Daily photos by John Godbey|
Geoffrey Slate, left, and Alan Dobbs, who are originally from Hartselle, are co-owners of Icon Restaurant & Bar, the signature restaurant at the newly renovated Tutwiler Hotel in downtown Birmingham.
the evolution of icon restaurant & bar
Hartselle natives open upscale eatery in newly renovated Birmingham hotel
By Danielle Komis
You don’t have to come from the big city to know how to appeal to the big city.
Hartselle transplants Alan Dobbs and Geoffrey Slate demonstrate that with downtown Birmingham’s Icon Restaurant and Bar, which will be unveiled Thursday at its grand opening. Icon is the signature restaurant of the newly renovated Tutwiler Hotel.
Dobbs and Slate, co-owners of Birmingham’s award-winning Restaurant G, closed G in August to open Icon.
Dobbs, who grew up on a Hartselle farm, said his parents are still not sure how he ended up in the upscale restaurant business.
“My father would be the first to tell you ‘I don’t know where Alan got how he dresses or how he knows about foie gras yet also knows how to birth a cow,’ ” he said, laughing. “It’s an interesting combination.”
Hartselle High alumni
Though Slate and Dobbs hadn’t seen each other for 25 years, they reconnected five years ago through a mutual friend who knew they were both in the restaurant business.
The newly renovated Tutwiler Hotel in downtown Birmingham.
Slate happened to be looking for someone to manage his new venture — Restaurant G — and Dobbs was looking to start a new job in the restaurant industry. He’d moved to Birmingham several years before to manage the newly opened Copper Grill. Several years before that, he managed Princeton’s Restaurant in Decatur.
Though the two had been only casual acquaintances at Hartselle High School, they hit it off when Dobbs interviewed for the position. Not long after a 20-minute chat, the two were ready to go into business together.
“We kind of had the same idea of how things should be,” Slate said.
A common vision
The two envisioned a restaurant that would not only appeal to business travelers at the hotel, but also would make locals feel at home.
Their central location in downtown Birmingham near the courthouse, library, businesses and downtown apartments has already made the restaurant successful with both groups. Icon unofficially opened at the end of March, nine months after the idea was hatched.
“We’re becoming the neighborhood restaurant for downtown,” Slate said.
They expect about 800 people for Icon’s invitation-only grand opening Thursday, which will feature food and drink stations, tours of the restaurant and hotel and a live band.
The chic, modern look of Icon, designed by Slate and Dobbs and carried out by Birmingham’s Hendon + Huckestein Architects, makes guests feel as if they are in Chicago or New York City.
At the front of the restaurant, a sleek, well-stocked bar greets diners. Dobbs and Slate pride themselves on their unique cocktails and diverse wine list that consistently won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at Restaurant G.
Near the bar, a metal spiral staircase leads down to a street-level side door. Floor-to-ceiling curtains throughout the restaurant in golds and browns offer diners privacy, while fresh lilies in vases attached to the walls brighten the interior.
The partners invested $1 million in the restaurant and have been practically sleeping there since the project began nine months ago.
Hartselle native Geoffrey Slate, co-owner of Icon Restaurant & Bar, says he didn’t think about becoming a chef until later in life.
“It has been like giving birth,” Dobbs said.
Though Slate came from a family that grew its fruits and vegetables in large family gardens, foraged for wild edibles like berries, wild plums and nuts, and hunted for duck, quail and rabbit, he didn’t think about becoming a chef until much later in his life.
“Growing up in a rural Southern town in the ’60s and ’70s, it never really occurred to me that I could actually become a chef,” he said.
So Slate went the practical route and majored in chemical engineering in college. While in school, he became a server part time and grew so enamored with the industry he began researching culinary schools. He finally settled on New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt.
“When I got to culinary school, it felt like I was home,” he said.
Drawn back in
Like Slate, Dobbs also slowly found his way to the restaurant industry after working as a stockbroker, an executive assistant to General Electric CEO Jack Welch and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.
“I always found myself around the restaurant business regardless of what my career was,” he said.
Bill Dobbs, Dobbs’ father who still lives in Hartselle, said he is not surprised his son has made it so far in the restaurant industry.
The footrest at Icon’s bar is made from an old railroad track.
“Alan has always been very creative,” he said. “He flourishes a lot better where he can create and see things that need to be changed. He’s very, very visionary. This is the kind of role that fits his talents.”
For both men, opening the restaurant has allowed them to keep dreaming and stay on the cutting edge.
“The main focus is to do something Birmingham had never seen before,” Dobbs said.
Icon specializes in contemporary Southern cuisine with Asian and French influences. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also handles room service, catering and banquets at the hotel.
Dinner entrees include tea seared duck breast with bamboo rice, baby glazed turnips, baby bok choi and mushrooms and bone in rib eye with roasted fingerlings, cabernet sauvignon jus and braised escarole.
Ice cream enthusiasts will be delighted with Icon’s homemade ice creams, such as brown sugar candied ginger ice cream and Kir Royale sorbet, named after the drink made of champagne and Chambord.
Lunch entrees range from $12 to $18. Dinner entrees range from $22 to $35.
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