Why Dallas Restaurants Are Streaming to Plano

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When Lockhart Smokehouse owners Jeff and Jill Bergus announced they were opening a second location of their barbecue restaurant, it just sounded like another successful restaurant making plans to expand. The Berguses sold out of paper-wrapped brisket on a regular basis at their first location in the Bishop Arts District, so why not test a second in the suburns?

Then the owners of Smoke announced similar plans: a second location north of 635, or "outside the loop," followed by Dalat, a modern pho restaurant on Fitzhugh, which snagged some real estate just a few steps from Lockhart. By the time Dee Lincoln announced the second location of her burger bar, also in Plano, it looked like Dallas restaurants had started a mass exodus to the north.

According to Bergus, Plano is simply the most logical place for expansion.

"I think it's a reverse bubble," Bergus told me, describing Plano residents as the Bizzaro counterparts to their neighbors to the south. Just like Dallasites cringe at the thought of driving north of 635, Plano residents can't be bothered driving to the south.

Bergus said Plano gives her access to a new customer base, with little chance of cannibalizing sales from her first location. She also liked the atmosphere of downtown Plano. "Its similar in feeling to the Bishop Arts," she said. "It feels up and coming."

Khanh Nguyen opened his first Pho restaurant on Fitzhugh Avenue in 2012, and he admits sales were a little slow for the first year. Hoping to learn from what he thinks was initially a bad real estate decision, he wants to open his second location where there will be plenty of foot traffic on his first day of business.

Nguyen said Lockhart's move and early success helped him to decide to make a similar move. "That was a huge factor for me," he said. Nguyen said restaurants have a symbiotic effect on each other, and that a large cluster of restaurants will pull more customers than they would on their own. Customers aside, Nguyen said he simply loves the neighborhood.

Downtown Plano has had a renaissance in recent years as the city has carried out a significant revitalization effort, with restaurants like Urban Crust and Urban Rio joining restaurants and bars that have been established there for years. "Downtown Plano is very unique," Nguyen said. "There's a lot of history there." And with a new train station, and businesses like AT&T building large office complexes nearby, there's much more potential on the way.

East of downtown Plano, the address of Smoke's second location lacks the same historic charm. The new restaurant will be built into a former Snuffer's location in the Preston Town Crossing development, alongside a TGI Friday's, a Famous Footwear and a Trader Joe's. Still, partners Christopher Zielke, Christopher Jeffers and Tim Byres Byres will have access to those same "reverse bubble" customers pointed out by Jill Bergus from Lockhart.

"They do come down here occasionally," Zielke said of Plano customers willing to trudge down the toll way to visit Smoke, "but they would come a lot more often if Smoke were closer." Zielke sees his Plano customer base as former Uptown and Downtown residents who have moved to the suburbs and long for the diverse restaurants they used to access easily. "They know good food, and they want more than chain restaurants," he said.

And if they want upscale burgers they will likely flock to Dee Lincoln's Burger Bar, which will open in the Preston Towne Crossing this year as well. Dee's first location in Uptown has earned a reputation for messy, high-end burgers and top-notch steaks. A second location in Plano makes as much sense as the rest of these restaurants.

If Lockhart is any indication, expanding to Plano stands a good chance at being a recipe for success. Khanh Nguyen has spent a lot of time walking around the Plano neighborhood that will someday hold his next Dalat, and the lines outside Lockhart are unmistakable. "They're killing it," he said.

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