Restaurant/live music venue to open near Nebraska Furniture Mart (2022)

Restaurant/live music venue to open near Nebraska Furniture Mart (1)
Restaurant/live music venue to open near Nebraska Furniture Mart (2)
Restaurant/live music venue to open near Nebraska Furniture Mart (3)
Restaurant/live music venue to open near Nebraska Furniture Mart (4)

Restaurateur Ian Vaughn fancies himself a bit of a gambler.

Next year, Vaughn and a team of investors including Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson plan to open a nearly $6 million restaurant/live entertainment venue in the sprawling Grandscape development that’s now home to Warren Buffett’s Nebraska Furniture Mart.

At 28,000 square feet, the Lava Cantina will rival the size of a small grocer. With $4.7 million in government backing, it nearly maxes out the allowable size of an SBA loan.

Former chief operating officer of the rapidly growing Raising Cane’s chicken chain, Vaughn gave up a C-suite office in the belief that the North Texas center of gravity is migrating and that the Oracle of Omaha knows what he’s doing.

“You've got an under-developed area with 60 million cars driving 50 yards in front of you every year, and that's only going to grow tremendously every year,” said Vaughn, 35, referring to the steady stream of vehicles whizzing along the Sam Rayburn Tollway in The Colony. “You've got Toyota USA within walking distance of our site coming here. You’ve got Liberty Mutual and another 4,000 jobs coming” to Plano.

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Add to that the Dallas Cowboys’ nearby headquarters and the fact that Nebraska Furniture Mart alone is expected to attract 8 million shoppers a year.

“While it may not be the center of town today, it will be tomorrow,” Vaughn said. “And we have the opportunity to be on the front end of that. It’s not a bad bet to follow Warren Buffett’s money.”

Sweating profusely under the unyielding Texas sun, Vaughn was trying valiantly to look cool. He gets an E for effort.

The site of his future endeavor, which will feature a Mexican/Creole mashup, Bourbon Street decor and bring in up to 20 national entertainment acts a year, is now 0.7 acres of dirt in the eastern section of Grandscape called The Boardwalk.


About 300 yards from the furniture mart’s front door, Lava Cantina will be the first venue to open in this section of the 400-plus acre development.

Vaughn, sporting a black T-shirt and leather jacket despite the 90-degree heat, leaned toward a tiny cactus and envisioned his future front door.

Like many a Texas farmer, Vaughn surveyed the bone-dry ground and predicted a bumper crop.

“Over $8 million in Year One is our conservative estimate” of sales, said Vaughn, a native of Baton Rouge. “Mature sales would be in the $12 [million] to $15 million range.

“I really couldn't ask for a better location,” he added. “There's no other live music venue that’s up here.

“Hopefully we can siphon off some of the people so they don’t feel like they’ve got to drive 45 minutes to go do anything. Anytime you want to see live music, you’re driving down the tollway for 30-40 minutes.

“Now it’ll be right in our backyard.”

Nearby restaurants

At the opposite end of the Grandscape campus from Lava, Irving-based Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen already has planted a flag.

The first restaurant of more than a dozen eateries planned for Grandscape, the Cheddar’s opened in early July, the 12th Dallas-Fort Worth location.

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Beyond the corporate additions to the area, chief executive Ian Baines said his company was drawn by “just the number of rooftops. Rooftops continue to be built in the north end of Dallas. We just feel it’s a great place to be.”

Baines declined to give stats but described sales volumes in the location’s first few months of operation as strong.

“Dinner traffic was terrific, lunch was what I expected it to be,” Baines said. “It’s tracking overall similar to the other volumes we have within the D-FW market.”

Malcolm Knapp, who tracks the casual dining industry, estimates the average Cheddar’s does about $4.26 million in annual sales.

Baines said sales at that location could grow by up to 20 percent “as the development fills in.”

“With the volumes that we have today, we’re very happy from a business standpoint,” he said.

Part of last week’s sales volume came from husband and wife Manuel Lopez and Esther Henry of Hurst, who were in Allen for a conference. They had heard about the furniture mart and drove over “just to see what it’s all about,” said Lopez.

“We were hungry when we got here and were looking for a place to eat,” Lopez added. When they spotted the Cheddar’s “we were glad to see it.”

Baines said that’s part of the advantage of “being beside a big traffic driver like Nebraska Furniture Mart. It gives us a visibility.

“We’re a significant traffic driver ourselves,” he added.

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Cheddar’s is in the section of the development that also will include Rock & Brews, the rock-themed restaurant backed by Kiss frontman Gene Simmons. Rock & Brews, set to open in mid-January, might have some live acts, said spokesman Brett Anz, but in general will play “recorded classics.”

“We liked the combination of a young, growing population in The Colony, Plano and Frisco, along with the activity at Nebraska Furniture Mart and the wide accessibility provided by the 121 Sam Rayburn Tollway,” said Anz.

Jeff Lind, Grandscape’s president and the chief strategy and development officer for Nebraska Furniture Mart, thinks venues such as Lava Cantina and Rock & Brews will help make Grandscape a draw to diners looking for more than just a bite to eat.

“Our first criterion is how do we differentiate and how do we create the right mix of restaurants and attractions for a wide range of demographics,” he said. “We're very focused on doing things different than what’s been done elsewhere in the D-FW metroplex.”

Placing his bet

When Vaughn described the Lava Cantina as being in his backyard, it wasn’t much of a stretch.

He and wife Alicia Vaughn, 34, moved to nearby Frisco seven years ago as part of the North Texas corporate expansion of Raising Cane’s.

When Vaughn told his wife he wanted to give up a 12-year career with Cane’s to open a music venue in the suburbs, “it went over like a bag of rocks,” he joked.

Likewise, when Vaughn began approaching bankers seeking one who would “take a chance on us,” options one through 15 ended as a polite but firm “no thank you.”

“I'll be honest,” he said. “I've been working on this ever since I left Cane’s back in December. I’ve been trying to find financing. I put together a tremendously detailed business plan. … We already had a cash down payment. We had investors locked and loaded.

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“The biggest issue I kept running into is that restaurants are a very risky investment,” he said. “One bank, they did not care about my background, how many investors we have. They saw: restaurant, $5 million, no. Nothing else mattered.”

Among the investors is Nelson, owner of the Texas Legends, the Mavericks’ D-league affiliate. He could not be reached for comment.

At pitch No. 16, at a local branch of Regions Bank, Vaughn found his love connection.

“We are staring at the finish line up ahead,” said Rory O’Loughlin, a vice president in the bank’s SBA Business Banking department. The deal is expected to close within days.

Vaughn, who once wanted to be a casino general manager, readily admits he’s a “high risk taker in anything that I do.”

“Do I go to a casino and gamble? Yes, I will go to a casino and gamble. I like to take high calculated risks: Giving up a tremendous career with Cane’s in order to go build a music venue, for example.”

To hedge this bet, he launched a 6,000-square-foot Lava Cantina in Baton Rouge and took over operations of a restaurant in Little Elm now called Rock 101. They serve as his test kitchens and will give his new executive chef, Patrick Stark of Food Network fame, a chance to test and tweak recipes before the Grandscape Lava opens in July.

“We have considered them to be our petri dishes to practice, test and get things right before we do it on the big scale,” he said.

So far, Vaughn’s plans for the Grandscape Lava are confined to designs on paper and expectant dirt.

He acknowledges, “I've never done anything quite like this before.

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“To me it is a tremendous gamble,” he said. “It’s the biggest gamble I’ve ever made. However, I’m doing everything in my power to ensure that everything is thought of. And it will be successful.”

On Twitter: @krobijake


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