Over a holiday meal at Elway's a year and a half ago, One Republic lead singer and now Grammy-winning producer Ryan Tedder was telling his family about Southern Hospitality, the Manhattan restaurant started by Justin Timberlake; Tedder had jumped on board when a second location opened in Hell's Kitchen. "Ryan indicated to us that it is doing extremely well," explains Gary Tedder, Ryan's father. "People walk away with that feeling that when you're here, you're home. He said, 'I'd love to do one of these in Denver. I have all of these artists and friends asking me for recommendations, and I'd like to send them to my restaurant.' I grinned and raised my hand and said, 'I'll be your first investor.'"
So the pair negotiated the rights and formed Southern Hospitality Franchisee Holding Corp. (Gary is president), and began drawing up plans for thirty restaurants across the country, the first of which is slated to go into the 116-year-old St. Elmo building on the corner of 17th and Blake streets in LoDo.
Gary wants it to be clear that this is not just another celebrity restaurant. "We are going to create the greatest restaurant collection of the social-media age," he says. "We've assembled an extraordinary A-team to accomplish that. With Ryan and Justin having such an impact on the entertainment world, I don't want to have anyone misconstrue our agenda: We're the opposite of a celebrity-driven model like Planet Hollywood."
Rather, Gary explains, his son wants to apply a less-is-more strategy, creating a platform that will convince a fan base to make Southern Hospitality its "third place" after home and work because it delivers "the ultimate customer experience through great food, great service and great ambience."
He's also clear on what he hopes the Southern Hospitality brand will represent: "I grew up in the South," Gary explains. "My home was always open to visiting friends and neighbors; my mom published a cookbook and taught hospitality classes. It was woven into the fabric of our lives. We're creating that feeling, and we want people to embrace it: When you're here, you're home."
The company will start construction soon on the LoDo project, which Gary says is modeled after the Hell's Kitchen store. "We want our restaurant to be the welcome mat for Denver," he explains, adding that the design will preserve the character of the building. "We'll have an interior that is outfitted with reclaimed barnwood -- some going back to the Civil War era -- industrial lighting and turn-of-the century trappings. It'll be a really cool place." It'll also feature a bourbon room with fifty varieties of bourbon, a VIP entrance and private dining room -- meant to lure in local professional and college athletes -- and outdoor patio dining for forty people.
The menu is under the control of Vic Matthews, a North Carolina native who spent time in New Orleans kitchens, including that of Emeril Lagasse. The restaurant will offer dishes culled from a variety of BBQ-centric regions: Memphis-style spareribs, pulled pork and pulled chicken, collard greens with ham hock, cheddar cheese grits, crawfish and cheddar hush puppies, chicken and waffles. And there will be more unexpected items, like fish tacos, Philly cheesesteak egg rolls, red velvet cheesecake and a waffle sundae. Because Matthews is well-versed in many regional barbecue traditions, they're also toying with the idea of creating a barbecue flight showcasing assorted dishes alongside different bourbons and beers.
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And naturally, Southern Hospitality will feature live music. "We're not going to be a Bluebird Theater, but we will encourage local artists to perform," says Gary. "We'll have a small stage and mostly acoustic sets. We hope that Ryan and One Republic will occasionally appear there and perhaps people that they know in the industry. It won't be karaoke; it will be a legitimate showcase opportunity."
Ultimately, the Tedders hope Southern Hospitality will appeal to everyone from "the college student to great granddad," says Gary, who adds that they're anticipating crowds for lunch, happy hour, dinner and late-night socializing. "We want everyone that comes to Southern Hospitality to walk away and say, 'This is now part of my story.'"
Although the opening date is not concrete, Gary says they're shooting for mid-October. And if all goes well, they'll look at Austin and Nashville as their next markets.