It’s an often-touted statistic that Dallas has more restaurants per capita than New York City—so it makes sense that Dallas foodies are a fickle, easily distracted lot.
“When I talked to people I asked, ‘What keeps you from going back to restaurants?’ The No. 1 answer was never about bad food or bad service—there are just too many restaurants that people want to try,” Casie Caldwell, owner of Kitchen LTO, says. “It’s about newness.”
Caldwell’s background is in business and marketing. In 2004, she launched her first restaurant concept, a fast-casual salad place called Greenz. At the time, she didn’t have any restaurant experience aside from working at Chili’s as a teenager, but she’d been looking to fill a void in the marketplace. After enjoying success with Greenz, she wanted to try something new—and her conversation with Dallas restaurant-goers helped launch an idea: what if Caldwell created an entirely new restaurant every few months? What if she could keep curious foodies coming back time and time again by keeping her restaurant perpetually shiny and new?
And so Kitchen LTO (“Limited Time Only”), Dallas’ first permanent pop-up restaurant, was born in September 2013. The Trinity Groves concept is simple: every six months, a new chef and artist rotate in. The chef prepares a fresh cuisine, and the artist decorates the restaurant’s walls with original art. The furniture is rearranged and the layout changes, so the space feels like a brand-new place.
“The public has a buy-in because they vote,” Casie Caldwell says. “And if they don’t particularly like that chef or artist, they can come back in six months.”
The selection process—for both artists and chefs—is fairly extensive, and Dallas restaurant-goers get to have their say, too. It works like this: Caldwell’s committee screens the chefs for experience, then conducts formal interviews and taste-tests. If a chef can clear those stages, he or she is invited into the kitchen to see how well he or she interacts with the kitchen staff, which does not rotate. Once the committee agrees on a list of four to five finalists, Caldwell organizes a “voting party,” in which the public can sample the finalists’ dishes and vote on which they like the most.
Meanwhile, local artists showcase their portfolios to the committee, who makes sure they have enough art to comfortably fill the restaurants’ walls. The finalists are invited to display their art at the voting party, and the people determine the winner. “The public has a buy-in because they vote,” Caldwell says. “And if they don’t particularly like that chef or artist, they can come back in six months.”
Currently, Kitchen LTO is gearing up the search for its sixth chef. (When the concept first began, chefs rotated every four months, but that got a little hectic, and it was quickly decided that six months is the sweet spot.) The chefs who become finalists and winners are usually experienced and ready for a next step. Kitchen LTO provides them with the opportunity to test a restaurant concept or simply get their names out to the public. So far, the restaurant has enjoyed a broad range of cuisines: French-American, modern American, Baha California-style, and swanky Southern. “We’ve had a nice gamut of flavor profiles,” Caldwell says. “Obviously we don’t want to replicate something someone has already done.” Since her rotation, Caldwell has teamed up with former Kitchen LTO chef Blythe Beck to open Pink Magnolia in Oak Cliff.
“We’ve been able to give Dallas a closer look at artists and chefs that wouldn’t otherwise be on the main scene,” Caldwell says. “Through us, Dallas gets to meet new artists and taste new flavors all in one place.”
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