When it first opened as a swanky, warmly lit cocktail den, one could find a menu of bottle service and designer cocktails served by women in sky-high heels and skin-tight dresses. When that didn't take hold, Quill rolled out a sushi bar and sake menu.
Today, Quill is taking a new angle.
“It's been more a lounge for the past year, with not a big food influence,” says Jeramie Robison, culinary director and chef of Apheleia Restaurant Group. “We do have dinner service now. And we’re really focusing on live music.”
It’s been six months since Robison joined the group, which also owns Oak, El Bolero, Pakpao Thai and Royale Burgers. In that time, he’s devoted most of his efforts at Oak — which was remodeled — and is now focused on neighboring Quill.
With a Louisiana drawl and a love of Cowboy boots, Robison is a down-to-earth chef ready to develop future talent. He’s also eager to bring everything up a notch at these two restaurants in the Design District.
“It feels like we’re in rebuild mode. [Oak] is in its sixth year operating. They’ve been through quite a bit of change. And we’re looking for a good, settled-down traction spot for us,” he says.
Quill, which takes up a space that Robison says once housed an antique furniture gallery, is going through “a pretty big evolution,” he says.
“It’s been collaborating with the Ellmans [owners Tiffanee and Richard], having quite a few conversations on what I think it should be, the direction they think it should go. We’ve had really constructive conversations about it,” he says. “It’s coming together ... the hardest thing to do, I think, and what I feel is really going through a re-concept and rebranding something, especially when it’s still open with the same name.
"I think the food’s good, the service is great, the cocktails are good. We’ve done a lot of big changes here, a lot of positive changes,” he says. “When I got here, we were really a bottle service-driven staff, so we’ve placed them in other restaurants and stuff that fits them; then we brought in people that want to learn food, sell food.”
The menu goes back to Robison’s roots with Cajun cuisine.
“Really at this point, just having a global background, when I think about, ‘What does Dallas need?' and this area, that was one big thing. I think this space takes on that well, and ... we’ve almost got a Mardi Gras-style theme, brass, purple velvet, green velvet. So that was jibing,” he says. "And we’ve got some fun dishes that I like to cook that are Cajun-inspired.”
Some of the more popular ones, he says, include the croque monsieur hush puppy ($8), crawfish remoulade ($16) and shrimp étouffée ($24).
“The biggest thing is we’re just staying as scratch as we can. Of course we’re chef driven. But that’s really the goal of the [Apheleia] Group as a whole: get away from buying prepared products,” he says. “That’s the fear for most restaurant groups: expanding and being able to keep up with the right amount of chefs and the skillset to sustain seven, 10, 12 stores, and to be able to go in and get it all done scratch.”
Robison is optimistic about the new concept and branding of Quill, but he feels there’s room to grow for all of the Design District.
"It’s interesting. What we see at Oak is a lot of business meetings for lunches. … There's this big influx of people, they want to come and have a dinner where 'that's their table,' and Oak’s that style of dining,” he says. "I find most people I talk to, they don’t even know where the Design District is. So I think it’s just spreading awareness. I think we’re starting to get there with Sassetta, Wheelhouse; it’s a lot of fresh new press and, of course, Nick Badovinus down the street [at Town Hearth].”
Quill is seeing more events every week, Robison says.
“There’s enough there,” he says. “Business can always be better."
Next on the horizon for Robison is Shodo, a future project of Apheleia’s that he’ll be spearheading.
“It’s definitely premature somehow, but the lease is signed. So right now, Quill is the main focus.”
The last few months, he’s solidified both back of house and front of house at Oak, and he’s on the same path for Quill, now with three chefs and plans to expand.
“The goal is to empower chefs. They’ll adapt the way I want things,” he says.
Robison is proud of his skill for grooming chefs, which he had the freedom to develop when he was working with Uchi.
After high school, Robison headed straight to culinary school, then came to Dallas, where he ended up at the Mansion.
“John Tesar had taken over. That’s really where I got my foundation, I like to say,” he says.
Robison built his foundation working with French cuisine. He broadened that experience later when he followed Tesar first to New York then to The Woodlands north of Houston.
"If anyone’s my mentor, John Tesar would be,” he says.
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Which makes sense, considering Robison also stepped into the restaurant group Tesar left more than a year ago.
“I kind of have mixed feelings about this one,” Tesar says. “I don’t have anything negative to say about Richard [Ellman]; it's a rather unorthodox company in that it's not run like other companies, so maybe Jeramie will be comfortable straightening it all out and giving some connectivity.
"I have tremendous respect for Jeramie," Tesar says. "He’s very focused; he’s always been very honest and hardworking."
Quill, 1628 Oak Lawn Ave.