Italian food pioneer

Romano's Macaroni Grill closes 2 key Dallas-area locations

Romano's Macaroni Grill closes 2 key Dallas-area locations

Romano's Macaroni Grill
Red sauce joints are down in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Romano's Macaroni Grill

Two Dallas-area branches of Romano's Macaroni Grill have closed, including the flagship restaurant on Northwest Highway. A spokesperson confirmed that the Preston Center location had closed, as well as a location at 4535 Belt Line Rd. in Addison.

The reason cited: the rent was too high. "We shut down Northwest Highway over a week ago," the spokesperson said. "The lease was way too high."

However, other branches also recently closed, including Kansas City, Missouri, and Charlotte, North Carolina, both of which shut down in late April. Those followed early spring closures in Alabama and Lousiana, plus two locations in California.

At the time of the Kansas City closure, Romano's officials said in a statement that "the company regularly reviews its portfolio of restaurants as a normal course of business and made the tough decision to close this location."

Macaroni Grill was founded by namesake Phil Romano in 1988. It's easy to take chains for granted, but it was once one of the hottest concepts in the country, with good pizza, inexpensive pasta, really cheap wine, and music playing — a device Romano has used at Eatzi's, which broadcasts opera music, and at St. Rocco, where the soundtrack is all Frank.

It also had a revolutionary honor system with the wine, where a bottle was placed on the table and you told the server how much you'd drunk. Who among us could resist the urge to pour just a teensy bit extra once the server was out of our sight-lines? It was a true test of character.

The closures come just as Dallas is seeing a surge of Italian restaurant openings including Fox Restaurant Concepts' North Italia opening in Plano; Fachini, the Highland Park Village restaurant from chef Julian Barsotta; Americano at the Joule Dallas hotel; and its trendy new sibling Sassetta, the Tim Headington restaurant in Dallas' Design District.

These new eateries join a deluge of Neapolitan-style pizza concepts that have opened around Dallas, with the latest being Midici, a chain opening branches in West Village and Fort Worth.

But Macaroni Grill has been through a series of damaging ownership changes, from Brinker to Golden Gate to Ignite, which flipped it to Redrock Partners at a big loss. It's shrunk down from 210 branches to about 150.

According to an employee at the Plano location, the Northwest Highway store had the second-highest number of catering orders in the entire chain; all orders will now go through the Plano store.