Calvin Riley thought his days as a chef were over. Then he got a call about Prim and Proper.
The restaurant and wine bar opening Thursday promises an approachable twist on French fine dining. The eatery also resides downtown in the same space where Riley manned the helm of two previous French bistros — LoCAL and Chez Hugo. Neither business lasted more than two years. But Prim and Proper is different, he said.
A generous financial investment by the restaurant’s owners at the Outkrowd and Clark Hospitality Groups, whose other creations include BLK Swan and Papi Cuisine, “brought this place back to life,” Riley said.
The hospitality companies sponsored a complete renovation of the historic space at 206 E. Redwood St. Formerly slated to open in 2023, the eatery’s construction delayed the opening by about a year, according to Riley.
Guests entering the building are greeted by a black-and-white tiled hallway, which opens up to a grand piano — one of two inside the restaurant — alongside a table with bottles of champagne and draped in pearls. A neon sign, reminiscent of the one on a wall inside BLK Swan, sits near the entry.
To the left of the hostess booth: a golden bar top with a vast collection of liqueurs, surrounded by black and gold framed images of celebrities, gold curtains and, of course, the other piano. To the right: a dining room where chandeliers hang over golden booths and crisp white tablecloths. Portraits of regal-looking Black men and women cover each of the walls, except for the area that houses an open kitchen.
Junior sous chef Nesha Dowdell referred to the décor as plucked from the ’60s.
“When you walk in, it makes you feel important,” she said.
Co-owners Chris Simon of Outkrowd, who also owns BLK Swan in Harbor East, and Berry Clark of Clark Hospitality, who owns Papi Cuisine in Riverside, hope customers feel the same.
Prim and Proper has been a family affair: Clark’s wife, Janell, a sommelier who is also a part of Clark Hospitality Group, named the restaurant for the couple’s daughter and created the wine list. Simon’s wife, Janeen, a member of Outkrowd Group, put together the cocktail menu.
The restaurant aims to be inclusive. In a city where fine dining options are few and far between, Prim and Proper offers millennials and young professionals a chance to dress up.
Dowdell said a D.J. booth sits behind the cocktail room’s grand piano. Fried chicken is topped with spicy honey and caviar and duck confit is is served over biscuits and mashed potatoes. The menu’s burger is made with wagyu beef and their salmon is coated in puff pastry, known as salmon en croute.
“There’s something for everybody,” Clark said.
He hopes the spot will give people a reason to venture downtown, as the neighborhood has had difficulty attracting pedestrians. Across the street, Werner’s has struggled to attract customers, also citing issues with available parking in the area. Clark is not too concerned; he promised that valet services will be provided. Simon added that they are working to keep the block safe, well-lit and comfortable.
Starting in April or May, Prim and Proper will also offer a private supper club, similar to those held at BLK Swan, on the second floor of the building.
The restaurant expects to add a more elevated dining experience to the “ecosystem” already offered by their hospitality groups, according to Simon. His goal: create another version of a Tao or Atlas Restaurant Group. Despite having a niche in the market, those groups continue to build multiple concepts, which he admires.
“It’s not about who their customers are or the race of them,” Simon said. “With not as many Black restaurants, period, and not many operating at this level, some people can read into it. … Black people aren’t the only people who would like to have a dining experience like this.”
“We can be intentional, we can have ownership and still cater to everyone.”
This article has been updated to correct the name of Calvin Riley in a photo caption.