Rope Burn

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The onset of the new millennium has not been kind to Reata, the Southwestern-style steakhouse roosting 35 floors up in the Bank One Tower in downtown Fort Worth. In fact, it's kind of unraveling it. It began March 28 when Reata, whose name is Spanish for "rope," got in the way of the twister that breezed through downtown. The storm damaged the restaurant's floors and ceiling as windows popped out and the winds sucked some of the restaurant furnishings from the dining room. The storm shut down the restaurant for several weeks and cost Reata's partners more than $1 million in renovations. It also turned the 37-story tower into the world's tallest plywood-skinned skyscraper because of all of the boards installed to take the place of the reflective glass that was sucked off the building's exterior. That plywood perhaps spawned the next Reata disaster, which struck early this month. After the restaurant was reopened in May and sales reached their pre-twister levels, the tower's owner, Loutex Fort Worth, decided to force out what remained of the building's tenants and sell the building, citing the prohibitive costs of repairs. Mike Evans, a partner in Reata, says he and the rest of his remaining neighbors had 30 days to scramble and be out of the building by the August 31 deadline set by Loutex. "It's been a real kick in the gut," Evans says. "It's been a bad year. The millennium can only get better." Evans says he thinks Loutex decided it was in its best financial interest to pocket the insurance money and sell the building, reportedly worth some $25 million. But Evans and his partners, Grady Spears and Al Micallef, who operate a cattle ranch as well as Reata restaurants in Alpine, Texas, and Beverly Hills, didn't think it was in their best interests. They filed suit against Loutex in early August seeking an injunction against the move to turn them out. Loutex responded by extending to October 21 the deadline to vacate the building. But Evans says he and his partners are pushing forward with their suit in an attempt to get six months breathing room to consider their options while they scope out a viable downtown Fort Worth site and build out a permanent new location. Wouldn't the skyscraper be worth more to Loutex on the block with a few tenants generating cash flow than it would as an empty, skyscraping woodshed? Loutex officials couldn't be reached for comment. "It takes a long time to build out a restaurant," says Evans. "Thirty or even 90 days is just not a reasonable amount of time. This is a tremendous setback that we obviously feel we'll overcome. It just doesn't help you sleep very well at night."

Work in progress: Irving-based DRD Hotel Corp., owner of The Holiday Inn Select at Central Expressway and Campbell Road, is in the process of gutting the hotel's restaurant in an attempt to dress it up as a fetching destination dining spot instead of just a hotel guest trough. DMC Hospitality, the consulting firm launched by Michael Costa and Dean McSherry, has spearheaded the restaurant's transformation to Austin's Grill, a lunch and dinner house featuring steaks and prime rib. Austin's should open sometime in October.

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