Seriously: How Come Every Cool Dallas Restaurant Is Opening Up Shop In Plano, Too?

To most people, Plano is little more than a suburban destination off of the President George Bush Turnpike.

It's most commonly known for being a corporate headquarters hub (Welcome, Toyota!), for its high safety and education ratings, and for its overall potential as a great place to settle down and raise a family.

In other words? Plano has a reputation — a national one, even — for being pretty boring.

It's not that being a family-friendly, upwardly mobile climate is necessarily a bad thing. But, Plano isn't the first place in North Texas most people think of when it comes to the arts, culture and entertainment. And, for the most part, the price that Plano residents have had to pay for the conveniences of living in their suburban bubble — aside from a sometimes dark underbelly — is that, in order to do anything fun or to experience any of the treats that come with living in North Texas, they generally have to travel south on I-35E to get it.

Or, rather, that was the case.

These days, the city is taking strides to make things more interesting for its residents, starting with a little help from several Dallas-based restaurants who've seen the promise in a northern migration.

Heading the charge was Bishop Arts barbecue favorite Lockhart Smokehouse , which opened a second location in Plano last July. The area was chosen by owners Jeff and Jill Bergus because of its reverse bubble potential. As Oak Cliff residents are just as unlikely to make the trek north to find dining as Plano folks are to drive south, Lockhart's second location proved far enough away to create a new customer base without jeopardizing sales at the Dallas shop.

Soon after, Smoke, DaLat and Dee Lincoln Steak & Burger Bar followed Lockhart's lead, opening second locations in the 'burbs. Then Pakpao Thai, Princi Italia and Mi Dia from Scratch each signed deals to build restaurants in the new commercial complex slated to open in West Plano in 2015.

For most of the restaurants, the reasoning behind the northern expansion has to do with finding a secondary market — or, as Smoke owner Chris Jeffers put it, “to not cannibalize” the restaurants in Dallas.

But, for others such as Dee Lincoln, the decision is a little more personal.

“She lives in Plano,” says Anthony Porcaro, a manager at Dee Lincoln's Plano location. “A lot of her Del Frisco customers from the past 30 years were from [north of] Belt Line [Road], so she decided to move back home.”

Aside from market value and sentimental reasons, the city also offers a sort of sophisticated appeal, which may help to draw in more cultural amenities in the future.

“Some of the sharper restaurants are moving to Plano,” Porcaro says. “There's a more mature customer base, rather than chasing some of the 'cool' people in other areas.”

It seems as if, whenever an area gets revamped, restaurants are some of the first businesses to become a part of the new community dynamic, whether it's because of the creative visions of chefs and owners or just the laws of supply and demand. Regardless, it takes more than just a few restaurants to boost a city's reputation. A city needs culture, too. And while the glut of new restaurants moving to Plano is definitely a positive sign of things to come for the city, perhaps a better indicator of its slowly burgeoning cultural cachet is the fact that, earlier this summer, Plano hosted its first music festival. In just its inaugural year, that fest already earned some lofty praise from the likes of Rolling Stone magazine.

Furthermore, Plano also recently passed laws allowing food trucks access to the city, which could eventually result in a food truck park coming to the area in the near future. Last week, the city took it's food truck-welcoming ways a step farther, too, loosening regulations and allowing food trucks the right to use existing restaurant spaces for prep and storage (as opposed to specifically rented-out commercial kitchen spaces) — something that even Dallas has yet to OK for its popular food truck market.

Which is all promising stuff, even if there's not a sole, specific reason behind the migration to single out.

“It's hard to say what's attracting Dallas-based restaurants to Plano,” says Plano's deputy city manager, Frank Turner. “A few operators I've talked to say that their success is areas like Uptown, Bishop Arts, West Village and other core Dallas locations has led them to entertain opening a second location.”

But why Plano?

“It's far enough away from their existing businesses to be a second market opportunity,” he says, parroting the same line shared by Jeffers.

Or maybe it's just a sign that, perhaps, Plano itself is changing, eschewing its suburban sensibilities and demographics while utilizing its purchasing power and growing young professional workforce to breed growth and urbanization — even as it faces dwindling space and potential issues with Dallas' own urban sprawl.

Regardless, one thing is clear: All this seems to indicate more good things to come for the flourishing suburb — and, Turner is sure to emphasize, without coming at the expense of Dallas' own thriving cultural prospects.

“I do think restaurants often lead and eventually create greater diversity,” Turner says. “People like choices.”

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