Denise Lane to open Dixie Girl in May. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com
By Carol A. Clark
In a few weeks time the space occupied by Central Avenue Grill, which closed Saturday night, will be transformed into a cool, urban edgy styled eatery called the Dixie Girl.
Local business leader Denise Lane began formulating the idea for her new restaurant three years ago and today assumes ownership of the property at 1801 Central Ave. Her goal is to open the Dixie Girl for lunch on Memorial Day, May 28.
She is required to wait 100 days before she can implement her liquor license so she’ll spend the time serving lunch until the end of June when she’ll begin also serving dinner.
“I didn’t want to serve dinner without a beer and wine option and also this will allow us to do a “soft opening” for about a month to get the kinks out,” Lane said.
Lane describes the Dixie Girl restaurant as a collaborative effort. Her team includes local architect Steve Shaw and local builder Trevor Orr of New Castle Companyand property landlord Jim Trump who are helping her completely remodel the space.
“Steve, Trevor and Jim have been wonderful to work with and there have been several other people who have bent over backwards to help me –no one wants to see this space sit empty,” Lane said. “Ron and Kim Selvage have been hanging in there with me since August and they are selling me their liquor license that they had when they owned Trinity Beverage Company. I am so thankful to them.”
A Place to Be Seen
Lane describes her new restaurant as the place to see and be seen.
“Our town is craving a place to socialize and when you come to the Dixie Girl you’ll see 10 people you know,” she said. “We’ll create cozy and intimate, loungy spaces and the bar will come out front as a centerpiece of the restaurant. We’ll prepare drinks like you’ve never seen before and that you can’t wait to taste again and we’ll have a happy hour. Diners also may eat at the bar and the restaurant will have a great menu for kids.”
Lane is completely remodeling the old Quark Room at the rear of the restaurant, turning it into a private dining room for special events such as rehearsal dinners, family reunions and graduation celebrations.
Businesses and service organizations can use the private space for meetings. It will house a flat screen TV for presentations. The private dining room will have a bar and guests have the option to hire a private bartender, she said.
Renovations include decreasing the seating volume in the restaurant from 250 to 150, which Lane said results in better food and better service.
Realizing What’s Important
“It seems like it takes until you’re in your mid-50s to finally realize what really matters,” Lane said. “I love people … my customers, my employees and that wonderful sense of satisfaction when they are eating and enjoying themselves … and I want to create something that goes back to my roots.”
Lane’s roots are planted in Louisiana. She remembers spending time in her French grandmother’s kitchen off Canal Street in New Orleans.
Canal Street was the place to go in New Orleans for dining, socializing, entertainment and shopping and that is precisely the vision Lane has in mind for her Dixie Girl eatery.
“People want a gathering place and the Dixie Girl will be that place,” Lane said.
Lane also had a grandmother raised on a river boat. She was her “spunky, country” grandmother.
“She was all about eating and serving fresh vegetables and she had a wonderful garden,” Lane said.
Lessons From Paris
Lane spent time in Paris experiencing some of the greatest restaurants in the world and sampling extraordinary faire from 4th generation chefs and bakers who still use recipes and techniques handed down from their grandparents.
Lane has accumulated recipes and ideas for her new restaurant that fill two10-inch thick binders.
She is a fan of author Dorie Greenspan whose cookbooks are filled with light French recipes that Lane finds especially appealing.
“I’ll also incorporate the best from my favorite restaurants in San Francisco that serve killer food, which are in neighborhoods surrounded by residents who love them,” she said. “That’s what we want to create. Our menu will change all the time and we’ll have seasonal foods. We’re talking to area farmers and we intend to buy local whenever possible.”
Lane’s new restaurant will have a fun and casual vibe and serve fresh, crisp, quality food with layers of flavors, she said.
“I’ve made an agreement with Seattle Fish in Albuquerque to have fresh fish flown in three times a week, one day from the east coast and two days from the west coast,” Lane said.
The Dixie Girl Market
Phase 2 of her business plan involves a retail component. The Dixie Girl Market will be constructed in a space behind the former Quark Room.
Lane wants the Dixie Girl Market to provide a special concept to the local community that she experienced in Paris.
“When I stayed with a French family both the husband and wife worked,” she said. “The wife shopped every day after work and would pick up things like a roasted chicken, fresh greens and a bottle of wine and dinner was served in 15 minutes.”
The Dixie Girl Market will include a wine store with showcase wines from California and elsewhere, a wood fired pizza oven, organic rotisserie chicken and more, she said.
“We’ll have a line of French foods and people can shop for fresh vegetables and we’ll have homemade pastries and desserts and a chocolatier on site,” Lane said.
Her plans also include hosting a wine club and sponsoring quarterly tastings and wine buys at which members can purchase boutique wines never found in grocery stores. She’ll have California boutique winery owners come in to talk about their wines and offer special pricing to club members.
“People are hungry for social events where they can meet other people and share a fun and interesting evening together,” Lane said.
Catering to Local Offices
The Dixie Girl also intends to cater meals to local offices.
The restaurant’s exterior property is being transformed as well, she said. BobHeiser, a principal with Studio Southwest Architects has designed a streetscape with a French sidewalk café feel that stretches all the way around to Ruby K’s.
“We don’t have a downtown plaza so I see this as a whole gathering place,” Lane said. “We’ll have Mardi Gras parties with live music, Sunday champaign brunches, Halloween Thriller parties, New Year’s Eve events and year-round theme parties. Tuesday night might be a Sex in the City theme and we’ll have a girls’ night out … lots of fun events.”
Lane was born and raised in New Orleans until high school when she moved to Texas. Her family has lived in Louisiana for generations. Her maiden name was Howard. Her mother is from the French side of the family with the last name of Bayards and her great-grandfather was a river boat captain.
A Family Affair
Lane’s own children, Jake and Caitlin Smith were raised in the restaurant business. She originally owned Central Avenue Grill before selling it to the Parks in 2006. She also owns the popular eatery, Hill Diner on Trinity Drive. Lane is married to local attorney Mike Lane.
“My children are adults now and will be part of the operation – we’re making the Dixie Girl a family affair,” Lane said.