Restaurateur Larry McGuire has had a busy year, and with projects in the works he'll continue being busy in the Austin dining scene. McGuire and his partner Tom Moorman already operate Lamberts Downtown Barbecue and Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar. Eater Austin spoke with him about his soon-to-open Elizabeth St. Cafe on South 1st, the Jeffrey's purchase, and his upcoming project Fresas, a chicken al carbon concept opening next year. We met down at Elizabeth Street Cafe, getting a tour of the restaurant and kitchen under construction.
Tell us about the Elizabeth St. Cafe concept.
It's going to be like a French street cafe serving Vietnamese food. We wanted a funky neighborhood restaurant, and South 1st and Bouldin Creek is the perfect place for that. The ideas started from colonial Hanoi in the 20's and 30's and went to a Parisian cafe. Lamberts is our barbecue project, Perla's is like a preppy oyster bar, but this will be different for us. We're excited to have a more casual restaurant, and we're here to serve the neighborhood.
What is the timeline for the opening?
We plan to open in early to mid December. We moved our offices over here last December, so it has been a year in the works. The restaurant is about two thirds done, but it's moving fast.
What will the menu be like?
We'll be open for breakfast starting at 7am, so you can stop to grab coffee or a pastry to go, or you can sit down for a hot meal. We'll have croissants, brioche with Vietnamese sausage, and full meals like omelettes. Stumptown will run our espresso program, and we'll also have Vietnamese drip coffee. We'll have a great hot tea menu designed by The Steeping Room. Lunch service will start at 11am and we'll serve that menu through dinner until midnight. For alcohol we'll only serve beer, wine, and sake. We'll have banh mi, pho, and noodle dishes. My partner Tom Moorman has been developing the menu, and this is his pet project. We even have our own garden out back, something we're excited about because it's our first restaurant garden.
How is the staffing going to work?
We've moved managers over from Lamberts and Perla's, and they are hiring staff now. Tom will be the head chef, and Mike Diaz (currently sous chef at Perla's), will move to Elizabeth St.to be our sous and chef de cuisine. We'll move Alex Manley over to be the pastry chef and baker. In fact, we hired Natalie Gazaui, formerly of El Arbol, to take over the pastry program at Perla's and Lamberts.
How did the Jeffrey's purchase happen?
The opportunity arose, and we couldn't pass it up. Ron and Peggy had wanted to sell the property, and a developer in Dallas had bought the land. Investors in Austin then purchased it, and we worked with them to take over and run the restaurant.
What changes will you make?
Our only ambition is to make Jeffrey's the best it can be. The west Austin demographic has changed, and we're going to do a lot of research. What did customers like. What did they do well. What didn't work well. We wanted to keep the name, to keep the tradition and the history. We're going to make it the flagship of our restaurant group.
What about the staff?
We are going to lose staff. During the remodel we will have to close the restaurant for a few months, so we know that some people will end up leaving. We're going to offer everyone a position if they want to come back, and we'll try and find as many spots for some of the staff at our other restaurants during the transition to keep them on.
Who will be the chef?
I will. I'm aching to get back in the kitchen, and this will be my project I get to focus on, and I'm really looking forward to it.
What other projects are you working on?
Well, we're working on a drive-thru chicken al carbon restaurant called Fresas in the old Emerald City Press location at 9th and Lamar. Margaret Vera, one of the partners in our hospitality group, brought the idea to us when we hired her as the project manager for Elizabeth Street. Together we have finished the Fresa's concept and will open it together; it's going to be great. We'll have all natural chicken, split, and then grilled over coals. Once that gets up and running we already have plans to open a second location of that concept down here next to Elizabeth Street.
How have you managed all of this growth?
We will have five projects by the end of next year. We're almost doubling our workforce from 160 to 300 employees. We've put such a good team together in our hospitality group. We do all our own building designs and build outs. We steer the creative process and put it together into well rounded concepts, using Jett Butler of Foda Studio for all our graphic design. We have a great project manager and great managers at our restaurants. We have the right people in the right positions, so we can move forward on any project easily. As we get older, we realize the business is about employees and longevity. We have a very generous spirit with our restaurant staff, and we focus on ideas that will last. We don't want to do restaurant concepts that are just trendy. We want them to be just as important 5 years from now.