Aris Market Square, the luxurious new high-rise that just opened downtown, offers plenty of amenities for its residents. For rental rates starting at almost $2,000 per month, residents enjoy a full gym, heated pool, a bicycle repair station — even a vinyl listening room with a vintage turntable.
But the new building has a public component, too, in the form of a dining facility that’s designed to change the way people think about food halls. Property developer Hines has partnered with Conservatory owners Ahn Mai and Lian Nguyen to create the Bravery Chef Hall. Located at the corner of Travis and Preston, Bravery will occupy 9,000-square feet of Aris’ first floor when it opens next summer.
“We wanted our retail space to be an amenity for the residents, something they could use over and over again, but would also be an amenity for the neighborhood: other residents downtown and also office employees and workers,” Hines director David Haltom told a group of media on Thursday. “From the moment we met with Ahn and Lian, we knew that was the thing. We’re very fortunate and proud of having come to an agreement with this team.”
As its name implies, Bravery will be a more chef-focused take on a food hall. Rather than food court style stands where diners purchase their meals from a counter and eat them elsewhere, each of Bravery’s five stands are designed to be chef counter-style restaurants. Similar to the experience of sitting at a sushi bar, chefs will prepare meals right in front of diners who will occupy the approximately 40 seats. To-go will be available, of course, but the focus is squarely on an interactive experience.
To help them achieve this vision, Mai and Nguyen have tapped some of the city’s top talent. Sommelier and restaurateur Shepard Ross (Glass Wall, Pax Americana, etc) will serve as general manager and beverage director: stocking the hall’s wine bar and developing beverage programs for the five restaurants. On the culinary side, chefs Ben McPherson (Prohibition, Krisp Bird & Batter), David Guerrero (Andes Cafe), and Gary Ly (Underbelly) have already signed on. Mai notes that they’re interviewing candidates for the last two spaces but are open to receiving more applications.
“At most chef-driven restaurants, they have all these layers. We thought, let’s strip away some of the layers. Let’s get rid of the front of the house. Let’s get rid of the restaurateur. Let’s just leave the chef,” Mai said. “In essence, what we’re doing is putting chefs in a position where they can succeed. The cost of starting is much lower, and the cost of operating is much lower.”
While the costs of entry are lower, the potential income could be higher. By serving customers directly, participating chefs and cooks are eligible to be tipped.
“Even the line cooks who work for him, they can make two to three times what they normally make by engaging with guests at the counter,” Ross said. “It’s a much more personal experience at the counter.”
For Ly, who earned a CultureMap Tastemaker Awards Rising Star Chef of the Year nomination for his work as Underbelly’s chef de cuisine, signing on with Bravery provides an opportunity to establish a more direct relationship with diners.
“As a chef and a cook, when you plate something up and the server runs it to the table, your relationship with that dish is done. It’s up to the server or whoever else to carry it forward,” Ly told CultureMap. “With this concept, it takes it all out of the way. The chef is forced to interact with the people. Tell them where the food is coming from and why we put it on the plate.”
Ly described his concept as a bit of a work in progress but said it would blend the French techniques he’s learned as a professional chef with Asian ingredients — sourced from local farms, of course — to create dishes inspired by his childhood eating both traditional Vietnamese food prepared by his parents and classic American fare he encountered outside his home.
“I’m taking a lot of influences I’ve had in my career and stuff I like to eat and pairing it with flavors that I think might go together,” Ly said. “I wouldn’t say breaking the rules but definitely bending them.”
The operators aren’t ready to announce the specifics of Guerrero and McPherson’s concepts yet, but McPherson said he’s planning an Italian concept inspired by the early part of his career. As for the other two, Mai said he’s open to hearing the right offer, but Bravery certainly seems like a great opportunity to open a high-quality sushi restaurant in downtown. Regardless of the specific, Ross realizes what an opportunity Bravery represents.
“We can capture and recapture clientele morning, noon, and night. Because we’ve got different concepts, we can have different levels of food,” Ross said. “You can come for cocktails or a glass of wine. You can eat tapas style or you can eat a fully curated chef’s meal. You have all of those things on the table for you.”