In the days before Amazon could put a book (or almost anything) on your doorstep mere hours after a few clicks from your smartphone, Barnes & Noble was the place for books and music. Depending on your point of view, B&N was either the perfect place to spend an evening perusing the racks of books and CDs, or the megachain responsible for all but erasing independent bookstores from the landscape. Either way, the last 15 years have seen Barnes & Noble slide into also-ran status as Amazon has risen to retail powerhouse.
So what do you do with more than 600 bookstores and the need to get money-spending customers back in them? There are likely no bad ideas at this point, so Barnes & Noble decided that adding full-service restaurants may be the answer. Last year, the company announced it would open four Barnes & Noble Kitchen concept stores with bars offering wine and beer, chef-driven food and larger sit-down dining spaces. The company's fourth such concept is set to open Nov. 10 in Plano's bustling Legacy West development.
"This development is incredible, and we're excited to be a part of it," said Carl Hauch, Barnes & Noble's vice president of stores. "We thought that Legacy West would be the perfect spot to open one of our new concepts."
This isn't your parents' Barnes & Noble. At 10,000 square feet, it's quite a bit smaller than a regular store, but it's airy and modern, and more than a third of that space is dedicated to the restaurant. Books and magazines aren't an afterthought, but there are fewer titles on shelves than at the Barnes & Noble at Stonebriar Centre, just a mile and a half north in Frisco.
Legacy West store manager Tommie Dewberry says he expects a different type of customer than Stonebriar gets, and the smaller selection is geared toward that clientele. There's still a section for bestsellers, but local and state authors will be featured. B&N hopes a section dedicated to graphic novels and manga will appeal to a new generation of book shoppers. Self-serve kiosks that link to the store's website are available for customers looking for a title that's not on the shelves, and staff will carry around tablets to help customers complete their purchases.
Obviously, the biggest difference is right in Barnes & Noble Kitchen's name: the expanded dining fare. If you're a purist, you can still grab a pastry and a Starbucks from the coffee bar, but B&N Kitchen's hope is that you'll come in for a book and stay for a meal. The dining space is warm and welcoming, with light-colored woods, high ceilings and large garage doors that open the interior to a sizable patio. There's seating for more than 100 customers, and B&N Kitchen has trotted out a larger menu to keep them satiated.
To execute the menu, B&N Kitchen brought in chef Robbie Nowlin, whose previous gig was executive chef of Boudro's Texas Bistro in San Antonio. Before his six-year stint there, Nowlin worked for Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Napa Valley.
"The menu is really focused on American cuisine and bistro dining," Nowlin explained. "We have a couple of local purveyors helping us. Village Baking Company is doing our breads, we have Rush Patisserie doing our pastries for the morning, and Pure Luck is a creamery out of Dripping Springs that is doing our goat cheese for our grapefruit salad. We're trying to keep it really local and cohesive to the area."
The local theme continues at the small bar, which sports half a dozen local beers on tap from area brewers such as Community, Revolver and Four Corners, as well as a selection of wines by the glass. Customers can grab beer or wine on the way in and take it with them as they wander through the store.
The menu touches on cafe classics. Starters include a cheese board and a charcuterie plate, and four salads flesh out the lighter fare. The sandwiches don't break much new ground, either, but avocado toast makes an appearance alongside a brisket cheeseburger and a turkey panini. Entrees will include a pan-roasted salmon, herb-rubbed chicken and B&N Kitchen's take on a classic meatloaf. Nowlin also said a weekend brunch menu is in the works, but it won't be ready before the grand opening.
It's an interesting time in the bookselling space; Barnes & Noble has struggled in recent years and reduced its stores, and Amazon has dipped its toe into brick-and-mortar locations. Meanwhile, independent booksellers, such as Deep Vellum Books in Dallas or Wild Detectives in Oak Cliff, have made a bit of a comeback. Can a restaurant restore some of Barnes & Noble's good fortunes?
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"For us, we're about books. We're a book company first," Hauch said. "The restaurants have been received well in the other three stores, so we're excited to see how this goes in Plano. But there's something about gathering and discovery, whether it's food and wine or books, that we think is a good relationship with the community."