The grand reopening of Champps Americana in Las Colinas in February represented more than just renovations to the long-time Irving restaurant. The establishment’s emphasis on quality food and dynamic experience shed light on its sensitivity to current trends as the city sheds it reputation as a suburban bedroom community for one of a “live, work play” destination.
Responding to current demand for high-quality, local eats, the focus of Champps’ renovations was placed squarely on the food, whether it be the new, open kitchen; the multi-tiered seating arrangement; new, seasonal menus or an emphasis on the restaurant’s hand-crafted food and wide variety of craft and local beer.
“We’ve emphasized (scratch-made food), and we have tried various different avenues to get that out there, as far as letting people know about it,” said managing partner Brian James. “And it’s kind of funny; right now is kind of a perfect time especially (as) we’re becoming more ingredient conscious as far as calories are concerned … when you look at the movement in the food industry, where it’s going and where people are eating better (in smaller portions) and drinking better (in smaller amounts).”
These changes make Champps feel more like a restaurant, with its own character and unique presence, than a stereotypical sports bar. This is especially important to young transplants, many of whom moved to Irving in order to be close to their work but still able to drive 20 minutes into Dallas for entertainment, attracted to the personal, one-of-a-kind atmosphere touted by restaurants popping up in Oak Cliff and the Bishop Arts District. There is a preconception among a large portion of this demographic that franchises, especially sports bars, are inferior in both service and quality to these eccentric independent restaurants.
“There are good and bad restaurants run by multi-unit operators, just as there are good and bad independent restaurants. It all comes down to each individual restaurant and whether they can deliver great guest experiences every single day. We are not a gastropub. We’re a fun, relaxing place to enjoy made-from-scratch, delicious food, great local brews, handcrafted cocktails and friendly service,” Champp’s spokesman Rick Van Werner stated in an email, explaining the erroneousness of this mindset.
“Like any business serving guests, it’s important to always be moving forward to keep things fresh, exciting and relevant.
“It all comes down to execution and delivering great food, service and experiences in a clean, fun environment. While we’re a great place to watch a game, we’re much more than that,” he continued. “We’re a place for people to gather, relax and take a break from the stresses of everyday life.”
Overcoming preconceptions from younger customers is not the only obstacle to promoting night life in Irving, however, and past attempts ran up against concerns of long-time residents.
For one, some residents were uneasy that loosening restrictions on the sale of alcohol would attract low-class bars to Irving. Another contentious issue involved the City’s smoking ordinance. Some critics went so far to suggest that, not only should smoking be banned inside all restaurants, but new establishments should not be allowed to install a smoking patio either. Supporting their position, they maintained that not only is the practice bad for patrons’ health but hurts the profitability of businesses that allow it.
Although many municipalities, including Dallas and Fort Worth, no longer allow smoking inside, patios remain a staple feature of restaurants trying to build an atmosphere where patrons come to socialize, not just eat a meal.
Perhaps Champps has managed to navigate these and social legislative obstacles in part because of its long tenure in the city. Subtle but important changes have struck a balance between vastly differing expectations among residents–namely that people who want to go to a social club do not feel like they are drinking at a restaurant, and people who want a meal do not feel they are eating in a bar.
The newest remodel emphasizes the dual role of restaurants in Irving. The bar, still one of the focal points of the establishment, sits in the middle of the room where most of the restaurant’s 44 new televisions are concentrated, and where smoking is permitted. When it opened 14 years ago, Champps spent $300,000 to install 17 air filters in the ceiling to ensure that smoke from the bar would not bother other diners.
“We want to provide an area everyone wants to come to,” James said. “We hopefully don’t want to chase anyone away, hence the investment in the air filter.”
Two tiers of seating encircle to bar on one side, so patrons who want to sit down for a meal are far enough removed from the action on the floor that they are not disturbed by people there for Champps’ social club aspect.
A testament to the success of the balance struck by Irving’s Champps is the location’s stability during its parent company’s bankruptcy. Although Champps locations in general were not as affected as Fox and Hound locations, James said that the Las Colinas location’s relative autonomy allowed him to establish policies that are popular with the city’s residents.
“I don’t know that much about all (the other locations) because I’ve only been here,” he said. “It’s kind of funny—I don’t want to sound selfish about it, but—well, I’ve been responsible for this one and I’ve pretty much made sure I’ve lived up to that responsibility to the best of my abilities.”