Common Goals, Uncommon Settings
Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group includes 38 restaurants in 20 states throughout the country. Not a single restaurant—not one—looks anything like the other. Designing restaurants that are distinctive and that are often in historical structures can be a challenge. But it is never boring, says CEO Mark Mednanksy.
Each of the restaurant brands—Del Frisco’s Grille, Double Eagle Steak House, and Sullivan’s Steakhouse—shares a commitment to quality, he says. But each group features distinctive menus and ambience. “Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House designs are big and bold,” says Mednansky. The Del Frisco’s Grille restaurants are known for a warm and comfortable style as well as an upscale setting, while Sullivan’s Steakhouse units boast a more contemporary style. The restaurant group, based in Southlake, Texas, offers steaks, chops, seafood, and a sizable wine selection in each of its brands.
Mednansky notes that the restaurants’ varied designs and décor are collaborative. “We involve our culinary, training, and operations teams in the schematic design process,” he says. “We make sure the architect and designers visit the site to gain inspirations from the setting, and the restaurants often feature work from local artists.”
The group’s vice president, Bill Martens, says using a variety of architects and designers as well as introducing new materials and finishes add distinction to the restaurants.
“We want to be predictable with the quality of our food and service, but not with design,” explains Mednansky. “We purposefully don’t have a prototype for each brand that we simply site adapt. We believe our guests want to experience something new and different. We like having the freedom to be creative with our designs, and we want to create a new destination for our loyal guests who travel.”
Many of the group’s restaurants are housed in historical structures. Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in a vintage two-story creamery building with large windows. The stately Philadelphia Double Eagle Steak House location is a former bank, and guests can dine in the former vault space. The Philadelphia location also boasts a 35-foot wine tower above the main bar and dining room, a nod to this group’s big and bold philosophy.
Martens says the biggest challenge in designing a new restaurant is space planning the front of the structure as well as the kitchen square footage.
“There is no prototype,” adds Mednansky. “We made a decision that having one prototype was not who we want to be.”
The Del Frisco’s Grille in Atlanta includes an expansive second-floor balcony and ground-floor patio overlooking Peachtree Road. “We recognized the need to create a spacious outdoor dining environment for our guests, and we gave the restaurant the visibility and exposure we needed,” says Mednansky.
Furniture and decorative objects also play an important role in creating “one of a kind” décor in different settings.
The three-story wine room in the Chicago Double Eagle Steak House serves as a centerpiece of the restaurant. This design element weighs more than 20 tons and is suspended from the ceiling by steel beams measuring 30 inches in diameter. “We have more than a million dollars in wine inventory showcased around a spiral staircase,” says Martens.
The Del Frisco’s Grille in Fort Worth includes a two-story wall of windows that overlooks an exhibition kitchen, where the staff enjoys showing off their skills to an attentive audience.
“We find that guests enjoy viewing the action in the kitchen and bar areas,” notes Martens. “We feature the broilers and flatbread ovens in our exhibition kitchens for design interest. We also like to use decorative heat lamps and liquor shelves to deliver pops of color and texture.”
At the Del Frisco’s Grille in Atlanta, liquor shelves are a distinctive design element.
Mednansky notes that artful wine displays are a common design theme throughout the group. Del Frisco’s Grille offers 400 wine selections, Sullivan’s Steakhouse offers 500 selections, and Double Eagle Steak House provides 1,200 wines.
Restaurants in the group’s portfolio undergo remodels every six or seven years, and Martens says carpet, lighting, and some décor are replaced every three or four years. “We’ve had some bloopers. We know better, but we’ve used light-color fabrics and floor tiles that show wear from traffic, and we’ve had to replace these with darker materials soon after opening.”
They are accustomed to first-time customers’ comments about the design and décor—but Mednansky says: “Our favorite comment is ‘Wow.”’