December 7, 2022


World Travel Service

Alexis and Oliver Barbier-Mueller: Constructing an Empire

Alexis and Oliver Barbier-Mueller: Constructing an Empire

The sons of Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, the founder and chairman of Harwood Worldwide and developer of Dallas’ Harwood District, by no means supposed to get into the restaurant enterprise. However they’re now in it—in an enormous approach. Harwood’s hospitality group (which incorporates eating places, catering, and lodges) is one in every of 4 divisions Alexis and Oliver Barbier-Mueller lead as co-presidents of their household’s firm. Additionally they handle its different three formidable verticals: leasing and asset administration, growth and building, and capital markets. Mixed, the Harwood Worldwide teams have about 700 workers.

Gabriel grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. He moved to Dallas in 1979 and commenced creating Harwood District on the western fringe of Uptown within the mid-Eighties. His sons took totally different routes to reach on the similar vacation spot. After graduating from The College of Texas at Austin, Alexis, 39, labored in banking in Switzerland for a number of years, then joined Harwood’s workplace in London. (The corporate additionally has an workplace in Geneva.) In 2012, after two-and-a-half years in England, he returned to Dallas. “We had raised and deployed fairly a bit of cash, a few of it by way of Harwood Worldwide,” Alexis says. “I wished to be again in Dallas and likewise work on among the investments we had performed.”

Oliver, 35, graduated from Texas Christian College after which labored for Vacheron Constantin, a watch firm in Geneva, doing supply-chain administration and managing world gross sales factors and stock. After a bit greater than two years, he returned to Texas and bought a job as an assistant superintendent at a building firm in Fort Value. “I used to be out within the discipline, studying the extra nuts and bolts aspect of growth,” he says. Seeing steep markups on supplies led him to launch a building procurement firm; his father let him take a shot at Harwood District’s newest workplace venture, Frost Tower. “That was my segue into the corporate,” Oliver says. “Then we began doing vertical integration, forming an architectural agency that has grow to be the architect of file for our initiatives. I used to be largely overseeing growth for the primary eight years. Then the previous couple of years or so, Alexis and I’ve stepped as much as head the 4 verticals, co-running operations.”

A Restaurant Power is Born

For years, the one eatery within the Harwood District was Marie Gabrielle Restaurant and Gardens. Developed in 1997, it served as an amenity for the rising tenant base. 13 years later, a second venue was added—Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar, a restoration of a historic schoolhouse that was inbuilt 1927 and sits on the identical tract as Harwood’s Saint Ann Courtroom workplace constructing. Mercat Bistro opened in 2013 on the bottom flooring of Saint Ann Courtroom as a spot for tenants to get European-style espresso and breakfast and lunch fare. 

In the meantime, Harwood developed from an workplace park to extra of a metropolis inside a metropolis. Two residential towers, the 31-story Azure and the 33-story Bleu Ciel, opened in 2007 and 2017, respectively. As a part of the shift, the household doubled down on walkability, security, and inexperienced house, and commenced in search of extra suggestions from tenants and residents about what the district was lacking. 

One tenant mentioned he’d like to have an honest-to-god sports activities bar—a spot to get a burger and a beer. Alexis and Oliver focused some land the corporate was warehousing on the western fringe of the property. It had shut proximity to American Airways Heart and loads of close by parking. They pitched the idea for Happiest Hour, which turned the primary venture they led for his or her father. “When he noticed our concept for concrete flooring, he actually circled and walked out of the assembly, saying, ‘I don’t perceive that,’” Alexis says with a smile. 

How Harwood builds camaraderie amongst its GMs and government cooks.

Alexis Barbier-Mueller and his brother, fellow co-president Oliver Barbier-Mueller, are concerned in design and different idea particulars, they depart most culinary points as much as government cooks. With 10 present venues in a portfolio that’s anticipated to double in dimension by the top of subsequent 12 months, they’ve assembled a expertise pressure. They usually make sure that the leaders have a possibility to be taught from each other. 

Cooks and GMs can evaluate notes resulting from Harwood’s open-book technique.

The brothers use an open-book administration type, the place the cooks and normal managers see all numbers. This enables them to take a look at what their friends are doing in terms of meals pricing, shopping for, hiring methods, and extra, Alexis says. “Everybody works collectively to assist construct the Harwood platform, and there’s enjoyable engagement between the totally different kitchens,” he says. “It creates a way of camaraderie, creativity, and, in some instances, wholesome competitors.” The crew of cooks not too long ago spent 4 days in San Diego, touring the area’s prime eating places and lodges. “All of them got here again dwelling impressed,” Alexis says. “We actually attempt to push and domesticate that.”

The 2-story, 12,000-square-foot venue has an enormous out of doors seating space, a rooftop that overlooks town, and loads of Instagram-worthy settings. The brothers challenged loads of restaurant growth norms, together with per-square-foot construct prices. “As a result of we weren’t from hospitality, we might proceed to ask why and apply logic,” Alexis says. “We have now been in a position to apply what we’ve seen with the residential towers, the opposite eating places, and workplace towers. With that, you seize virtually 24 hours of somebody’s day.”

Happiest Hour opened on Texas-OU weekend in 2015. It was a direct hit, with about 3,000 folks coming by way of its doorways. In 2019, the restaurant and bar attracted greater than 1.2 million folks. It introduced a brand new vibe and crowd—millennials and Gen Z—to Harwood District. And, as one of many highest-grossing bars within the state, it introduced in a complete lot of cash.

A game-changer that far exceeded expectations, it led to a household dialogue about stepping into the restaurant enterprise in a extra formalized, institutional approach, Alexis says. “We mentioned, ‘That is one thing that’s nice for town, it’s nice for buildings, our tenants are joyful, it’s creating visibility, and we’re doing job,” he says. “That’s after we determined to create a hospitality group as a fourth working vertical. Oliver and I develop the ideas and handle the expansion, and we’ve constructed a crew that’s now approaching 800 workers.”

Worldwide Inspiration

Since Happiest Hour, six new eating places have been added within the district. Espresso store and café Magnolias: Sous Le Pont opened in 2015, as did The Grove at Harwood, which additionally offers an outside amenity for tenants and residents. The upscale Dolce Riviera, during which Gabriel took a particular curiosity, opened in 2016. (It not too long ago reopened after closing through the pandemic.) 

Te Deseo, a Latin American restaurant that opened in 2019, is Harwood’s largest venue up to now (14,000 sq. ft) and an idea that turns the wide-open Happiest Hour on its head, with closed-off eating rooms and 4 distinct bars.

The most recent eateries, Harwood Arms and Elephant East, each of which opened final 12 months, kicked off a brand new phase of Harwood District referred to as La Rue Perdue (translated as “the misplaced avenue”). It’s a European-inspired, cobblestone pathway that connects the Harwood No. 4 and No. 10 workplace buildings and Harwood and McKinnon streets. 

Because the restaurant platform has accelerated, it has moved properly past offering facilities. “We have now round 40,000 folks within the district now [residents and tenant employees] and about 40,000 folks per week coming to the eating places,” Oliver says. “It’s enormous for us as a result of we’re working to guarantee that issues aren’t closed to the district. We are attempting to make it straightforward to get right here.” 

He and Alexis are disciples of a ebook referred to as Completely satisfied Metropolis by Charles Montgomery, which promotes the idea of sparking happiness by way of city design. “An enormous a part of it’s entry factors,” Oliver says. “So, we’re including a brand new drop-off alongside McKinnon Road for Harwood No. 4, just like the drop-off in entrance of Happiest Hour, to make it simpler for folks to get in and park and valet. We’re additionally taking vehicles off Harwood Road to make it extra pedestrian-friendly.”

Whereas others took a pause through the pandemic, the Harwood crew pushed ahead. They’ve a definite benefit; they management their very own land and financing. 

Harwood Arms, a London-style pub, is among the many platform’s most activated venues, with programming hits like live-band karaoke, sports activities watching events, and a enjoyable “Wheel of Misfortune.” A Saint Patrick’s Day celebration closed Harwood Road and attracted greater than 1,000 folks. The success of the activations has led the Barbier-Muellers to not too long ago rent a crew to deal with occasions—festivals, music performances, and the like—all through the district. Harwood Arms attracts a wildly numerous crowd, with CEOs stopping in for lunch, {couples} displaying up for brunches and date nights, and school alumni for sports-watching events. “We have now been shocked by the clientele,” Oliver says. “It’s like an SMU bar on Saturday evening.”

Elephant East sits inside La Rue Perdue on McKinnon Road. Impressed by the household’s love of Asian fare, the design idea modified when the squad took a visit to Santa Fe and visited an antiques vendor. “He had this large elephant out entrance, and we found he had warehouses filled with stuff—partitions and doorways and arches from Pakistan, the Center East, and Southeast Asia,” Oliver says. “We flew again with our inside design crew and did like an American Pickers factor. Every little thing was measured on website. The elephant bought our speedy consideration, so we mentioned, ‘OK. Let’s deliver the elephant right here and get folks’s consideration.’”

As with all Harwood initiatives, Elephant East will get its inspiration from the household’s intensive worldwide experiences. The thought for the crimson bamboo gardens that encompass the elephant was taken from a chateau south of France. “It additionally bookends the crimson of Harwood Arms,” Alexis explains. “It’s a option to deliver consideration and vitality and invite folks into La Rue Perdue.”

Doubling in Dimension

Over the following 15 months, Harwood Hospitality Group will go from 10 to twenty ideas. Up first is a pizza and martini joint referred to as Poco Fiasco, set to make its debut this fall. It can embrace an outsized bar and a walk-up counter the place folks can seize a slice and go. It is going to be adopted subsequent spring by a big cantina with entry to the Katy Path opening on the northern finish of the district. Two ideas can be added to Harwood’s newest workplace constructing, No. 14, and a number of other can be housed inside a brand new 22-story lodge that’s opening in 2023. The Barbier-Muellers describe it as “taking a NY city block and inverting it on its Y axis.”

Harwood is also stepping into the retail recreation. A small market inside La Rue Perdue will supply gelato, sandwiches, and snacks. Patrons may buy wine by the bottle, espresso grounds, and sauces from Harwood eating places similar to Dolce Riviera. “It is going to be like a mini Harwood pantry,” Alexis says.

Having an enormous variety of venues inside one neighborhood permits the corporate to reap the benefits of economies of scale. It additionally offers in-house studying and progress alternatives for workers; it’s common for cooks, servers, and even company employees to pursue their pursuits and shift to new roles and types. This has helped give Harwood an edge in retaining and attracting workers, together with prime cooks. “The Dallas market is extraordinarily aggressive, and there was a flight of expertise to Dallas on the culinary aspect,” Oliver says. “We’ve gotten a complete lot of cooks from New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and California. It has allowed us to raise our requirements and expectations—as a result of we’ve got to. Dallas’ tastes and preferences and stage of sophistication on the culinary aspect is skyrocketing.”

Staff additionally just like the safety Harwood can supply, with its many venues and built-in tenant and resident base, particularly in an business that’s not particularly recognized for longevity. Alexis says he and his household are in it for retains. “Our marketing strategy is a generational one,” he says. “We’ll be within the restaurant and hospitality enterprise for many years and generations to come back, identical to we can be in growth and building and asset administration and capital markets. That helps us when individuals are on the lookout for consistency. It’s stability. They know we’re going to be right here.”

A Number of Tastes and Venues

From espresso retailers to high quality eating, Harwood District is dwelling to 10 eating places. That quantity is predicted to double in 2023.


Marie Gabrielle Restaurant and Gardens. Surrounded by a lush, 1.5-acre greenspace and tree allee, it serves breakfast and lunch and does a bustling marriage ceremony and occasions enterprise.


Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar. Preserved and transformed from a 1927 schoolhouse, it serves New American dishes and options expansive patio shaded by a tree cover. 


Mercat Bistro. A modern espresso store and restaurant, it’s recognized for pastries and French specialties. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has a preferred weekend brunch. 


Happiest Hour. This two-story venue was a game-changer within the district’s nightlife scene. It provides rooftop views, out of doors seating, and a signature dish: the Nacho Tower.


Magnolias: Sous Le Pont. A quaint gathering place that serves craft coffees and breakfast and lunch fare, it has grow to be a preferred spot for many who wish to work remotely.

The Magnolias Sous Le Pont


The Grove at Harwood. A dog-friendly out of doors house billed because the “final yard,” it options snacks and cocktails, picnic tables and hammocks, and volleyball and bocce ball courts.

The Grover Exterior


Dolce Riviera. Impressed by the Italian Riviera, this in style high quality eating restaurant has been drawing crowds since not too long ago reopening, after shuttering through the pandemic for an overhaul.


Te Deseo. The stylish Latin American eatery contains a collection of distinctive eating rooms, 4 bars, and a rooftop that overlooks town. At 14,000 sq. ft, it’s Harwood’s largest idea up to now. 


Harwood Arms. This London-style pub attracts everybody from Gen Z to Fortune 100 CEOs. Its programming consists of live-band karaoke, trivia evening, and soccer and soccer watch events.


Elephant East. A pan-Asian restaurant and lounge impressed by tradition and delicacies from Bangkok to Bali, its beautiful décor is anchored by vintage wooden carvings, columns, and doorways.


Christine Perez

Christine Perez

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Christine is the editor of D CEO journal and its on-line platforms. She’s a nationwide award-winning enterprise journalist who has…