The Grape in Dallas continues to serve up great classic dishes along with innovative cuisine under the steady hand of chef Brian Luscher. In a business that has a very high failure rate, what does it take to open and maintain a thriving restaurant over a period of several decades?
Ask chef Brian Luscher about his success rate and he will tell you that passion, innovation and just plain hard work are key components in setting the table for success.
Upon entering the historic 80 year old building located in the trendy Greenville neighborhood of Dallas, a covered bistro style entryway reveals a rather small intimate bar space with a large wine list emblazoned above on a blackboard revealing a lovely and well rounded by the glass wine list with very impressive and thoughtful new and old world selection from small family owned vineyards and large producers. Dallas-Fort Worth area has several local breweries and those were also noted on the evening list of libations. Before we imbibed in a glass, chef Luscher greeted me with his very exuberant and energetic presence to give me an overview of this well respected Dallas eatery. A wall separates the fine-dining aspect with the more casual dining venue, but the concept of urban, casual bistro dining resonates within the entire restaurant. Into the fine dining area with dimmed ambient lighting, linen table clothes, and old world photos and paintings that create a romantic intimate space for dining with loved ones and friends we spent several minutes speaking of his ability to keep this fresh and vital in the sometimes challenging world of a restaurateur and entrepreneur.
Creating space and atmosphere relates well to Luscher’s cuisine and dedication. The Grape started in 1972 by two culinary adventurous friends, who upon having several wine enlightened moments in Bordeaux, decided to return to the United States to bring their new found love of wine and enlighten their Dallas friends on the finer aspects of French cuisine, thus the Grape wine bistro was born. After spending 5 years with the Grape and honing his skills and expertise in various restaurants in Dallas and Chicago, skill and finances came together in 2007 for the young Chef and his Sommelier wife, Courtney, to become the owners of the Grape, of which they have never looked back.
Chef Luscher astute abilities as Chef and restaurateur coupled with his daily diligence continues to be transmitted with the same enthusiasm and drive that he began 40 years ago. The Grape’s truly time tested blackboard bistro menu reveals classic steak frites, roasted natural TX chicken, mustard crusted salmon and fresh pasta and the seasonal September menu offered innovate creations such as an Asian pear salad with black mission figs, Asian pears, wasabi toasted peanuts delectably intertwined with a ginger vinaigrette and a chili rubbed pork chop with cream corn, green tomato jam and blistered shishito peppers.
With dishes that honor the past and the present the Grape continues to bridge the time warp by creating a food buzz that is heard about both locally and nationally, as one of the top restaurants to visit in the Dallas area. Sitting Down with Chef, I did inquire on how he keeps the flames of food passion burning as the years and culinary trends have ebbed and waned.
TDM: Trends come and go in the restaurant business. What trends do you think are here to stay for awhile?
BL: The trend I see happening with a major of restaurants is scaling the model down to a smaller venue, a bistro, a wine bar, or some type of smaller focused menu and venue. For some we have seen menu changes, such as the “tapas menu”, but it also can be about the restaurant itself. We are doing that with Luscher’s Red Hots. All of the sausages are handmade, natural casings, locally raised antibiotic and hormone free meats. Local produce is used, and we make all our own mustard and pickles. And the bread is from a local father and son bakery. It’s just a great hot dog, a tribute to a good Chicago style hot dog.
Also, there is a great desire for the freshest, seasonal ingredients to be used in the preparation of the food. Here at the Grape, we continue to share standard classic bistro menu on the right side of our menu, but we also offer a monthly menu that which features seasonal ingredients from one of the many local and regional purveyors and farmers markets that we have developed relationship with over the years to provide the freshest and most flavorful ingredients. For example we make all our own charcuterie in house, such as our rabbit mortadella and pork rillettes. Some things never go out of style such as fresh ingredients, and using really good butter and of course the basics of great French cooking techniques.
TDM: Being a successful restaurateur for many years not only requires exceptional skills and fortitude, but a great staff is essential in creating a convivial atmosphere, one in which customers returns again year after year. What do you look for in a person that you are considering for employment?
BL: I am not only looking for the right qualifications but for someone who is teachable and has certain humbleness to them. They don’t necessarily have to have the most impressive resume but an engaging willingness to what they can to work as a team player with the common goal of pleasing our guests with the best service they can provide. You can have someone with lots of experience but can be difficult to get along with or is arrogant and that just does not work in the long run. We are the hospitality industry and that applies to how everyone interacts and treats each other, with respect and the common goal of putting our guest first.
TDM: Speaking about putting the guest first, would you personally cook a beautiful filet well done for a guest? I know there are many chefs who would refuse this request.
BL: I know there are chefs out there who would refuse that request but if that is truly the desire of the guest-yes I would do it. Our focus here is on pleasing our guests, not about what necessarily pleases the Chef. If we have a happy guest, they will be our best advertising. However, we may try to persuade guests to try something different that perhaps they never considered before. For example, My wife Courtney is the Sommelier and if she has a guest that would like a white zin, she will invite the guest try perhaps, a Riesling or another wine that may awaken that person to other wine possibilities. We are about the guest, but we are also about educating and elevating our guests dining experience. By the end of the night I want people to be satisfied, to be relaxed, laughing and engaged with their friends and loved ones; well feed and content.
TDM: Do you see yourself continuing in this location in 10-20 years, going strong and continuing to meet the demands of the ever changing restaurant scene?
BL: Well in ten years-perhaps, but I am not 20 years old and hopefully my labors will have paid off from the many years in the restaurant business.
My endeavor, especially with Luscher Red Hots, which is in the process of a national launch, is something that does require a fair amount of time and attention. I would like to spend more time pursuing a Pastry program here, for which I am very interested in. I love using the seasonal fruit in pastries. I would like to spend more time mentoring other young chefs, and working more with the charities that I am interested in. Overall, I am looking forward to enjoying more time with family, friends and travel.