there have been discussions about offering the project a Destination Creation grant, which is aimed at assisting projects that will likely attract visitors and tourists to the area.
Myers said it was too soon to give exact numbers, but said the grant would likely be around $75,000.