The West End area of Dallas has seen its ups and downs over the last two decades. Today, it seems like the voices of optimism may not be too far off base as more businesses and residents move in.
Then again, maybe not. Inside every silver lining is a dark cloud, which in the West End's case is a reliance on tourists for business and questions about whether the neighborhood is safe.
The glass-half-full side and the half-emptiers met at the first West End neighborhood meeting (at least the first in the memory of those present). More than 30 people shared their thoughts and listened to Dallas police officer James Songer and Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston. The meeting was Tuesday night at Ellen's.
“The West End is growing and becoming more exciting. It’s becoming a fun place to actually play … that area that Dallas dreamed it would be,” said Kingston, who represents the neighborhood.
Jeremy Scott, who opened Tutta's Pizza just over a year ago, has been an advocate for the area since he took on his lease.
“The West End is still on that way up,” he said. “We have a lack-of-education problem.”
Scott is planning Dallas Fest, a West End event for the spring. To him, it’s a vibrant area that should be a designation, “like Bishop Arts and Deep Ellum."
Jay Khan, who operates RJ Mexican Cuisine, has been working in the West End since 1992.
“I’ve seen all the ups and downs. I see a lot of potential; that’s the reason I’m still here,” he said. “Tourism, when that increases, business increases. But we still need to do our job to get people here.”
In June, longstanding West End steakhouse The Palm announced that it was closing after 33 years, citing safety concerns.
“Overall, we don’t have one specific incident we can point to,” Karen LuKanic, chief marketing officer of The Palm, said at the time.
Other restaurants in the neighborhood expressed frustration that The Palm was blaming its closure on safety, which they feared would prevent diners from visiting the area. And while some places have closed, the West End has seen investment from businesses such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and residences such as 555.
Michael Kim, president of Spaghetti Warehouse, spoke up in the meeting after 20 minutes of positive comments and nodding heads.
“I have a feeling that the West End might be going in a different direction than you do,” he said.
He explained the next day that his intention was to change the direction of the meeting.
“I felt like I was in Disney World, like I’m at the greatest place on earth,” he said. “I felt like I had to say something. I do believe when I started saying things, some people got defensive; then they felt, ‘Now I feel like I can say something here.’”
Kim said sales for Spaghetti Warehouse have increased the last two years (up 10 percent in 2016, and it’s looking like 5 percent this year). But he still lacks some confidence in the neighborhood’s future.
“I know what real growth feels like: You can touch it, you can feel it. Here, what do I see? I see Hoffbrau [Steaks] go down, then the Palm saying this isn’t a safe area,” he says.
The West End Association board members have hired Landmark Protective Services to patrol the neighborhood.
“We felt it was necessary to aid DPD due to their downturn,” said Chase Headley, who runs 1001 Wine & Spirits. “We also feel it will help alleviate the perception of crime in the area.
“Most restaurant operators are optimistic for the future of the West End. Some restaurants who have struggled to evolve with the changing demographic and current nutrition trends are less optimistic.”
Joe Groves, owner and partner of Ellen’s, is another positive voice for the area’s future. In the meeting, he referenced his talk with the owner of Ferrari’s, who had not been to the West End in 20 years and was impressed with its changes.
Ellen’s is packed at breakfast and brunch, but it also sees a good lunch crowd, something Groves suspects all restaurants in the area can achieve.
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“There are not enough seats in the West End to feed everyone at lunch,” he said.
Another attendee responded by asking, “But what about when they leave?”
It’s a problem many in the area know, one that circles back to Khan’s point: West End restaurants need to pull Dallasites, not just daytime employees and tourists, to spend time and dollars at their tables.
“West End has always been driven by conventions and tourism,” Khan said. “That has been changing, but not enough.”