Press Releases / Austonian Updates
A New Flavor for 2nd Street
Amid the growing concentration of out-of-town restaurant chains in the 2nd Street District, a group of young restaurateurs plan to tip the scales back to Austin by opening a locally owned restaurant and lounge.
The Icon Group is developing La Condesa, a Mexico City-inspired 130-seat eatery to be located at Second and Guadalupe streets, and Malverde, a stand-alone lounge that will sit above La Condesa. The Icon Group has teamed with Lamberts Downtown Barbeque chef-partner Larry McGuire and other local notables on the restaurant and bar. The restaurant is scheduled to open by February.
Jesse Herman, a partner in Icon Group, said La Condesa is his hospitality firm's first chef-driven restaurant. The group also owns and operates a more casual version of La Condesa at Victory Park in downtown Dallas, across from the American Airlines Center.
The group has tapped Houston native Rene Ortiz, who worked at the esteemed La Esquina restaurant in New York, to be La Condesa's head chef.
Ortiz's menu, which was still under development at press time, will have a "Continental and Modern Mexico" slant.
La Condesa's namesake is a hip Mexico City neighborhood that boasts gourmet eateries, hotels, trendy shops and art galleries.
Herman, who declined to specify how much The Icon Group is spending on the venue, said the restaurant is incorporating a historic beer vault that was part of the first J.P. Schneider Store - where Lamberts sits - into La Condesa's basement. Herman's architects have worked with the Texas Historical Commission to protect the limestone vault. The space will serve as a private dining room and storage for 80 premium tequilas.
La Condesa, which will be comparable in price to a downtown steak restaurant, will also boast a bar and outdoor dining.
Its sister lounge Malverde - named after Jesus Malverde, a folklore hero who bar owners in Mexico often pay tribute to with small shrines - will host DJs and live music. Lamberts Will Bridges will handle booking music for the venue.
Herman, who now lives in Austin, said he was attracted to the 2nd Street District because of its culinary community.
"There are a lot of great restaurateurs and people going down there. One of the first restaurants I fell in love with was Lamberts," Herman said.
While looking for a restaurant and lounge space, the 30-year-old Herman struck up a friendship with Larry McGuire, the 26-year-old chef-owner of Lamberts, an upscale barbecue eatery and lounge. Herman was so impressed by Lamberts that he enlisted McGuire in a management and consulting capacity. McGuire is hiring La Condesa's management staff and developing the restaurant's style of service. Once La Condesa opens, he will help with its day-to-day operations.
"Lamberts will remain my primary [focus], but I wanted to be involved because of the quality of the project and quality of the people involved," McGuire said.
McGuire, apparently unfazed by many predictions that higher-end restaurants will struggle during the recession, believes La Condesa will help fill a need for locally owned restaurants in the Second Street District. The district is sometimes derisively called "Little Dallas" because area restaurants, such as La Taverna, III Forks and Cantina Laredo, have Dallas ownership.
"As a small business owner, when I got involved in 2nd Street I thought it would have more local, more unique, more Keep-Austin-Weird sorts of places," McGuire said. "I want Second Street to be a place people go to eat the best and most interesting concepts, and I think La Condesa will be one of them."
In order to give La Condesa a true Austin feel, Herman has made a point of working with Austin vendors, including architect Michael Hsu, designer Joel Mozerksy, graphic design firm Butler Bros. and landscape architect D-Crain.
"For me, the greatest part of this project has been working with these artists and artisans," Herman said.
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