This SMU dropout creates Dallas’ most Instagram-worthy restaurants

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Francois Reihani, one of Dallas’ most Instagram-worthy restaurant innovators, is currently working on new hospitality concepts.

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The 21-year-old Reihani was born in Los Angeles, but due to the loss of his father’s business, he and his family moved to Mexico when he was an infant. His family moved back to Los Angeles when he was 12; he later attended the University of South Carolina and SMU.

Ever since Reihani was young, he thought like an entrepreneur. He washed cars and mowed lawns for money. When he was in middle school, he bought candy from the store and sold it to his classmates at a profit. In high school, he started his own party promotion company. Reihani’s first real job was car sales, which he describes as the hardest job ever.

During Reihani’s time at Volkswagen, he learned about building his sales skills and work ethic. At first, he felt uncomfortable taking days off — during his first year, he only took one day off.

“When you take a day off, you’re losing your own money,” Reihani said.

With this mentality, Reihani is a natural entrepreneur.

In the middle of Reihani’s senior year at USC, his parents moved to Dallas for the nice people and its business opportunities as one of the fastest-growing cities. Reihani’s mother forced him to transfer to SMU; this turned out to be a stroke of luck for Reihani.

In 2016, Reihani started Pōk the Raw Bar in West Village to bring healthy eating options to Dallas.

“I honestly couldn’t eat anything healthy here that tasted good,” Reihani said.

During his time at Pōk the Raw Bar, Reihani said he learned a lot.

“With opening a restaurant, you learn a thousand different things. The biggest thing you learn is how to open a restaurant,” Reihani said. “From hiring, from brand creation, construction, training, menu creation, signing a lease — just the entire process of opening and operating a restaurant.”

Reihani has an eye for design. Pōk the Raw Bar has become one of the trendiest places in Dallas. SMU students rave about it and make endless Instagram stories showcasing the white tables and the food’s vibrant colors.

In 2017, Reihani was ready to move on to new projects.

I had a good buy-out option and had a good opportunity to buy Bar Stellar because it was about to go bankrupt,” Reihani said.

It was no surprise that Stellar was going bankrupt. The customer service was a disaster, and it wasn’t selling the right product.

According to an article by Beth Rankin, the food editor for the Dallas Observer, Stellar was anything but stellar.

Rankin said Stellar was not what she expected after reading a press release. The press release said Stellar was going to have “mid-century modern décor with indoor and outdoor tables, American cuisine, a cocktail bar and a dog-friendly patio.”

Stellar did not live up to its promise.

“Stellar’s space, heavily redesigned, is perky and cheerful but, save for the lighting, in no way midcentury modern; the buildout is far too reliant on current design trends to fit the MCM aesthetic,” Rankin wrote.

Stellar, a mix between a perky and cheerful bar and a sports bar with large flat screen televisions, was in the middle of an identity crisis.

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“Whatever Stellar is right now, it isn’t working,” Rankin wrote.

Stellar used to be house the local watering hole, Vickery Park. After just four months of Stellar buying Vickery Park, the bar was floundering.

That’s where Reihani stepped in.

Bar Stellar was a flip, so instead of creating something new, he had to take a business out of a hole, which seemed more fun because it was a challenge.

Reihani turned Bar Stellar around by making it more appealing to the millennial generation. He changed the aesthetic, making it Snapchat- and Instagram-worthy. Thanks to social media, the customers handle the marketing for Bar Stellar.

“It was a great feeling just knowing I successfully flipped a restaurant bar,” Reihani said.

Reihani revamped the menu, creating shareable drinks such as the Mega ‘Mosa, which comes in a large champagne glass, and the Skull Crusher, which comes in a glass skull head. The other non-shareable drinks are also fun and bright with names like Pinky Promise, which has pop rocks, or the Cloud Nine, which has cotton candy. He changed the menu to include mostly finger foods such as truffle fries and chicken in a cone.

With Reihani’s takeover, Bar Stellar has become super stellar. Eater Dallas wrote about Bar Stellar’s grand opening and seemed impressed with the bar’s new design elements.

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“Neon signage, millennial pink, tropical wallpaper and complicated cocktails,” Chapin wrote. “Check, check, check and check: Bar Stellar’s got them all.”

Rankin had to go back to see the rebranding of Stellar.

Rankin and Chapin have the same thoughts about how social media seems to be a key aspect in the rebranding process. Rankin believes the future of restaurants will have to be branded with Instagram and social media in mind.

This is right up Reihani’s alley.

Reihani and his team also revamped the whole restaurant bar by adding fun wallpapers as well as redoing the menu design with the help of his graphic design artist, Kristy Ho.

He also added a neon sign that reads, “It’s not love, I’m just drunk” — a perfect photo opportunity. Reihani said these light-up signs just might become his signature move.

Ho is a very valuable part of Reihani’s team, helping with all things graphic design. Ho helped create the photo booth frame at Bar Stellar, where people can take boomerangs (those looped videos you see all over Instagram). She also helped create the logo and continues to help Reihani with logos for all other projects. Reihani said Ho is the only graphic designer he can work with because she understands his vision.

“We work in tandem trying to come up with cool concepts,” Ho said. “Whereas Francois leads in conception and operations, I visualize the visions and develop the branding. Working with him is great because we just bounce ideas off of each other and collaborate.”

Reihani’s philosophy is that entrepreneurship is all about the timing.

“You are always thinking about the next move,” Reihani said.

With this in mind, Reihani is involved in a handful of other projects including a non-profit, a restaurant, a medspa, a nail salon and a jewelry line, as well as consulting on four different bars and clubs throughout Dallas.

Even though Reihani didn’t earn a college degree, he became successful and has made his parents proud. Reihani believes that you learn from experience.

“Entrepreneurship can’t be taught, and time is the most important thing to me right now,” Reihani said. “So, the experience and reputation I’m getting right now is much more valuable than me being able to say I got my college degree.”

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