Three decades ago, Dallas’ downtown-adjacent Harwood District housed a few offices and only one restaurant, but today the emerging neighborhood is bustling with activity, thanks in no small part to the Harwood Hospitality group. In 2010, the group opened Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar inside a historic schoolhouse, followed in 2013 by Mercat Bistro, a European-style cafe that serves French-inspired cuisine, pastries, and coffee to the district’s growing population.
The office buildings were soon joined by residential towers, and Harwood District evolved into a city within a city. As part of this shift, the Barbier-Mueller family — founders of Harwood International and developers of the district — doubled down on walkability, safety, and green space, explained Matt Minichino, COO for Harwood Hospitality Group.
“[They] began seeking more feedback from tenants and residents about what the district was missing, informing what came next for Harwood,” he said.
As a result, many of the restaurant concepts were created as amenities meant to keep the area’s office and residential tenants happy. These concepts include the Happiest Hour: a two-level sports bar born from a tenant’s request for a casual place to get a burger and a beer, which opened in 2015. More restaurants followed, and the timeline sped up. In the past few years, Harwood Hospitality has opened Latin, Italian, and pan-Asian restaurants, as well as a British-style pub.
Pizza and martini concept, Poco Fiasco, opened in December 2022. Neighborhood market, Fig & Favor, which sells grab-and-go sandwiches, gelato and wine; and Tequila Social, a Tex-Mex cantina, both opened earlier this year.
In June 2023, Harwood Hospitality debuted its biggest project yet: the 22-story Hotel Swexan. The luxury property has 134 rooms and five food and beverage concepts, including Stillwell’s steakhouse, a rooftop bistro called Leonie’s, and Babou’s, a swanky basement cocktail lounge.
In 2024, Harwood Hospitality will continue to expand, opening two new restaurant concepts in its newest office building, Harwood 14. All in, that’s a lot of restaurants for one neighborhood, but the group sees this as a benefit.
“Harwood Hospitality’s concepts balance and complement each other rather than cannibalize,” Minichino said, noting that each venue is unique, offers a diversity of cuisines and flavors, and ranges from casual to fine-dining.
Having a vast number of venues within one neighborhood also allows the company to take advantage of economies of scale, and it provides in-house learning and growth opportunities for employees. It’s not unusual for chefs, servers, and even corporate workers to pursue their interests and shift to new roles and brands within the company, Minichino said. This has helped give Harwood an edge in retaining and attracting employees, including top chefs.
“The Dallas market is extremely competitive, and there has been a flight of talent to Dallas on the culinary side,” Oliver Barbier-Mueller, co-president of Harwood International said. “We’ve gotten a whole lot of chefs from New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and California. It has allowed us to elevate our standards and expectations because we have to. Dallas’ tastes and preferences and level of sophistication on the culinary side are skyrocketing.”
Barbier-Mueller explained that employees also benefit from and appreciate the security that the multi-pronged company can offer, with its many venues and built-in tenant and resident base, especially in an industry that’s not especially known for longevity.
Barbier-Mueller’s brother and Harwood International co-president, Alexis, said the family is in this for the long haul.
“We’ll be in the restaurant and hospitality business for decades and generations to come, just like we will be in development and construction and asset management and capital markets,” he said. “That helps us when people are looking for consistency. It’s stability. They know we are going to be here.”