For the throngs who’ve impatiently waited for The George Prime Steakhouse to open atop Founders Tower, the wait is over.
The 20-story Googie-style cylindrical building at 5900 Mosteller Drive packs plenty of history, none more prominent than its role in local dining lore.
Queen Anne Cafeteria occupied a space in the building from 1965 to 2006, but it was a restaurant that opened in 1964 tucked between the folded-plate roof and the 19th floor that drew national attention for its space-age ability to rotate like the Space Needle in Seattle.
Fifty years later, that same space is poised to grab national attention, but not for its view or its ability to rotate.
“We want to be known for our food. We want to be a restaurant with great food that happens to have a great view,” said Kevin George, owner and acting general manager of The George Prime Steakhouse, which opened last week.
The space-aged space
When the Chandelle Club opened, it was the second restaurant in the world that rotated. Back in the day, a window-side diner could expect to take in the entire 360-degree view in about an hour.
In 1979, the Val-Gene restaurant group took hold of the space and rebranded the twirling restaurant The Eagle’s Nest. Holloway Restaurant Group owner Peter Holloway was on the Val-Gene team in those days.
“We have a lot of great memories of the Eagle’s Nest,” Holloway said. “I wish those guys the best.”
The good times lasted until 1996, when the restaurant was bought by a new group. Current Opus Prime Steakhouse owner Bill Wilson installed Nikz at the Top with plans to take hold of the world’s dozen or so rotating restaurants one at a time — starting with the one atop Founders Tower.
Wilson enjoyed sustained success until the 10-sided building changed hands for the umpteenth time and renovations began to make the Jetsons-esque structure condominium-friendly. Nikz lasted until 2007, when a dispute over remodeling efforts and faulty air conditioning between its ownership and the new landlords couldn’t be solved.
The space sat vacant until recently.
It was as a 20-something, fresh-faced in the restaurant business, that Kevin George began dining once a year at The Eagle’s Nest.
“We were young and didn’t have any money, so we could only afford to go once a year,” George said.
George said it was during one of those annual spins atop Founders Tower that he dared to dream what he’d do with the space if he ever found himself in a situation to have a say. Little did George know that one of the primary decisions he would make would be to do away with what made the restaurant unique.
“We decided not to rotate the restaurant,” George said. “Initially, we thought about maybe doing it for special occasions, but we just think the cost of maintenance would be prohibitive.”
A choice like that didn’t come lightly, but two decades as a partner in the ultra-successful Interurban group with Robert Rosser and Rusty Loeffler has afforded him the means and experience to make such a tough call. Considering the prolonged renovation that initially looked like it would be done in time to open by Thanksgiving 2013, you can’t blame George for looking to eliminate potential obstacles.
The dining room doesn’t rotate, but there are tables around the perimeter. On the north side you’ll find intimate two-tops with a view of Lake Hefner and a chef’s table that offers a view of the kitchen through a window.
An exclusive section of horseshoe-shaped booths faces downtown. Those booths are built a little lower to the ground to maximize the view and are sure to be a popular spot for the city’s movers and shakers. The wine room is a section of the dining room surrounded by wine walls, sure to appeal to slaves of the vine. The bar offers an open view to the city’s south, plus enough television muscle to make it a prime spot to watch the Thunder, Cowboys, Sooners and whomever from Oklahoma City’s restaurant kitchens next might compete on “Top Chef.”
While naming the restaurant “The George” fit Kevin George’s dream restaurant for obvious reasons, it also suited the restaurant’s chef, Josh Valentine. The ex-wrestler with facial hair worthy of its own Facebook page is fueled by the desire to take care of his wife and three daughters, but also is inspired to make the most of life by the loss of his father, whose name was George.
As Valentine mourned the loss of his dad in 2012, he couldn’t have known fate was at work bringing him together with Kevin George, who was just starting plans for his first solo project away from the Interurban Group.
“There was a question about the availability of the space — it was available, then it was unavailable, then it was available,” George said. “Once I found out the space was available for sure, I moved quickly.”
While George began the long, slow journey to opening his eponymous restaurant, Valentine was a whirlwind of activity, opening his first restaurant and becoming a television celebrity by competing on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” Valentine returned from the competition with confidence and the spiraled signature mustache to prove it.
After graduating from Del City High School, Valentine first went to culinary school in Minnesota before returning to Oklahoma City and joining The Coach House Apprenticeship Program. From there, Valentine circled down to Dallas for spells at Stephen Pyles Restaurant and Stephen Pyles’ Samar before his father’s failing health brought him home in 2011. After a quick stop back at The Coach House, Valentine opened The Divine Swine, but it only lasted about eight months when he got word he’d been accepted onto “Top Chef.”