Nearly three years after blazing a trail in the West End, indie restaurant Ellen's Southern Kitchen is moving. But it will remain in the neighborhood, in a "bigger, better location" at 1701 N. Market St., says owner Joe Groves.
"The need to find a bigger space has been evident for about a year," Groves says. "We are so much more busy than we ever expected to be. We only have 55 seats. On weekends, we are turning people away. So our first goal is to accommodate more people."
The timetable to open is June 1, and he and chef/managing partner Russell Mertz have a lot of work ahead, including an overhaul of the space that addresses the building's historical status.
"We have a distinct goal of maintaining the historic nature of the building," says owner Joe Groves. "It's a registered landmark."
"We have a distinct goal of maintaining the historic nature of the building," Groves says. "It's a registered landmark, and we want to observe that not only from the outside, but also for people to walk in and get a sense that this is an old place.
"It's not going to look like new construction inside an old shell. This building was built at the turn of the century, and it has a certain level of construction that would be a shame to cover up with drywall."
They've already started digging and discovered the original brick interior walls, which he describes as pristine. But a renovation like this is challenging.
"The city fire code requires certain things you can't get around," he says. "But wherever possible in our construction, we will use recycled and reclaimed materials. We're restoring original wood back to what it used to be and using as many green earth-friendly materials as we can.
"As far as finishes go and the way it feels, it should be evident this was a restoration project. And that goes with our culinary philosophy. This is basic, at-your-roots cuisine, it's fresh and home-cooked, and this is definitely a homemade building."
Ellen's has been a breakaway success, thanks to its good, honest food; reasonable prices; and accommodating hours serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. With the increase in scope, they'll expand on that by adding a separate dinner service and a real bar.
"We'll have a specific dinner menu that begins after 5 pm, which is new for us," Groves says.
"We'll have a specific dinner menu that begins after 5 pm, which is new for us," he says. "We'll add some dishes and upgrade with more seafood options and some vegetarian options.
"We're excited about the prospect of having a bar. Right now, we have a counter with liquor; the new place will have a designated space."
Groves is a true urban kind of guy whose history in the West End precedes the opening of Ellen's. He ran a haunted house in the area, and he is currently president of the West End Association. He's also the operator at City Park Cafe, the canteen at Main Street Garden that he took over in 2013.
His vision goes beyond Ellen's: He wants to make a contribution to his neighborhood.
"We hope we'll help expand the West End mercantile zone past Market Street," he says. "The energy on Market Street is always going to be there. But on the western part of the West End, you have the Holocaust Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum, and I feel an interest in connecting to those things.
"Right now, if you walk from the museum, you're walking through a wasteland. There's absolutely nothing there. I think it would be valuable to create some vibrancy on that end."
The new location will be across the street from the apartment complex from Fairfield, under construction at Houston Street and Ross Avenue, and the first in the district since the West End Station complex was built in 2007. There's also a brewery in the works at Munger Avenue and Lamar Street and coworking spaces such as Kaleidoscope and The Grove.
"Between the residential, the brewery, and energetic businesses like The Grove and the DEC [Dallas Entrepreneur Center], I feel like there's a rediscovery of the district that's not just the conventioneers and tourists it's been for the past few years," he says. "It may not be evident yet, but the West End is on the brink of a renaissance."