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For many years, every high-end hotel had to have a great restaurant.
“Hotel restaurants by their very nature were kind of the social center of any city,” says John Williams, president of Williams and Associates Hospitality. “Everyone went to those places to celebrate, for a business deal or a special occasion, and many of those had a great chef.”
But not always. Many customers these days are generally hotel guests who eat there out of necessity, or because they are unfamiliar with other options. While many such eateries feature regional fare, Williams says they often are unremarkable. He says in the late 1970s and ’80s, many hotel restaurants lost their luster and appeal.
“Over time, hotel restaurants became more generic and more expensive,” he says.
Williams wants to change that perception, stating a distinct difference exists between a hotel restaurant and a restaurant housed in a hotel. When planning for the Colcord, which his company operates for Devon Energy, the answer is Flint, a casual restaurant featuring contemporary American cuisine.
“We wanted it to be approachable, like a local restaurant that just happened to be in a hotel,” he says.
Williams and his team also oversee food, beverage and catering operations in Devon’s rotunda and the top two floors of the 50-story tower. With decades of experience managing hotels, and reopening the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in 2007, Williams and chef Andrew Black set to work on a restaurant space on the ground floor of the Colcord. Since that hotel opened in the historic Colcord building in 2006, it has housed two restaurants under different ownership and a limited-service restaurant in the months before reopening in May as Flint.
One of the first things Williams knew needed to be done involved restaurant access. Previously, the main entrance was through the hotel lobby.
Williams, working with Gensler, the design firm for Devon’s projects, decided to renovate the entire space and add a street entrance. He says they could think of no better place than the corner facing Robinson and Sheridan avenues. The entrance was meant to attract street traffic and draw diners from the newly renovated Myriad Botanical Gardens across the street, and foot traffic to and from Oklahoma City Thunder basketball games.
“That entrance and visibility will help us immensely as we continue to grow this restaurant,” he says.
Inside, the restaurant includes dark hardwood floors, unfinished concrete and wood on the walls, a lengthy fireplace, a glass cube that can be closed off for private dining, and a bar overlooking the patio, toward the gardens. The bar was designed to serve a dual purpose throughout the day and into the evening.
“It’s tough to have a bar that works for breakfast,” Williams says.
He wanted a bar that would not only function in the evenings, but be a place where early diners could belly up for coffee, breakfast and, perhaps, conversation. Rather than bury the bar in a dark corner, it sits near the south side, which allows light to flood in.
While many establishments are only open until 8 p.m. or so, Flint serves dinner until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The bar generally stays open until about 1:30 a.m., and has a limited menu during those hours.
“We know there are people Downtown staying at other hotels and involved in other activities who want to eat late,” he says.
Williams and Black oversee the
operation, but Flint is led by Executive Chef Kyle Cowan. From the whimsical “field guide” menu to the actual selections, the focus is on high-quality food that is familiar, but with a bit of flair.
“We focus on what there is to discover in food, rather than what we already know,” Cowan says. “The unique flavor profiles in food are best experienced when you use fresh, quality ingredients. At Flint, we have taken a simple and direct approach to cooking, and we use the best ingredients available.”
Some of those include fish from Foley Fish, an exclusive seafood distributor in Boston; Italian gourmet coffee Illy; and products from Oklahoma as they become available and are in season.
Williams’ goal is to make Flint an inviting, fun, affordable and accessible place where the community comes together.
“It’s the kind of place you want to be,” he says.
Photos by Shannon Cornman