While it may be crowded on game nights and during concerts, Victory Park is one of Dallas’s less-frequented neighborhoods. Although the district houses the American Airlines Center, a WFAA news station, and Happiest Hour bar, the action in Victory Park is relatively low compared to that of Dallas’s other neighborhoods. A few restaurant owners, including Kent Rathbun, owner of Imoto, are hoping to help boost the nightlife action over in Victory Park.
Imoto, a sushi and pan-Asian restaurant, was the first of several restaurants to open in Victory Park, over a year after a revamp of the neighborhood was proposed.
It is Imoto’s sixth day in business at the time of this interview, and so far, Rathbun feels that opening Imoto in Victory Park was a good investment made.
“The people revamping this entire Victory Park district approached us and asked if we’d want to open a restaurant down here,” Rathbun says. “At first, we were a little bit reluctant about opening here, but the more we heard about what was happening and what was coming and seeing who was signing, we decided that this is where we want to be.”
Rathbun describes the first few days of operation as “eerily phenomenal.”
“I’m not even talking about the size of the crowds, or about the money we’ve pulled in,” Rathbun says, “I’m talking about the performance of our staff, the performance of our kitchen, and the response from our guests.”
Rathburn then emphasizes the importance of starting slow and gradually picking up the pace.
“Right now, it’s not about being packed to the brim, it’s not about bringing in a huge amount of revenue,” Rathbun says, “it’s about creating an environment that everyone likes and in which everyone feels comfortable. I don’t care how good of a restaurant you are; if you start off at 100 miles per hour, you’re going to fall on your face.”
This philosophy can also be tied back to the process of creating and opening the restaurant. It took Rathbun nearly two decades to achieve his desired aesthetic and atmosphere.
“When I first was researching concepts for another restaurant of mine, Abacus, back in 1998, I went to a restaurant called Buddha Bar in Paris, France,” Rathbun says. “It was a restaurant that featured sushi and pan-Asian food. The cool thing about this restaurant is that it had a vibe I would never forget. Ever since, I’ve been trying to recreate that vibe. Abacus came very close, but Abacus was more world cuisine.”
Rathbun, having worked exclusively in the hospitality industry since the young age of 14, can attest to this fact. Despite not having trained in a culinary arts program, he considers himself very to have learned under the mentors he worked with in the early beginnings of his career.
“I have no formal degree in culinary arts,” Rathbun says. “I am sort of just a product of working in really good restaurants with really good chefs. I don’t use the term ‘self-trained’ specifically because I’m not self-trained. I’ve been fortunate to work with fantastic chefs in fantastic restaurants and just pay attention.”
Despite taking immense pride in his work, Rathbun still has his eyes set on the bigger picture.
“Obviously, we want to be successful, but the real bottom line is to be part of bringing this district back to life,” Rathbun says. “If that happens, everyone wins. We’re just a piece of the puzzle here. But if that piece of the puzzle fits and that puzzle eventually turns out to be one of the hottest districts in Dallas, which I think it will be, then we’ve done our job.”
Imoto is currently open for dinner in Victory Park. For information on menu items, hours, and specials, visit imotodallas.com