As Judy Hatfield looks forward to having leases signed up in advance at her new Carnegie Centre apartments downtown, she admits she has Keith Paul and his restaurant Kitchen No. 324 to thank for at least one of those future tenants.
When Kitchen No. 324 opened in the ground floor of the Braniff Building at 324 N Robinson a year ago, Paul did the unthinkable by staying open for brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Up to then, most restaurants in the central business district limited their operations to lunch on weekdays, and just a few dared to open for breakfast. Only hotel restaurants bothered to stay open on weekends.
But Kitchen No. 324 drew lines the very first weekend — and those lines have continued ever since.
“It took us by surprise when we opened for brunch,” Paul said. “We were just hoping it would be full for just some point.”
One of those weekend brunch customers was the Hatfield family's orthodontist.
“He went to Kitchen No. 324, saw my sign and called,” Hatfield said. “They drove to downtown Oklahoma City on a Sunday morning and decided they wanted to have an apartment downtown in addition to their home in Norman. They want to feel the excitement of this downtown experience.”
Paul and other restaurant operators downtown are eyeing similar changes as the residential population increases and destination dining is drawing from the greater metro.
One year has passed since Paul Sorrentino, Chris Kana, Jimmy Mays and Stephanie Morrical opened Cafe 7 on the ground floor of First National Tower at 120 N Robinson. The group already owned a Starbucks franchise at their restaurant in downtown Tulsa and could have easily opened for breakfast at First National.
But Sorrentino insisted at the time that opening for breakfast would be risky. Downtowners told him otherwise.
“The phone would ring the minute we opened,” Sorrentino said. “Then we started getting requests for breakfast caterings. So we started doing breakfast caterings.”
By summer, Sorrentino concluded he was wrong — and the market was right.
“We were opening at 10:30 a.m.,” Sorrentino said. “And we realized, we're here two hours earlier anyway, why not open at 7 a.m.?”
Sorrentino believes that while Cafe 7's menu and operation is a proven success both downtown and in northwest Oklahoma City, the location downtown is itself a draw.
“This is the epicenter of downtown,” Sorrentino said. “You look out both windows and you see traffic. You look out and you see Devon Tower, you see Leadership Square. This is the point you want to be. And if I were to be downtown, there is not another spot I'd want to be.”
Now that Cafe 7 is offering a full breakfast menu, Sorrentino is no longer willing to swear off eventually adding dinner service — or being open on weekends.
Paul, meanwhile, is looking to add dinner service starting Nov. 17. It will join the Ice House, which recently opened in the Myriad Gardens, and Museum Cafe at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in offering dinner service in the Central Business District without being attached to a hotel.
With the new hours, Kitchen No. 324 will serve dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Coffee and pastries will be served throughout the day, and the restaurant will maintain its 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. schedule on Sundays and Mondays.
Time spent downtown
“Kitchen No. 324 is a destination restaurant,” Paul said. “People will park, and after they visit our restaurant, they walk to the Myriad Gardens, the Memorial, and they spend time downtown. Three years ago, people weren't doing that.”
Like Sorrentino, Paul admits the location is part of the draw.
“It is about how beautiful the space is — the Braniff Building is fantastic and the restaurant is comfortable,” Paul said.
Hatfield loves that Kitchen No. 324 is across the street from where she is renovating the old downtown library into the Carnegie Centre apartments, and Paul is eager to see the building come to life again.
But Hatfield dismisses the idea that residential developments like Carnegie are the key to restaurants in the Central Business District expanding beyond the weekday lunch hour.
“It's bigger than people living downtown,” Hatfield said. “The majority of people I see, there's a line at Kitchen No. 324 on Sunday morning, and they're not just people living downtown or going to church downtown. They're driving downtown from throughout the city to eat and be a part of the excitement.”