Food News

Move Over Food: In Dallas, Design Takes Center Stage

For $25 you can get a small bottle of champagne from this vending machine. Or you can order one from the bar, but where's the fun in that?
For $25 you can get a small bottle of champagne from this vending machine. Or you can order one from the bar, but where's the fun in that? Lauren Drewes Daniels
In this age of social media, it’s not always the tuna tartare or the braised short ribs that catches a diner’s eye first. It’s not the confit chicken thighs, nor is it a searing tomahawk that creates hype. Today, more than ever, diners desire an Instagram-worthy experience at a restaurant to accompany their fare.

The days of luring customers with interiors drowning in heavy tapestry, somber woods and bland upholstery are long gone. Many prefer a well-thought-out concept that creates not just a memorable culinary experience but a picturesque one.

And Dallas restaurateurs hear them loud and clear.

“Everybody, especially after 2020, wants experiences, whether that's something experiential that a restaurant has like a really cool cocktail, or a really great presentation,” says Alexa Rodarte, director of marketing at Trinity Groves. “People want good service, they want to go out, they want to be seen and they want to have fun, even if that means something as simple as going to a restaurant.”

Rodarte, whose husband Julian Rodarte is the CEO of Trinity Groves, recently opened the new concept Lexy’s, a 4,700-square-foot "local new American" restaurant that celebrates femininity and travel and is also a ready-made Instagram story.

Designed by Coevál Studio’s John Paul Valverde, Lexy's ceiling at the entrance is covered in pink roses and greenery, leading to. Moet vending machine. Stacks of designer luggage, a tribute to the Rodartes' love of travel, serves as the hostess stand. Lavish pink feather chandeliers add playfulness.

The star of the show, however, is a Moët vending machine. Influencers and foodies have flocked to the machine to snap Instagram and TikTok-worthy footage. Since early August, TikTok videos with the hashtag "LexysDallas" have garnered more than 230,000 views — in less than one month — most showcasing the lavish pink floral design, the Moet vending machine and cocktails. How's the food, you ask? Who knows?

Lexy's isn't the only Dallas spot embracing femininity.

“There is an underserved market, and that is a female-centric restaurant,” XOXO Dining Room and Garden owner Obi Ibeto says. “The majority of dining decisions are typically made by women. However, most restaurants are designed by men for men. We felt like there needed to be something a little bit different.”

For Ibeto, the market gap was jarring. With XOXO, Ibeto pioneered a shift that embraced social media. Unation ranks XOXO, which opened in June 2020, as the most Instagrammable restaurant in Dallas. There is neither a nook nor a cranny of the restaurant that isn’t feed-worthy.

In just over two years that restaurant has amassed more than 57,700 followers on its Instagram page and "XOXOdiningroom" has 4,744 posts.
“It's no longer simply about the food — it's about the experience, and people want to share their experiences,” Ibeto says. “It's important to us that everything has a backdrop."

XOXO, which takes inspiration from sketch London, an extravagantly pink restaurant and cocktail lounge in England, is a content creator’s paradise. Pink pours from every corner of the restaurant. Chandeliers hang over booths, while illuminated cherry blossom trees dot the room. "Push for Champagne" buttons, like the Moet vending machine, get plenty of social media play. Graffiti by local contemporary artist Not Travis imparts an edgy appeal.

“Everybody is an amateur photographer now. We all inspire each other to take great pictures,” Ibeto says. “When people visit, we find that they go through social media and look at the pictures that they like, and then they try to find that location within the venue.”

Like Lexy’s and XOXO, Exxir Hospitality’s Paradiso, Mermaid Bar, Tejas, Casablanca and Bar Eden, formerly Botanist, pull from travel for design inspiration.

Bar Eden is influenced by the French painter Paul Gaugin. Rich red florals, lush greenery and golden accents pop against creams, whites and browns in the intimate space. Golden-leaf light fixtures crown the bar.
“The company is founded on the idea of giving people beautiful experiences," Exxir CEO Michael Nazerian says. "For us, that means holistically paying attention to the design, on the front end, and then layering in all those other pieces after the fact, which come from the executive chef, beverage director and graphic designer.”

Exxir has pulled inspiration from Spain, Morocco and Mexico for its various concepts. Tejas, specifically, is a love letter to Mexico City, Nazerian says.

However, Exxir's designs aren’t woven around social media. Creating thoughtful and noteworthy spaces drives the design process.

“We make beautiful spaces for people to enjoy and, hopefully, they'll share it. But, it's not like we're trying to create some kind of Instagram thirst trap or something,” Nazerian says.
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.

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