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GM Justin Beam Talks The Many Rooms Of Marquee Grill

Marquee Grill's Justin Beam.
Marquee Grill's Justin Beam.
Photo: Merritt Martin/EDFW

It's just nearly a year since Marquee Grill & Bar opened in Highland Park Village, using a bit of Escada's old boutique, and Laura Hunt's offices to flesh out a venue that's airy, fashionable and accessible all at once.

Speaking to the accessible factor, the restaurant even manages the revamped theater next door and also provides sweet concessions for film-goers. At Marquee it's duck, burgers, delicate seafood. In the theater it's The Lorax, The Vow, Act of Valor. It's about balance.

But according to general manager Justin Beam, formerly of Fearing's, the main challenge is keeping diners -- from ladies who lunch to full families -- happy and ensconced in the appropriate nook, of which there are many in Marquee. Balconies, patio, open kitchen dining, upstairs bar -- it's all a complex systems of skilled staff, stairs and special requests.

Sometimes that request is "Please don't seat me next to that lady over there." Other times it's "Can I please meet Tre Wilcox? He's so dreamy."

This is a huge restaurant, honestly, and you oversee essentially seven separate spaces.
Yeah, six or seven different spaces. It's a lot like Fearing's. You know, I opened Dean's place at the Ritz and it's kind of the same idea of different environments. You can come here and have a business meeting with a white table cloth downstairs, then come back the next day and sit at the bar and have a glass of wine or sit on the balcony. Or sit in one of those booths and kind of hide away.

That was the owner's idea: Upscale food, but they didn't want it to become boring. They wanted to break the space up in a smart way. And then you have the theater which is another monster.

With, literally, so much ground to cover, how intensive are your staff meetings?
We meet every single day with the staff, twice a day. The lunch team all meets at 10 o'clock every day. And we go over cover counts, any large parties that we have, what the soup of the day is, if we're out of anything, any VIPs coming in... The chef will come out and show them a new menu item.

Are we going to set the patio up or aren't we? You have to pay very close attention to the weather. We like to get the patio set up because it's kind of our front door "open" sign. If you've ever been down to Patrizio's, that patio is packed and people love to sit outside in the spring and fall, so we have it open as often as we can.

We meet with the dinner team...and that line up is kind of the same thing: any large parties, Dan Martinez -- who is our assistant sommelier -- he'll go over new wines by the glass, wines added to the list, vintage changes. Tre usually has two or three specials, features off the menu - he'll taste the staff on those.

Marquee is in an affluent, historic neighborhood, when people walk in and see that staircase, do you ever get hesitation?
It's rare. We'll get some elderly guests, but there's an elevator that's between the theater and the restaurant.

But it's funny - Fearing's was the same way - there are people that think that downstairs dining room is the center of the universe. They couldn't imagine sitting anywhere else; they don't want to sit upstairs where there aren't white tablecloths. That's where they have to be.

We'll have tables upstairs where they can be sat immediately, but they'll wait half an hour to sit downstairs. And there's only 13 tables downstairs. Well, only 11 smaller tables, plus the three big rounds. So if you and I came in, we're not going to sit at a big round table so 11 tables fills up pretty quickly.

Then there are guests who refuse to sit downstairs by the kitchen. They want to be upstairs by the bar - they want to be more a part of the action. And it's funny too because you can sometimes tell by people's age or what they're wearing - they'll come in and go, "Ooohh, I'm not dressed to sit downstairs." And we have no dress code. You know, smart casual but we seat people in shorts. Just don't forget your wallet and we'll take care of you.

Tre obviously commands a lot of attention. How much of the draw to sit downstairs is his notoriety and how much is simply the entertainment of watching the kitchen work?
I think, I mean, every night we have guests that want to take photos with Tre, that want him to sign menus - which he does. Tre -- unlike a lot of chefs in town - there aren't many like him that I've worked with. He works a station every night. He writes the kitchen schedule and he schedules himself on a station. He doesn't expo, he doesn't float around. When he's on the schedule, lunch and/or dinner, he's working a station - he's on grill, he's on sautee, he's on hot app.

Early in the night, he walks around and shakes hands and greets everyone. Then late, end of service, he walks around, shakes hands and greets everyone. In the meat of service, he's back there literally putting out fires. At that time we'll have people come down and take pictures with him, he'll step off a station and then have to get right back to work. I think people kind of like that - they can stand there and realize he's actually cooking their food. He didn't just write the menu and kinda stand around.

Some guests want to sit downstairs because it's more formal, some want to see the action - the real foodies, some want to see Tre. It's for different reasons.

There are some places where you knock elbows to get in, but here it seems that while it's a hot spot, it's comfortably busy. Was that in the plan?
We don't think there's a better location. But if there's one thing we knew before we opened and we know today: We're a neighborhood restaurant. We're in a neighborhood. Owning and operating that movie theater, kids, parents and families walk here. We definitely have the ladies who lunch. The uber-Dallasites who bring in the Hermes bags and go to Jimmy Choo after. But we also want to be a place where a guy can come get a burger. And if you look at the prices on our menu, you can get in and out of here at lunch for $15. Several items are under $10.

While we knew it would be a happening place, a place to see and be seen - Dallas is kinda like that. I mean, I grew up here -- we don't have a beach, we don't have mountains so restaurants are our beaches and mountains. There aren't a lot of outdoorsy things to do, especially when it gets so hot. So we knew it was gonna be a hot spot. That people were going to have to fight to get into the bar. It fills up. So we're very aggressive with our cocktail staff and we have handheld point-of-sale terminals that can run credit cards, print receipts, order food and everything a normal terminal can do.

But again, it's a big space.

You have so many moods in here it seems you can satisfy so many different types of people. There are so many private nooks as well.
The space breaks itself up too. The booth behind us can't be seen when you walk in. And people know that booth is 533.

We had a guy the other day who refused to sit in the window downstairs, because there was a big group of ladies out on patio and I don't know if one of them was an ex business partner or an ex girlfriend or an ex wife, but he was like, "I cannot sit where they can see me or I can see them." We'll have real estate agents or attorneys that maybe have had spats and the space is great because it's just one shoebox.

So you are also a mediator?
And a counselor! It's true.

And you handle the theater as well?
Hmm hmm, yep. I'm the GM for both locations and we have a theater manager who is extremely capable. And it's not just a movie theater -- we have Super Bowl parties, Oscar watching parties. People can rent it to watch a Pacquiao fight. The theater never closes - we're open 365 days a year. Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day -- those are huge movie days. And we may open the bar for customers.

If we do 100 for lunch on a Saturday and 300 for dinner -- that's 400 in the restaurant. Then easily another couple hundred through the bar. You've got 900, plus 600 in the theater. This Village has changed in 16 months [since the theater re-opened]. We'll have some people come in and say, "My little village that was mine and private and now the theater's back open and the restaurant's crazy and we can't find a parking space!" It's a good problem to have. We'll take it.

It's one of the reasons I left Fearing's and the Ritz -- the movie theater was a big attraction for me. Because we're always on stage. It's really interesting; you're always on stage -- whether it's down at the door or or in the movie theater or helping to run food. But the movie theater was something I'd never done before, and didn't know anything about. And now, in the past 15 months, I've learned -- this is a totally different experience.

You talk about that gatekeeping thing -- We have to keep a movie schedule at the hostess stand! Guests will come in and say "Act of Valor starts at 5:45; it's 4:45. Can we make it?! What menu do you have?!"

· Marquee Grill [Official]
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Village Marquee

33 Highland Park Village, Dallas, TX 75205 214 522 6035