Hash over

What happened to Harper's? When this Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain of six casual restaurants opened an outlet in North Dallas in January 1997, the crowds were so thick that getting through the door was almost impossible. By year's end, it was closed. Clyde Gilfillan, Harper's director of operations, says the restaurant was raking in just $38,000 a week before it closed, 60 percent of what it needed to remain viable. "Dallas kind of abandoned us after those first six weeks," he adds. Harper's owned the building on Keller Springs Road at the North Dallas Tollway and sold it earlier this month to a Dallas-based investor who sources say will gut it and reopen the venue as an upscale restaurant. Gilfillan says Harper's plans to return to Dallas within three years.

Also cutting their Dallas losses is New York-based Toscorp, parent of the 15-unit Coco Pazzo restaurant chain, which recently shuttered its restaurant in Addison after repackaging the former Sfuzzi's location as Coco Pazzo Cafe. Marco Protano, Toscorp director of marketing, says that everything from area market dynamics to the function of the operation itself contributed to its demise. "It just did not meet our expectations," he says. "Sfuzzi's struggled with it for years also." Toscorp also operates a Coco Pazzo on McKinney Avenue.

But if some small chains are pulling up Dallas stakes, others are looking to sink them. Baltimore developer Patrick Turner has his eyes on Dallas as a prime location for one of the most bizarre restaurant theme concepts ever dreamed up: Crash Cafe. Turner says the restaurant is designed to appeal to those among us who are drawn to car accidents, train wrecks, exploding buildings, and collapsing bridges. "When you talk about crashes, it covers everybody," he says. "People are instinctively drawn to these things and the mystery of them."

The signature of this restaurant-bar, which will have monitors showcasing various destruction and servers doubling as stuntmen and stuntwomen tumbling off balconies, is a smoldering DC-3 fuselage jutting out of the restaurant's partly wrecked exterior. "It's the ultimate in curb appeal," he adds in complete seriousness. "If someone's driving by and sees a burning DC-3 airplane in a building, that's going to get your attention." Turner plans to open his first restaurant in Baltimore before year's end with locations in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Orlando to follow. He sees a Dallas version landing within two years. What kind of food goes with a good wreck? Tapas, says Turner, who plans to have a menu of between 30 and 40 selections. But don't food and crashes, er...clash? "As long as it's put on with no blood and guts, I think it's fun," he says.

Longtime Dallas cheese baroness Paula Lambert (Mozzarella Co.) announced that she is one of five Americans elected this year to the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America, an annual culinary directory.

List Watch:
One of the most exciting producers claiming to craft "Burgundian-style" wines (this claim is so rampant, it's almost become a meaningless cliche), Rutz Cellars of Sonoma may actually deserve the designation. Rutz Cellars 1996 Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley Chardonnay has bright, clean aromas and subtle, crisp fruit flavors layered with hints of mineral and spice--a wine of extraordinary balance and depth. Rutz Cellars 1996 Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir from Monterey County is silky and ripe with rich, red berry flavors and a sensual earthiness with a wisp of sweat. Look for Rutz Cellars wines at AquaKnox and Sambuca.

--Mark Stuertz

Comments or suggestions? Write Mark Stuertz at markstz@juno.com or call (214) 757-8422.

 
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