By Tegan Burkhard
As temperatures hit triple digits in the peak of summer, many a Bricktown visitor sought refuge in the popular air-conditioned restaurant known as KD’s Southern Cuisine. That is, until July 4. On this national holiday, the restaurant’s namesake, Oklahoma City Thunder player Kevin Durant, kept all of Oklahoma on edge, awaiting his decision to remain on the team or move on to another state.
Once KD made his announcement to become a Golden State Warrior and fans began to question the fate of their beloved OKC Thunder, the fate of KD’s restaurant was also looming.
“Honestly, it was a surprise to us as much as it was anybody else,” says Nathan Couch, KD’s Southern Cuisine Proprietor. “But while we had the relationship and while we had our partnership, everything was great.”
Shortly after the news spread, downtown visitors couldn’t help but notice the blacked out logo on Lower Bricktown parking signs, leaving patrons wondering what would become of the basketball legend’s restaurant.
On July 24, the restaurant staff whipped up the last round of shrimp & grits and Deep South meatloaf under the name KD’s, unbeknownst to those who happened to grace the popular sports bar that day. A mere seven weeks later, Hal Smith Restaurants reopened its glass doors as Legacy Grill, surprising the community with its quick call to action and snappy transformation.
“I think if you asked Hal, this is probably the fastest turnaround there’s ever been in the history of maybe restaurants, but definitely our company,” Couch says.
Couch took on the challenge of giving new life to the Johnny Bench Drive location by helping Smith reimagine the restaurant’s current concept.
“You’re starting from ground zero, and it’s odd that you start in the same restaurant,” Couch says. “In three years you start two new concepts in that timeframe. That’s a unique opportunity that not many people have had to do.”
Couch, an Oklahoma native from Waurika, proposed a theme that centered on honoring Oklahoma’s sports legends. Smith, however, was quick to morph this into a celebration of Oklahoma’s biggest influencers across industries. Couch says Smith even had the name Legacy Grill within ten minutes of their first phone call about the status of the Southern cuisine staple.
Just as quickly as KD’s oversized basketball shoes entered the restaurant’s display case, staff packed up the basketball star’s memorabilia to make way for framed photographs of famous Oklahomans, on loan from the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
“KDs was a representation and a celebration of one historical figure in Oklahoma, and he really was a true ambassador to our state…,” Couch says. “What we have to offer now is we get to bring all of the Oklahoma greats and really celebrate all of them.”
During the restaurant’s seven-week hiatus, Hal Smith Restaurants retained its staff—an unconventional move in the food industry. Hal Smith Restaurants took a risk, paying staff full benefits and putting them to work on community volunteer projects with organizations like Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity and Free to Live.
“One it’s not their fault. Two we don’t want to unemploy that many young men and women at the same time,” Couch says. “And honestly, it goes well for the restaurant as well because it’s easier to retain than it is to train.”
With additional training and continuing education, the staff held onto its knowledge of the restaurant’s inner workings, easing the fast-paced transition so much so that Legacy Grill held to Smith’s original grand opening party and opening day dates in early September.
On September 12, Legacy Grill officially welcomed guests back to enjoy the fine dining atmosphere at moderate prices. The restaurant also boasts plenty of diverse seating options, from the quiet space by the wine cellar to the outdoor patio overlooking the Bricktown Canal. The bar offers comfortable chairs close to the flat-screen TVs where guests can enjoy their favorite sporting events.
From anywhere in the restaurant, patrons can spot photos of their favorite Oklahomans and well-known figures who played a role in shaping the Sooner State. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, musician Merle Haggard, actor James Garner and news anchor Hoda Kotb are just a handful of famous Oklahomans whose portraits decorate the woodworked walls of Legacy Grill.
“I’ve learned as much Oklahoma history as probably anybody that walks in the doors,” Couch says. “Which is a really neat thing as well.”
So far, Couch says a few customers have noticed family members’ faces on the walls and placed special requests to sit beneath them. He is also considering installing a suggestion box in the restaurant so guests can submit the names of other entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, musicians, actors and entertainers they would like to see displayed near tables. With a rotating lineup of 200 photographs, patrons are likely to spot a new face upon every visit.
The best part is, nearly 80 percent of the menu items from KD’s Southern Cuisine still comprise the Legacy Grill cuisine. Regulars can still look forward to their all-time favorites and bestsellers like the fried chicken and waffles, homestyle meatloaf and chicken fried steak.
The adventurous foodies and newcomers can treat their taste buds to fresh options that round out the menu, too, like the hearty French dip sandwich, Pine Room Salad or savory shrimp sauté linguine pasta dish.
Whether sticking to the classics like the hand-breaded fried chicken mixed in a blend of secret spices or trying original menu items like the hand-cut ribeye, guests can expect the same level of fresh ingredients. All dishes served are high quality products that have passed managers’ inspections and taste tests before being brought out to diners.
“There aren’t many restaurants that you’ll ever dine in that have great food, great service and then also an atmosphere that is similar to this,” Couch says.
Legacy Grill | 224 Johnny Bench Dr