Austin’s best Japanese restaurant Uchi is growing with a brand new restaurant, the casual Asian smokehouse Loro. Partnering with James Beard Award-winning chef Tyson Cole and the rest of the Hai Hospitality group is skilled pitmaster, Aaron Franklin.
Franklin’s involvement makes sense, since Loro’s focus is on smoked meats, from brisket to pork ribs to fish to house-made sausages. The casual restaurant will make use of counter service too. It’s expected to open sometime in late winter or early spring, perhaps February or March of 2018.
“Loro’s goal is not to be a five-star restaurant,” Cole explained. “It’s not fine dining. What it is supposed to be is fun, familiar, delicious, craveable, somewhere you want to go once a week, but make it new, something sustainable.”
“Restaurant success isn’t about being a flash in the pan, the best new place,” Cole added. “It’s about being open for ten years. That’s our goal.”
In the meantime, Hai, which already oversees five Texas restaurants (Uchi in Austin, Dallas, and Houston; Uchiko in Austin; and Top Knot in Dallas), is growing with another Uchi expansion, its first ever outside of the state into Denver, Colorado.
Eater sat down with Hai Hospitality: Cole, founding partner Daryl Kunik, president John Baydale, and CEO Tony Montero, to talk about the development of Loro, what the restaurant will entail, and the group’s expansion plans.
What Inspired Loro
Hai Hospitality had been thinking about Loro for the past seven years, in an attempt to step outside of the Japanese sushi box. Barbecue seemed like a worthy path, and a particular trip to Rudy’s Bar-B-Que inspired Cole:
“The customer service is so awesome there,” he said. The staff is “all happy and great; they’re cutting meat for you [and asking] ‘How’s this? Does this look good?’”
Cole saw a similarity between barbecue and Uchi, where they also “cut everything to order, but it’s fish.”
What Will Appear on Loro’s Menus
Loro isn’t meant to become a traditional Texas barbecue joint. Cole knows his and his chefs’ strengths lie in Asian flavors and techniques. “We’re going to make things that are very familiar but unique, and what no one else has done before,” he said, as “an homage to barbecue.”
Rounding out the Loro team with Franklin and Cole is chef Jack Yoss, who opened Uchiko and worked at W Hotel's restaurant Fire in Indonesia. He cooked up an Indonesian barbecue at Uchi Houston with sambals, and Cole can see bringing that over to Loro.
“Brisket is the elephant in the room,” Cole said, and he cedes control of that particular smoked meat over to Franklin since he’s the expert. “We’re not going to serve brisket the same way he serves it at Franklin proper,” he explained. “We want to make sure that Loro isn’t Franklin Barbecue.”
The menu won’t be expansive, so the staff can focus on the quality of the food and service. “I’m only worried about consistency, execution, and timing,” said Cole.
The food format is still being worked on, like whether meats will be served by the pound or by the plate. Brisket might be available only during certain times of the day, or on specific days.
Hai’s beverage director Chris Melton will oversee the drinks program. It will be casual as well, with beers, wines, and sake on tap. There will be some cocktails, but Baydale warns that it’s “not a mixologist bar.” Fun perk: there will be sake slushies.
How Franklin Joined Loro
Kunik floated the idea of doing something with Franklin a while ago, but nothing ever coalesced until recently.
“I didn’t ever think it would become a reality,” Cole said, “because Franklin is like this demigod, best pitmaster ever.” He still wanted to tell him about the idea, more as a barbecue head’s up than anything else.
During their lunch meeting, Cole explained the concept, and Franklin immediately started asking questions. “His eyes lit up a little bit,” Cole described.
“Franklin wants to do something new,” Cole said, “and Loro presents him with that opportunity.”
How Loro Will Work
While the restaurant is counter-service, it will emphasize high-end service. Guests will place their orders at the bar from any of the five lines. Customers will find their own seats, and staff will bring them their food. Additional orders will have to be made at the bar.
To-go orders will become part of Loro’s future after it opens, with a separate line and entrance, with an online ordering system to come. There will be an online ordering system eventually.
Behind Loro’s Design
Loro’s building, designed by architect Michael Hsu, is meant to resemble a Texas dance hall with the wide expansive ground-level floor, angled roof, and large windows.
The patio contains multiple layers, with a kid-friendly gravel portion which will include swings, games, and rocking chairs.
Hai worked with Vancouver designer Craig Stanghetta for a simple interior design with an emphasis on textures and lights.
On Uchi Denver and Hai Hospitality's Future National Expansions
While Hai is working on Loro, the restaurant group is also opening a fourth Uchi and first non-Texas one in Denver.
“We want to show that we can do it outside of Texas,” said Baydale. He noted the similarities between the Austin and Denver, especially when it came down to the welcoming restaurant community.
“We’re going to be very careful with our growth,” Montero said. They had spent a lot of time in Denver before they decided to bring Uchi to the city. It’s about finding the right fit with the restaurant communities.
Hai explored other cities for potential expansions, and haven’t ruled out bigger cities like Miami, Chicago, and New York, as well as other Texas cities. Hai does want to expand more, especially as a way of giving its staff and managers opportunities to grow, as well as bring their food to other guests.
“We want to get local as quickly as possible,” Cole said. The restaurant will take advantage of a nearby garden and rooftop greenhouse. He pointed to the success of Colorado-based brunch chain Snooze, which opened two already-busy restaurants in Austin, with a third on the way.
Uchi Denver is set to open in early 2018 as well.
- Aaron Franklin Joins Uchi’s New Asian Smokehouse Restaurant [EATX]
- 5 Things to Know About Uchi’s Upcoming Asian Smokehouse [EATX]
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- All Coverage of Loro [EATX]