Fine dining from the owners of Cafe 501 and burgers from local cult favorite Nic's Grill will open up at the Myriad Gardens this fall.
The search for a restaurant operator began two years ago, just before the city completed a $38 million makeover that has transformed the Myriad Gardens into one of the community's top local and visitor attractions. The park is estimated to have drawn more than 1 million people last year.
Maureen Heffernan, executive director of the Myriad Gardens Foundation, worked with foundation chairman emeritus Jim Tolbert to secure an operator for the $2.9 million restaurant that was built as part of the Project 180 makeover.
The challenge Heffernan and Tolbert faced was addressing the demand from families who wanted a simple offering of burgers, fries and shakes.
Heffernan and Tolbert credited Peter and Sheree Holloway, owners of the metro's two Cafe 501s, with figuring out how a building built for ice skate rentals in the winter could double as a family-friendly grill the other eight months of the year.
The Holloways' plan is to open a restaurant appropriate for downtown's workforce, couples on dates and Thunder basketball fans in the restaurant building, which will be called “The Park House.”
Peter Holloway spent two months courting Justin Nicholas, owner of Nic's Grill at NW 10 and Pennsylvania, to open a limited version of his legendary restaurant in the 350-square-foot ice skate rental building.
“It was easy to convince him,” Holloway said. “He was always leery of tying into someone. But he loves this spot.”
Holloway said he and Nicholas have taken a cautionary approach to growth. Nic's Grill has been featured on Food Network's “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” and draws lines of customers for his 17-seat diner on all five days a week it is open.
“He wants to grow, but he's cautious,” Holloway said. “That's like us.”
Nicholas could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Holloway confirmed that the diner operator will man the grill some afternoons at his new Myriad Gardens eatery, which will be called “The Ice House.”
Holloway hopes to open The Ice House sometime in September before closing it for the winter on Nov. 1. Holloway said Nicholas may take a “short vacation” from his grill to help with The Ice House's opening.
“We're going to be open from March 1 through Oct. 31 every year,” he said. “So the idea is to get open for a few months this year, work out the kinks and be ready to roll next spring.”
Holloway said Nichols will serve the same quality burgers and fries that draw customers from across the country to Nic's Grill, but they may be slightly less gargantuan.
“These will be a smaller version of what he does at 10th and Penn,” Holloway said. “A little more refined that will leave room for a cold beer and a shake for dessert.”
Holloway expects the patio seating arrangement, located around fountains that double as the ice rink during the winter, will far exceed the scarce seating at Nic's Grill.
The Park House, meanwhile, is set to open by late October.
Holloway said the menu hasn't been totally worked out for Park House, but chefs Cally Johnson (Big Truck Tacos, Mutt's Hog Dogs, Cafe 501 at Classen Curve) and Jonathan Krell (previously of Stella Modern Italian Food) will have input on the development and operation of the kitchen. Holloway said the plan is for Park House to offer an approachable, affordable menu.
“There's a wide variety of people who visit the Myriad Gardens,” he said. “We want all of them to feel welcome to enjoy a meal in Park House or on the patio.”
The Holloways own Cafe 501 in Classen Curve and the original location and bakery in Edmond along with neighboring Boulevard Steakhouse and The Martini Lounge. Peter Holloway founded the original Pepperoni Grill in Penn Square Mall and learned his craft as managing partner of Val Gene Associates restaurant group, which opened 14 restaurants between the 1960s and 1990s, including Harry Bear's, Texanna Reds, the Hungry Peddler, and the Eagle's Nest.
Tolbert, whose involvement with the Myriad Gardens goes back to the original opening 25 years ago, admitted the search for a restaurant operator wasn't easy; he initially hoped to have the restaurant open last year.
But looking back, Tolbert said, that opening might have hurt the viability of the restaurant due to ongoing construction of adjoining streets and a community that had yet to be fully introduced to the new Myriad Gardens.
“It's just perfect,” Tolbert said. “This is an ideal moment to do this. The public has come to the gardens, they've seen what we've got, they're excited, and we've absolutely found the right operator.”