On October 4, The Shops at Willow Bend held a special chef’s tasting event to give over 400 guests a sneak peek of the newest phase of its $125 million renovation, The District. Attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception, live music, fireworks and a progressive tasting experience to be the first to try The District’s eateries which will begin opening to the public mid-October.
Along with new restaurants, the District includes a new main entrance into the shopping center, valet parking and a large grassy plaza to host outdoor events, such as The Shops’ October concert series. Each restaurant in the chef-driven dining area offers a unique dining experience, creating a culinary melting pot that is the perfect match for Plano’s diverse population.
The first restaurateur to join the project was celebrity chef John Tesar, who brings a second location of his highly-awarded Dallas steakhouse, Knife, to The District. Knife’s menu includes a variety of seafood offerings, vegetarian meals, and – of course – the all natural, Texas-raised steaks for which his Dallas location is known. In addition, the restaurant will have a butcher shop where guests can take home any cut of meat offered in the restaurant, a walkup window accessible from the shopping center’s interior that will offer Knife Burgers to go, and a private, 60-seat dining room with its own dedicated kitchen.
While John has enjoyed national success, and has a California seafood restaurant in the works, he plans on focusing his future efforts on his Texas restaurants. When asked why, he says that his experiences in our state have helped reinvent his career and put him on a platform. “With Knife we struck a nerve,” he says, “That’s why it’s here. It belongs here.”
Across from Knife will be Mexican Bar Co. Cocina, a new concept from Chef Patricio Sandoval that offers authentic Mexican dishes cooked on wood and coal-burning grills. Patricio, a native of Mexico, has opened restaurants in a number of major cities including New York, Chicago and Las Vegas, but he recognized something special here. “Plano is an area that’s coming up,” he says. “It’s very well known that a lot of restaurants are opening up here.”
He also predicts that more shopping malls will follow Willow Bend’s lead in combining restaurants, entertainment and shopping. “It’s going to be a great attraction,” he says.
Patricio specializes in tacos, and Mexican Bar Co. will serve them on handmade corn tortillas paired with freshly made ceviches, guacamoles and salsas. To support the menu, the full bar will offer Mexican cocktails made with tequila and mezcal. Like Knife, Mexican Bar Company will have a walk-up window inside the shopping center offering tacos and other smaller menu items to go. The restaurant’s interior, designed by Patricio’s brother and business partner Felipe Sandoval, includes murals painted by local artists.
Outside Mexican Bar Company, guests can cross the street in front of the shopping center’s new main entrance and find Terra Mediterranean, owned by another duo of brothers, Jalal Chanaa and Adam Shanaa, who have been serving Greek and Lebanese inspired dishes in the Dallas area since 1989.
While this will be their fourth restaurant, the brothers came from humble beginnings. Jalal says they opened their first restaurant simply to make enough money to pay for college, but it got so busy that they didn’t have time to go back.
Part of what makes Terra Mediterranean so successful is a lunch buffet packed with healthy Mediterranean dishes served hot from the pan or grill and rotated out often so that everything stays fresh. Guests can come in and be served quickly during lunch time. The restaurant also has a dinner menu that features specialty items like lamb chops and oven-roasted trout. At The Shops, Terra Mediterranean will enjoy a second floor patio overlooking the spacious plaza.
Rounding out the four new restaurants will be the second location of Chef Omar Flores’ Whistle Britches. The interior reflects the same casual and family-friendly atmosphere of the Dallas location. Guests will enjoy incredible comfort food like fried chicken sandwiches, fresh baked buttermilk biscuits and Southern-style sides.
Omar was drawn to the area by his business partner, Alec Marshi, who lives in Plano. They had both taken notice of restaurants opening here recently, so when they were approached by The Shops, they immediately saw the value in the center’s location.
“The project they’re doing here is pretty unique,” Omar says. “Not only are they redoing the mall, they are redoing this whole area.… It’s a good opportunity for us to get our foot in the door here.”
Opening inside The Shops at Willow Bend’s new main entrance is Ascension Annex, an outpost of the popular Dallas coffee shop and restaurant. Ascension Annex will offer specialty coffee drinks, wine and beer, and light food options. Guests can enjoy food and beverages while they shop or wait for a table at one of the new restaurants. While the permanent spot is under construction, Ascension Annex is currently operating a smaller pop-up inside the shopping center.
When combined with the recently opened Crayola Experience and the upcoming Cinépolis movie theater, Equinox upscale fitness club and seven-story office building, The Shops at Willow Bend reimagines what a mall can be.The Shops at Willow Bend >
The restaurants are set to begin opening mid-October. The District is currently open and home to The Shops’ free concert series every Friday and Saturday in October.