Young restaurant veteran Marie Grove opened Stolik Restaurant Lounge (which means little table in Czech) one year ago with all of the relish and bravado that often blurs twenty-something vision. She abandoned a scholarship to attend Southern Methodist University to take the Dallas landscape by storm, promising to exploit what she saw as a gaping hole in the skill level among Dallas' restaurateur ranks. She aimed to fill that hole with her own success, deploying her considerable social skills on a venue with a chic environment, cutting-edge global cuisine, tight service and international sophistication.
A year later, Grove is gone. "She's very good for the customers," says Stolik investor Mike Chen. "She's good for the relationships, but when it comes to the operations...she said it was too hard and she couldn't handle it anymore. So she quit." Grove, who was managing partner and director of operations for the restaurant, says that she has decided to go back to SMU to finish her degree in international business. "It just came to where the two roads crossed, and I took this one," she says.
What happened? Stolik never seemed to get traction. According to alcohol sales figures from the state of Texas, the restaurant has been in a steady decline since October, its second full month in business, with a couple of modest upticks in February and April.
In the wake of Grove's departure, Chen has shuffled the Stolik staff. He pulled Erika Ramelli from Mi Cocina in Houston to replace Grove. Front-of-the-house manager Michael Callahan is out (he's resurfaced as a waiter at Nick & Sam's and may enter its management ranks). Chen says roughly half of the support staff has been dumped, though chef Francisco Mendonca has been retained. "We've got to restructure everything," Chen says. To that end, he is tweaking the menu, adding complimentary happy-hour appetizers, launching lunch service and restructuring the restaurant's lower level, portioning the lounge to accommodate dining tables.
Staffing shuffles aside, these moves seem feeble. What would we suggest? Dump the tiresome "cutting-edge global cuisine" and pretensions of chic international sophistication. Lola The Restaurant just down the street nails these fashions down much better. Instead, shamelessly exploit what Mendonca does best--the lusty dishes from his native Portugal. Portuguese cuisine is hugely under-represented outside Portugal, let alone in Dallas. And its simple but meticulously prepared dishes are engaging, emphasizing regional produce, fish, sausages, cheeses, olive oil, tomatoes and spices in hearty soups and unexpected combinations of meat and shellfish. Build a lightly global wine list around a solid core of Portuguese wines plus Madeira. That's a niche you could drive a beer truck through, and one Stolik would have all to itself.
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