No one is on the fence about The Lot. Neighbors either love it or hate it, and that usually has to do with whether or not they have kids.

The Lot was built on 1.2 acres, and — for better or for worse — there are no other restaurants quite like it in the Dallas area. It’s also not the kind of place that could ever truly be replicated because, as managing partner John McBride points out, it basically all happened by accident.

Before The Lot opened two years ago in the Grand Avenue space Backyard Beach Bar used to occupy, the seven owners — who are all from the White Rock Lake area, except for McBride — told us it would be a “neighborhood-minded, family friendly restaurant with a kidscape,” as he described it. They envisioned it as a menu-driven restaurant with a comfortable, laid-back vibe.

But as soon as the restaurant opened its doors, McBride realized The Lot wasn’t going to be a restaurant with a kidscape. The restaurant was a kidscape.

Families flocked to The Lot in droves, from all over Dallas but especially East Dallas. Finally there was a place that wasn’t a fast-food joint where kids were welcomed — even encouraged. The sandbox in the kidscape was a major hit with the little ones, and the parents were happy to send their kiddos outside to entertain themselves while they enjoyed their food and kicked back a beer or two.

But suddenly that “cool” menu McBride thought was going to be the restaurant’s biggest draw became its biggest challenge.

“We had a menu that was very foodie-driven, but we were being hit by big groups of families, and that’s not what they were looking for,” he explains.

The staff at The Lot spent the next six months scrambling to put some familiar items on the menu, and everyone noticed. Foodie publications all used the same word to describe the restaurant: confused.

Eventually they found their footing when McBride and his team embraced what the community wanted The Lot to be — basically a built-in babysitter.

They expanded the kids’ menu and the burger menu, and focused on foods that would come out of the kitchen quickly.

As The Lot grew into the community need, it also expanded its vision.

Over the next two years, the owners built a bridge to tie the backyard to the Santa Fe Trail and started a concentrated effort to make the bar area a kid-free zone. They turned part of the property into a dog park and another part into an area where bigger kids could hang out. They added a water feature to the play area for the summer, and then added an indoor arcade room for the winter.

With a restaurant that can handle upwards of 350 people, in a way, The Lot did fulfill its original dream of being a community-gathering place — not in the way that the owners expected, but they’re OK with it.

“We just had to relax and let it happen,” McBride explains. “If we hadn’t embraced it, we would not have made it. We couldn’t be stubborn. We just had to figure out how to do what the neighborhood wanted better.”

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