After 36 years, the magical Dakota's Steakhouse, the subterranean restaurant in downtown Dallas, closed its doors, one more victim of the coronavirus pandemic.
When a restaurant has been around that long, particularly a restaurant the caliber of Dakota's, it usually boasts a big group of alumni, and Dakota's is no exception: Many Dallas food & beverage professionals worked there, and more than a few went on to open their own restaurants.
Named for the Dakota granite that was used on its interior, the restaurant boasted a swanky interior including a 1941 Steinway piano at the entrance.
Its list of talented employees includes chefs such as Jim Severson and Ted Grieb, as well as front of the house names such as Janet Cobb and Courtney Luscher.
The concept was founded in 1984 by Lincoln Property Company, who created a separate restaurant group, says Ted Grieb, who served as corporate chef and worked for them for seven years, from 1995 to 2002. During its heyday, Dakota's spawned spinoffs in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Nashville.
"A lot of their big clients wanted restaurants in their buildings," Grieb says. "They created Lincoln Restaurant Group which opened Dakota's in other cities, and also a number of other concepts including Casa Linda Cafeteria."
Lincoln executive William Duvall recruited Janet Cobb, then Janet Colgin, as general manager to help build the concept. She and her husband Phil Cobb went on to some of Dallas' most acclaimed restaurants including Mi Piaci and Salve.
Jeff Barker, who is now co-owner of Chamberlain's Steakhouse, worked at Dakota's right after it opened in 1984.
"I was there for the first 6-7 years," Barker says. "Bill Duvall was second-to-the-top at Lincoln and in charge of all commercial. They'd built Lincoln Plaza and had this unique basement and the idea to put a waterfall there. We went on to do Dakota's in Boston, as well as a restaurant in Nashville with the Dakota's menu called The Merchants."
"It was wildly popular," Barker says. "We had reservations for a month out in advance."
Opening chef was Martin Sarabia, then Cole Kelly who had worked at several restaurants, before Cobb got the idea to install a female chef and hired the well-regarded Lisa Smith, who generated the positive PR that Cobb hoped for.
One big benchmark in the restaurant's history was when a water main broke and flooded the place, closing it down for nearly a year.
"They redid the entire dining room with those beautiful black walnut floors," Grieb says. "They also changed the direction slightly. It used to be an American grill and they rebranded it as a steakhouse."
Grieb went on to open restaurants such as Venata and Fatted Calf in Rockwall.
For Courtney Luscher, it was her first job as a general manager. She and her husband chef Brian Luscher subsequently bought The Grape, which they owned from 2007 until they closed in 2019.
Luscher was general manager and Jim Severson was chef when Dakota's earned 4 1/2 stars, one of the only steakhouses at the time to earn such a high rating. Severson was chef from 1986 to 1997, then went on to open his own restaurant, Sevy's, in Preston Center with his wife Amy Severson.
Michael Cox worked there when it first opened as a waiter at lunch, then worked at Routh Street Cafe at night. He went on to co-open Star Canyon and AquaKnox with chef Stephan Pyles and become the CEO of MCrowd Restaurant Group, parent of Mi Cocina, before opening his own restaurant in 2014, called Oso Food and Wine, which closed a year later.
Tim McEneny, head of NL Group, whose portfolio has included such restaurants as Sloane's Corner, Jalisco Norte, Obar, Dish Preston Hollow, Front Room Tavern, and Cedar Grove, helped run Dakota's in recent years. He was hired in 2009 to oversee the operation; his 10-year contract ended in December 2019.
Other names who've worked there include chef Bertin Tamayo, currently at Rex Seafood; Jesse Carmona, who went on to open the successful Tacos Mariachi chain; Taylor Kearney, who has shined at restaurants such as Front Room Tavern; Chris Arbukle, currently at Felix Culpa on Henderson Avenue; and Pete Harrison, who was the restaurant's final chef.
"Everyone has worked there," Grieb says. "You learned so much."