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Catching up With Tristan Simon

DMagazine
Written by: Nancy Nichols

I remember the first time I met Triston Simon. He was a young whippersnapper who’d been in Dallas for a short time, but he’d already captured the attention of some major restaurateurs. Gene Street and Steve Hartnett had tapped Simon, then 23, to oversee the first 18,000-square foot Cool River project in Irving. That was a million years ago  in restaurant years. In real time it’s only been 18 years.

Simon was building Cuba Libre, his first restaurant on Henderson. We chatted for hours. He’s a deep thinker and a philosopher. Four hours later, I emerged with a brain  full of details on his vision to revive Henderson. In 2002, after Simon opened the chic private club Sense, I wrote a long feature on him. He was mesmerizing. Nobody in Dallas was thinking or talking like him. I wrote:

And across the bamboo floor comes the mysterious, underdressed, tall blond man responsible for it all. He walks slowly through a sea of congratulatory backslaps and handshakes. Gorgeous women kiss his cheeks. He is Tristan Simon, the New Age-talking, good-looking owner of Sense and Cuba Libre. Seven years ago, Simon blew into town with a bundle of energy, an intoxicating vocabulary, and a series of sales pitches that would have brought Zig Ziglar to tears. Inspired by a Time magazine cover story he read in the ninth grade about legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, Simon now counts Pickens as a friend and major investor.

Over the next 12 years, Simon opened The Porch, Hibiscus, Victor Tangos, Alma, Fireside Pies—all with Nick Badovinus by his side. They formed Consilient Restaurant Group. Simon entered into a business arrangement with Dallas billionaire Tim Headington to open and operated CBD Provisions and A F+ B. In July 2014, he sold his stake in Consilient to Headinton, resigned as CEO, and left town.

In May 2016, he returned to Dallas with a new company called Rebees. Simon’s new business has formed a venture with Victory Park’s retail partner Trademark Company to assist them with food and beverage programming thoughout Victory Park. And, other than bumping into to him at Town Hearth a couple of months ago, I haven’t heard a peep from him. Let’s see what he’s up to.

Welcome back to Dallas. You certainly made a big mark on the restaurant scene here. You left in 2014. Where did you go and what did you do?
After selling out of Consilient I went to Iceland for a while, on a walkabout of sorts, where I spent time sifting through my life experience and considering what it all meant. Then I lost my mom, which was very hard and required a lot of time to work through. Somewhere in there I started a real estate business called Rebees, which is off to a strong start, although our projects are mostly elsewhere. It’s been nice to operate off the Dallas radar for a bit.

You once told me you were allergic to authority. How’s that condition at this point in your career?
What I’m really opposed to is violation of my sovereignty but it can be hard to distinguish that from an allergy to authority. In any case, the die is fully cast and I now avoid environments that aren’t oxygen-rich.

What lured you back to Dallas?
My many close friends here, along with a desire to keep contributing to the cultural development of the city. It’s also nice to create in a market where the economic winds are firmly at your back.

Is Rebees still involved with Victory Park?
Highly involved. We’ve teamed up with Trademark to shape a new food and beverage identity for the district and have recently recruited a host of terrific local restaurateurs to the project. We’re also a major tenant and plan to open a trio of businesses there early next year –- namely a co-working concept, a retail store, and a restaurant. Victory is going through a rather dramatic reconstitution right now that many people don’t see coming. It’s going to be a lot of fun down there soon.

What other projects has Rebees been working on?
We helped design-concept several boutique hotel brands in the last few years. We’re partners with Bayer Properties in an exciting new retail project in Lexington, Kentucky called The Summit at Fritz Farm, where we helped execute the food and beverage strategy and developed a killer food hall. We’re working with Centennial Real Estate to reimagine a major mall in Orange County. And we recently formed a partnership with Open Realty to develop an ambitious mixed-use project outside Washington DC – an endeavor that will occupy us for many years to come.

On a personal note, I never thought of you as cuddly dog person. I hear you’ve been puppy-whipped?
The rumor is true. I have two absurdly engaging French Bulldogs that make bad days hard to have. More importantly, I just got engaged to the best person I know – my incredible fiancée Jennifer.

You’re still great friends with Nick Badovinus. That kind of bond usually breaks in the restaurant business. How did you guys survive?
We built an exceptional friendship during the years that we worked together at Consilient and were smart enough not to trash it over business dealings or ego. We also learned that we could trust one another when it counted.

This is a dumb question, but I’m not above asking it. A lot of restaurants opened in Dallas during your absence. Which ones do you think do a good job?
There are many but I particularly love Town Hearth, Montlake Cut, Sprezza, Gemma, Ten, Small Brewpub, and BBBop. I haven’t been to Flora Street or Sassetta yet, but my sense is they’re both excellent. Looking ahead, I’m particularly excited about Bruno Davaillon’s new brasserie, the reopening of the French Room under Chef Michael Ehlert, and the Chinese-American restaurant that Elias Pope is doing with Chef Kirstyn Brewer.

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