Mall at UTC restaurant leases reveal variety is necessary

April 6, 2014 

Now that all the restaurants are set for the new Mall at University Town Center, the competitive fire of at least two establishments provide for an intriguing look into how restaurant deals are made.

The Mall at UTC, set to open Oct. 16 off of Cattlemen Road in University Park, will feature BRIO Tuscan Grill, The Capital Grille, The Cheesecake Factory, Kona Grill, Seasons 52, Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar and a Sophie's restaurant inside the Saks Fifth Avenue.

That's a good variety of Italian, burgers, steak, sushi, low-calorie grilled specialties and desserts. The restaurants have some overlap, probably more in the seafood realm, but the variety should be good news for diners. Not only is it key for restaurants and malls to thrive, but for at least two restaurants, variety is a requirement.

Orlando-based Darden Restaurants has recorded its two leases with Taubman Centers for Seasons 52 and Capital Grille, showing that it does not look too kindly on similar restaurants sharing the mall.

Capital Grill's 10-year lease has a restrictive covenant that says the mall can't have another full-service sit-down restaurant that has "more than six

steak entrees or otherwise features steak as its primary emphasis…" And as if that wasn't clear enough, Darden continues to give examples of such restaurants: Morton's Steakhouse, Del Friscos, Wildlife, The Palm, Ruth's Chris' Steakhouse, Stonewood, Sullivan's, Gibson's, Flemings and Fogo de Chao.

Seems simple enough, right? No. Somebody choosing restaurants has to perform menu forensics, because Darden defines "primary emphasis" and "primary menu offering" as at least 25 percent of entrée items "in the most numerous category of types of entrée's offered."

Whew. Good luck, anyone having to analyze the Cheesecake Factory dissertation of a menu.

For Seasons 52, which promotes fresh grilled items, the restaurant doesn't want another full-service, sit-down restaurant that is 4,000 square feet or bigger that "operates as a first-class, casually sophisticated or fine dining restaurant offering a menu with over 35 percent of the appetizers and entrees" that are listed as reduced calorie or "better for you." Watch out True Food Kitchen and Paul Martin's -- you're on Seasons' hit list.

I've seen how restrictions can hamper a project, too. During a visit to Orlando's Baldwin Park, it turned out that Publix had a tight grip on the commercial district. The neighborhood's design is supposed to be a model for a proposed 1,300-acre West Bradenton development dubbed Crossroads.

The village center couldn't have things like a bakery because it would compete with Publix's bakery, leading to some dissatisfied residents and shoppers there, and potentially contributing to the 25 percent vacancy problem. The good news is that common sense prevailed there, and the center's new owner Tabani Group is trying to rework Publix's lease to create some flexibility there.

The leases should at least give shoppers at the mall an appreciation of why certain restaurants can't be at the mall. Also, getting a store or restaurant to sign on to come to the mall isn't as easy as having the right space at the right price. Stores and restaurants have to keep in mind competitors, too.

More than 120 suggestions flooded my inbox and blog last May when a Taubman spokeswoman said the company would love to hear what stores and restaurants you would want here. It looks like they've listened. Cheesecake Factory was the top choice, while computer store Apple was second -- and they're both coming. Bar Louie also received some votes from readers, but it looks like there will be plenty of chic places to grab a few drinks at the mall.

Cheers to variety.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, writes an occasional business column. He can be reached at 941-745-7095.

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