In the 13 years since they opened Ibiza in Midtown, restaurateur Charles Clark and businessman Grant Cooper have seldom rested on their culinary laurels. Now with five successful eateries in their stable, the duo is poised to expand even further.
Hello, private event venue. Move over Starbucks. On to The Woodlands and then Austin.
The subject matter was wide-ranging when CutlureMap sat down at Ibiza recently with Clark and Cooper and their new director of operations Marc Cantu. Clark Cooper Concepts has scored a coup in luring Cantu from his post as director of operations with B&B Hospitality (Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich) in New York. His is a key role as the powerhouse hospitality firm expands and diversifies.
You can expect to see Cantu, who is already a regular at the team restaurants, on the scene when the doors open next summer on The Dunlavy, the private event space Clark Cooper is creating in tandem with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Final plans for the new space, located on Allen Parkway at the foot of Dunlavy Street, are expected to be released next week. Cooper says, "It's unique, a location in the middle of a park almost like a glass jewel box sitting in the middle of the trees overlooking downtown. There’s nothing like that anywhere else in the city.”
"It’s going to be exciting because we can cater from all five restaurants plus do anything anybody wants to do."
The free-standing building, backing up to Beth Yeshurun Cemetery at Allen Parkway, will be approximately 4,000 square feet and seat up to 150 for dinner. "It's going to be really a lot of fun," Clark says. "It’s going to be exciting because we can cater from all five restaurants plus we can do anything anybody wants to do."
He adds that The Dunlavy will feature a "grab and go" box lunch offering in the mornings.
In September, the team expects to launch its first Mobile Mug coffee truck, a custom vehicle that will be easily recognized for the oversized coffee cup spewing steam from the roof. "We'll be as close (physically) as possible to Starbucks," Cooper says, "but with a better buying experience and a better product." Add cinnamon rolls to the menu and a Mobile Mug app so that fans can easily locate the trucks. Yes, trucks. The plan is to grow the operation with multiple vehicles located across the city and eventually to expand to other cities.
As for the rapid growth, Cooper says, "We're taking our steps but we’re being smart about it. We are trying to get into the lifestyle habits of every person we have in these restaurants. Our idea is to get in their line of traffic every day of the week and with concepts that we enjoy. We’re not going to go into a concept unless we care passionately about it."
With Cantu now in place, the Clark Cooper team is confident, if cagey, about expansion that includes The Woodlands next and then Austin. "The Woodlands has always been a market for us," Cooper says. "It’s just again, it goes back to having the right amount of people, of being able to execute with confidence and consistency to make sure that we hit a home run. That’s always our goal — to hit a home run."
Cooper and Clark are both confident that Cantu is the man to help carry the team through to even more home runs. A native of Texas' Rio Grande Valley and a University of Houston graduate (nutrition), Cantu has enjoyed a successful restaurant management career that has spanned from Boston to San Francisco to Chicago, his latest perch in New York lasting 13 years.
You might have noticed the 5-foot-10 marathon runner hanging out in Clark Cooper properties of late. Since arriving in Houston in June, he has regularly been on the scene in the restaurants.
"They’ve already created a culture of true hospitality and what it really means and what the customer really means to a business and that has always been a big part of my core philosophy and that's how I operate. That’s where I feel comfortable," Cantu says.