Restaurants / Closings

Iconic Fort Worth Restaurant Makes Plans to Leave Sundance Square — Reata Wants a New Home After Parking, Lease Disputes

Cowboy Cuisine is Galloping On?

BY // 03.31.22

One of Fort Worth’s landmark restaurants is planning to pull out of its iconic Sundance Square space. But it comes as no surprise to restaurant observers who’ve been paying attention. Reata Restaurant is just the latest impending loss for the downtown district, which was developed by billionaire Ed Bass along with his family (brothers Sid Bass and Lee Bass) beginning in 1982, and is now solely owned by Ed Bass and his wife Sasha.

The news of Reata’s decision to attempt to relocate was first reported by NBC 5. Reata Restaurant president Mike Micallef then held a brief news conference at the restaurant on Wednesday. Reata still currently has two years left on its lease at Sundance Square.

“We have made the decision to search for our new home. Today begins a new chapter for Reata. A time to grow beyond our current walls,” a statement posted on the restaurant’s website reads.

“After nearly two decades in its current space and 26 years in downtown Fort Worth, Reata Restaurant is looking for a new home. . . and the public is being asked for help to finding the legendary restaurant’s next North Texas location.”

Reata is big business, as Micallef notes. “In the last year alone Reata has served a quarter of a million guests,” he says.

The iconic Fort Worth restaurant weathered many storms long before COVID. Reata even survived the tornado that decimated so many downtown businesses when it whirled through and brought frightening devastation in 2000. At Reata, guests and staff sheltered as the windows blew out, Micallef remembers.

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With two years left on its lease, that gives Micallef and his team plenty of time to plan its move. Micallef is asking Reata’s loyal customers to help them do just that. They can go to the restaurant’s website and email suggestions and new location ideas.

Micallef describes the ideal location as a 12,000 to 20,000 square foot building with at least 200 parking spaces. Or two acres of undeveloped land for Reata to build on from the ground up.

Why Reata Wants to Leave Sundance Square

Meant to be one of Fort Worth’s top tourist attractions, Sundance Square has gone through some serious leadership changes. Sundance Management has been a bit of a roller coaster ride in recent years, removing its longtime leadership and installing Henry S. Miller Real Estate for a brief time in 2020. It is now helmed by vice president and manager Bill Boecker.

Reata would just be the latest loss for the square.

James Beard Award nominated chef Regino Rojas and his Revolver Taco came and went, ever-so-briefly inhabiting the former Taco Diner space. Revolver Taco was gone in just two months. Arcadia Coffee opened in December of 2021, then revealed in late March that it plans to close its shop there. Sundance Square’s losses range from the beloved Bird Cafe, which shuttered in the early days of the pandemic, to the center’s largest retailer H&M, which called it quits last December after a nearly six year run.

Now, Reata Restaurant plans to join that list. This tourist magnet of a Fort Worth restaurant has been serving up a taste of Western ranch cuisine in the space for 20 years now, having moved in back in 2002. Reata’s domed rooftop bar dates back to the building’s Caravan of Dreams days.

Reata’s kitchen has spawned some of the most talented chefs Fort Worth has ever known. Grady Spears, Tim Love, Juan Rodriguez, Brian Olenjack and Andrew Dilda among them.

Sundance Square’s extensive COVID closures ― which closed valet parking for a time and partitioned off the central square itself for more than a year, making it off limits to foot traffic, effectively turning away potentially thousands of customers.

Then when Sundance Square’s valet parking reopened, its cost became an issue for would-be diners and shoppers alike. The self parking lot rates have increased as well. If someone wants to enjoy a nice meal in Sundance Square, they now have to factor in those parking costs.

Mike Micallef hosts Reata at the Rodeo annually.

“We operated our own valet from the day we opened until 2015,” Mike Micallef tells PaperCity Fort Worth. “Then during the construction of Sundance Plaza, they took over valet service during the day, and we still ran it at night.

“The cost remained $3 for many years. Now, it is $7 every 30 minutes, up to a max of $21 plus fees.”

When asked for a comment regarding Reata’s departure, Sundance spokesperson Bryan Eppstein immediately addressed the parking. Reata and Sundance are currently in litigation on this issue.

“Thanks to the downtown TIF (Tax Increment Finance) District, there is plenty of free parking on weeknights and weekends as well as in Garage 3,” Eppstein tells PaperCity. “It provides all customers with two hours of free parking.”

Parking Garage 3 is located at 345 Third Street at the corner of Taylor. The cost of parking in surface lots have risen as well, now running $10 per hour with a $40 maximum per day in some cases. The convenience of valet parking is still a big deal to some downtown diners, especially those coming for business lunches and leisurely dinners.

“Let’s say someone wants to come eat lunch, now they’ll likely spend more on their valet parking than on their meal,” Micallef says.

Sundance Management allows tenants like Reata to absorb those parking fees on behalf of its customers.

“I think the accommodation is readily provided,” Eppstein says. “The valet cost was a $20 a day maximum, now it’s $21. Reata did not opt in to pay those fees for their customers.”

Restaurateurs like Micallef argue absorbing those costs are not realistic considering the rising food prices and labor costs restaurants are already facing these days.

“Sundance has not seen a higher rate of closures than other downtown areas,” Eppstein says. “That fact has been widely reported. The most notable issues facing downtowns across the country is the shift away from fixed location retail to an online model.”

Poblano pepper tops a ribeye steak and mashed potatoes, on the menu at Fort Worth’s Reata.

Still despite the parking dispute, Micallef says the biggest issue that has Reata looking to leave Sundance Square is the lack of certainty it faces with its lease set to expire in two years. Reata sought a renewal, but it hasn’t received one from Square Management according to Micallef.

“We have catering bookings that need to be secured,” Micallef says. “Many weddings and parties book a year or more in advance. We’ve asked for a lease renewal and have not gotten one. We just can’t afford to wait any longer.”

So Reata could be walking right out of Sundance Square into what it hopes is a brighter future.

“Our current lease expires in June of 2024,” Micallef says. “We’d love to own our own property, and perhaps on one level rather than multi-levels. And, of course, a property with ample parking for our guests.

“I’ve already receive a number of suggestions this morning. I can’t wait to go through my inbox and evaluate each lead.”

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