Downtown retail is taking root on weekends in OKC

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

by Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Retail is not going to work in Oklahoma City’s Central Business District on weekends.  

That’s what has been repeated time and again by store and restaurant owners over the years. Hotel restaurants don’t count in this scenario, nor does anything located in Bricktown and Midtown, which are seen as separate urban destinations.   

Kitchen No. 324, which recently opened in the Braniff Building at 324 N Robinson Avenue, is not exempted from this rule. The building is surrounded by torn-up sidewalks; there is no dedicated surface or structure parking; and the curbside parking is limited to a few spaces amid the chaos.   

The street itself is surrounded by offices, not visitor-friendly venues such as the Myriad Gardens , the Oklahoma City Museum of Art or other draws that might create weekend business for the brave restaurateur or shop owner who would dare to challenge the “rules.”  

Keith and Heather Paul, owners of Red Prime Steakhouse (it’s on Automobile Alley, also exempted), know the rules all too well. Yet they blatantly defied conventional wisdom — and they are hustling to keep up with large crowds filling their new Central Business District restaurant every weekend.   

When I visited with Keith Paul after the first weekend of operation for Kitchen No. 324, he admitted he was as surprised as anybody else by the huge Saturday and Sunday turnout. The crowds were patient as Paul’s crew struggled to keep up with their surprising good fortune.   

Paul, one of the city’s leading restaurant operators (he also owns Tucker’s, Iron Star Barbeque and Cheever’s Cafe), adapted quickly and added brunch when these weekend crowds made it clear they loved breakfast so much at Kitchen No. 324 that they wanted it to be served through the early afternoon on weekends.   

About those ‘rules’
The unwritten “rules” aren’t necessarily nonsense — they were established when downtown’s residential population was limited to just Sycamore Square and Regency Tower, and weekend urban diversions were simply not to be found, especially in the Central Business District.   

Will other retailers follow suit? Downtown’s first grocery, Native Roots Market, 131 NE 2 (in Deep Deuce immediately east of the Central Business District), is open seven days a week, including 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.  

More companies, many of which no longer adhere to a strict Monday-through-Friday workweek, a blossoming residential population and an increasing number of visitors may make the “rules” as obsolete as the notion that all life downtown had to cease after 5 p.m. each workday.