Wearing a blazer and a silk neckerchief on a weekday afternoon, Duro Hospitality co-founder Chas Martin explains the keywords that drive his luxury hospitality group’s newest concept, Mister Charles. With a “maximalist” interior design (contributing to the $10 million dollar buildout), and a menu of “irreverent” twists on French and Italian classics, Mister Charles is Duro Hospitality’s way of “turning things up,” Martin says. An irreverent menu means something more “fun and electric” than the usual mashed potatoes and spinach, like pommes aligot with Comté cheese and creamed spinach studded with bulbs of earthy black garlic.
Since opening this summer, Mister Charles has been one of Dallas’s hardest-to-score reservations, and sometimes, that means drama. However, from his first hospitality job as a host at Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse to later working the door at Duro Hospitality’s first Italian-ish restaurant, The Charles, Martin is a maestro when it comes to handling front door dilemmas. He’s a strong believer of “leading from the door,” as he calls it, because it’s an inflection point of everything good or bad that can happen in a restaurant. It also offers a front row seat to the moving parts of a restaurant that symphonically come together each night.
In this edition of The One Who Keeps the Book, Martin shares all you need to know about how to get a table at Mister Charles. “We are in a big city, and that means you have to plan a little ahead,“ he says, but with flexibility and patience (and maybe a couple of drinks at the bar, like his favorites, the Tequila- and Aperol-based Crime of Passion or an espresso martini with añejo Tequila), anyone can experience Highland Park’s most stunning and glamorous new restaurant.
Resy: How many seats are there at Mister Charles?
Martin: When we opened the restaurant, we realized what we did right, and we realized what we did wrong. As we move things around, the whole joint sits about 170 people, if you count everything — the bar, mezzanine, and patio. But it depends on the configuration. Right now, we’re in the process of analyzing where we may have made some mistakes and re-doing some seating areas. But give or take, 170.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
30 days in advance.
How quickly do seats get booked out?
Within a few days. Now, could you look 20 days from now and pick up a 5 p.m.? Probably. And could you look 20 days from now and pick up a 10 p.m.? Probably. But the core time that most people want to dine goes quickly — within a day or two.
Are any of the seats in the restaurant held for walk-ins?
We don’t technically hold seats for walk-ins. However, we try to do a good job of accommodating walk-ins when we can. We are not a nightclub. We do not need to make the line look long for cachet. If someone walks in, and we got a spot for them, we want to serve them dinner. Being the hardest seat to get in town is an honor, but if I can’t show new customers what we do, I can’t make new friends and regulars.
What time would you recommend stopping by to snag one of the walk-in seats?
There’s two ways: One, the earlier the better. The doors open at 4:30. The bar seats are first come, first served. There are days that by 4:31, the bar is full. Other days, it’s 5:30. When we opened, it was like a bunch of kids at a music festival trying to get through the gates first. It was wild — and really neat to see.
The other answer to that question is flexibility. Rather than me telling you how I think you should do it at Mister Charles, I’ll tell you how I do it when I travel abroad. Maybe I have some connections to get into some cool places — I’m in the business; I have friends, whatever. And, I may not. What I do, I walk in and say, “Hey, I’m in no rush. I need a reservation for three tonight. I’ll wait as long as you want me to, and I’m gonna go to the bar. Here’s my name and number.”
When are your busiest nights?
We are so blessed. We are as busy at 6 p.m. on Saturday as we are at 6 p.m. on Monday. Now, will there be a few more people by the bar on a Saturday than Monday? Yes. But overall, we’re busy. We’re full every night of the week.
This is an amazing time for Dallas, Texas … For my lifetime, this will be Dallas’ golden era.— Duro Hospitality co-founder Chas Martin
When is prime time? Are there certain days when there’s a better chance to get a prime-time reservation?
Obviously Monday is less sought after than Saturday, but it really depends on what cancellation becomes available. Just like everyone else, we have cancellations. We’re the hardest seat in town right now, and it’s a huge blessing. But, a few days out, especially on Saturdays, 10% to 15% of parties cancel, and we refill them with the notification list.
How long is your Notify list?
It depends on the day. On the weekends, I’ve seen it as close to 1,500 to 2,000.
[Flabbergasted journalist] For that one day?
On a Friday or Saturday, that’s correct. I’m as fascinated by it as you are. I’m not bragging. I’m saying it in awe. This is Big City s***, mama.
Holy moly, are there any other tricks to getting seated?
Just the obvious things: Flexibility and being nice.
Can you share a good story that’s gone down at the door?
I’ve not lived at the front door of Mister Charles like I did at The Charles, where I ran the front door for the majority of the two years before COVID. But I’ve seen everything: From the conversations you have to have with the lady with a dog in her purse, to people that have booked the wrong restaurant, to people that had four in their party, and now have seven, and expect you to figure it out. On the flip side, you see the nicest, most generous, and patient people. You see all of it. I choose to believe in humanity, so I feel like I have less nightmare stories than most because I see the good in people.
What are your favorite dishes at Mister Charles?
It depends. They’re like children to me. One day, I want beef carpaccio. The next day, I might want something different. I think the canapés are really fun, and I think they’re a difference-maker for us. The lamb “wellie,” as I call it, or the lamb Wellington, is so much fun and encompasses everything that touches your soul, with the awesome housemade puff pastry, the sausage, the lamb, the sauce. It just does everything for me.
Do you have anything in the works for the future?
Yes, absolutely, but nothing for at least a year. We’ve had some cool opportunities that we either declined or pushed back because we needed to focus on getting Mister Charles in the right place. Our company has four incredible restaurants that deserve our attention. So, for the next six to nine months, we want to focus on making sure they’re getting our attention, and that we’re helping the people in those restaurants grow, while also setting up the company for its next phase of growth.
Is there anything else you want to share?
This is an amazing time for Dallas, Texas — really, for the whole Metroplex. For my lifetime, this will be Dallas’s golden era. Sooner rather than later, we’re going to become the third largest Metroplex in the country. Big national restaurant companies are poking around in Dallas. Anyone growing out of their original cities wants to be in Dallas. I can’t repeat it, but I heard a name yesterday that’s the crème de la crème in London that wants to be in Dallas. And so that alone is a sign that there’s a lot of believers in what we’re doing down here.
We could go on about all the corporate relocations — Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Chase — but man, this is a special time for Dallas. And as a consumer, I’m thrilled that these people are coming. And, I love the big guy as much as I love the little guy, by the way. There are some little guys that aren’t in my neighborhood that I don’t see very often, but that’s part of a cool restaurant scene.
You have to have the Major Food Groups, the mom and pops, the one-off, the guy who was a line cook at some cool restaurant in Napa who moved because his mom’s here, whatever — you need that, too. And I’m excited for Dallas, that both of these are happening.
Amanda Albee is a Dallas-based food and drinks writer whose work has appeared in Texas Monthly, The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, Chron, Thrillist, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Resy, too.