Uchi inches into an empire
Tyson Cole to open new restaurants
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Where in the world would Tyson Cole go to import another cuisine to Austin?
The chef-owner of the acclaimed sushi restaurant Uchi is not only extending his Japanese reach, he is pulling in another geographic plate for a new downtown venture.
Cole revealed last week that he and his business partners are opening a second Uchi in North Central Austin, perhaps within months. They are currently negotiating for space, he said, which ideally would be between 38th Street and U.S. 183.
That restaurant will be similar, but not identical, to the original Uchi on South Lamar Boulevard, where Cole has built a national reputation and was selected in 2005 by Food & Wine magazine as one of the top 10 best new chefs in the United States. The editors of Food & Wine lauded his ability to meld Japanese aesthetics and American ingredients.
Now, he is about to add another country’s cuisine to his lineup.
When the new 250-room W Hotel opens in 2010 in the block north of City Hall, Cole will launch Canteen, a restaurant blending the culinary traditions of Japan and Spain, particularly the Basque region (where hearty dishes often feature fresh seafood and meats).
“I have fallen in love with Spanish ingredients,” says Cole, who sees a strong relationship between Spanish and Japanese cuisines. “Both are all about the ingredients. Both are all about simplicity and being straightforward. I wanted a forum to play on that.”
So he intends to merge the best of Spanish and Japanese traditions at Canteen, combining “flavors I know people here like.”
The restaurant, he says, will have two sections: a lively, off-the-street atmosphere in the front that will welcome walk-up clientele and a section in the back that will require a reservation (and, given Cole’s reputation, might end up being the hardest place in town to get a seat).
In addition to his own Canteen at the W, where construction started in May, Cole is overseeing the culinary vision for a 14,000-square-foot section of the new hotel. His initial plan is to divide that space into three restaurants: Canteen, a New York City-style bakery that changes emphasis through the day from breakfast in the morning to dessert at night and a third, independent eatery such as a seafood establishment or a steakhouse.
But before he establishes Canteen, he plans to have a second Uchi up and running smoothly.
“We had a lot of conversations about expanding here,” he says, sitting in the dining area of the relatively small restaurant on South Lamar. “But it just didn’t make sense. Even though the demand was there, this is perfect as is.”
Besides, for the investment that would be required to substantially add on to that location, the partners could open a second spot.
Cole said he never expected to be in this position when he opened the restaurant 51/2 years ago. “I never imagined Uchi as successful as it is,” he says.
But there’s more there than the customer demand that leads to a one- to two-hour wait for a table every night of the week. He now has substantial depth in his staff after significant cross-training efforts.
“My staff is incredible,” he says. “We are three people deep on each station.”
That left him facing a question: “How do I continue to challenge the staff and grow with the concept?” The answer was to open another Uchi.
“I am confident we have a strong enough staff to run two places,” Cole says.
The second Uchi will go after the same customer base, but will not be identical to the original. Cole said he and his partners have not yet decided just how different it will be.
They have found potential space that Cole says he is excited about. However, he is not ready to divulge that location until the negotiations are complete, which could be as soon as a few weeks, he said.
So Cole has two busy years ahead, first opening another Uchi and then Canteen, while overseeing the development of the adjacent dining space in the W Hotel. However, he’s happy with those prospects, because they allow him to try new things while staying in Austin.
“I’m in love with this city,” he says. “I want to raise my kids here. I don’t want to move any place else.”