by Steven Doyle
We sat down with Francesca Nor, owner of Dive Coastal Cuisine located in University Park’s Snider Plaza as she celebrated her first year anniversary. We wanted to know what made the fresh fish restaurant that is located in the former Dunkin Donut spot so amazingly successful — besides being one of the only restaurants who will deliver to the University Park pool.
We were quick to learn that she earned her chops in the kitchen and is classically trained. Nor is well traveled and grew up next door to Nick Badovinus. She has this really cool California, almost hipster vibe, but focused and intense. She knows her way around a kitchen, but doesn’t want to be known as a chef. Nor’s schtick is more of a band leader that orchestrates her business with precision quality.
So we decided to ask Franchesca Nor a few questions about Dive to commemorate her first very successful year in business at Dive Coastal Cusine.
Tell us a bit about yourself growing up.
I was born in California and lived in L.A. until I was 14, then my family moved across the country. We had chefs in our home and would also go to great restaurants. I would eat anything. We went to Spago when it opened, and Patina (the Michelin starred French restaurant). At 22 I realized this passion and wanted to be in the restaurant industry.
What did you do with this passion about food to make all this happen?
After high school I moved to Aspen and lived there for a few years, then Tahoe. I was into photography and decided to attend a photography school in Florence, Italy. I really enjoyed photography, but didn’t seem challenged. So I decided to also take some workshops at the Cordon Bleu. At that moment I knew it was for me.
Did you graduate from Cordon Bleu?
No. At that point I moved to Miami Beach for a culinary degree at Johnson and Wales University, and then a two year hospitality degree with a concentration in food service management. [We later learned she graduated summa cum laude] While in school I interned for Chef Allen Susser, owner of Aventura and the innovator of New World cuisine and founder of the Mango Gang.
After I graduated I went on to a series of jobs doing different things in hospitality. I did events, PR, concierge work, catering and partnered with Ernesto Arguello to start a boutique hotel in the heart of South Beach called STAY at Lincoln, which was published in Vogue and Ocean Drive Magazine.
You were working your way through all aspects of hospitality, that actually sounds fun. How did you end up in Dallas?
My sister lives here and I wanted to spend time with my nephew. My sister reminded me that we lived next to chef Nick Badovinus and he was opening a new restaurant, Neighborhood Services. I went and spoke with Nick and told him I could do pretty much anything – working in the kitchen, run the front of the house. No. He said I would be good as wait staff. I thought I could be better used elsewhere, but agreed. It was perfect. I was able to meet all the clientele I have today. I learned how restaurants work in Dallas. I saw what people were eating.
The women would come in and order the halibut and spinach. It was the lightest thing on the menu.
From Neighborhood Services you decided to open Dive, tell us a bit about that experience.
This is modern coastal cuisine. I want to make this the type of food you would get at a “beachy” restaurant. People come in and want Cajun seasoning this and fried that. No! We don’t do that. There are plenty of places to go that have that type of food. Go next door and get a burger and fries if that’s what you want.
I created my menu with everything that is fresh and all the things I love. It is very California. My favorite salad, my favorite fish. We make all our sauces in-house. Each week I feature a different fresh fish. Last week it was swordfish and branzini.
I finally added the fish and chips to the menu on Monday, but it’s Panko not battered. I am just stressing the idea of what we do and I think people get it now.
What else makes you different?
Dallas has such a loyal clientele. I have many of the same people that come in almost every day and it is my challenge to keep things different for them. We have really wonderful ceviche and we feature Steamer Pot Saturdays with mussels, clams, crab claws, corn, red bliss potatoes, and a Cajun broth.
We also feature Iris McCallister’s popular new Oh* Brownie. You can buy the brownies for home or have them warmed with ice cream.
And the future?
We just celebrated our year anniversary and the team is fantastic. Everyone is happy to be here and now the sky is the limit. I would like to open another Dive, but I would also like to do another “fine dining, walk-up, casual” place. I have some different themes in mind and I am developing those now. I am just now at a place where I can take some time off, so it will be about a year before you see anything new.
I also want to bottle my sauces and write a cook book. Funky design, a little off-beat.