Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – When the new Saks Fifth Avenue department store opens at the Mall at University Town Center, shoppers can expect more than just expanded departments and two floors of merchandise. The 80,000-square-foot Saks space — one of the key anchors for the $315 million mall in Sarasota County — also will boast its own restaurant, and be one of the first in the chain to do so.
When Saks opens, so will “Sophie’s,” a new restaurant concept by Fifth Dining LLC, a new restaurant effort within the Saks brand. The elegant, gourmet restaurant will complement the department store’s look and feel but will offer a completely separate lunch and dinner dining experience for Saks shoppers.
“We wanted to tie together the legacy of Saks with a concept that had a lot of appeal for the people who happen to shop here,” said Michael Kaufman, president of Fifth Dining. “The restaurant is designed to be a high-end experience through a unique look and feel and our freshly prepared food. It’s not stuffy, but resonates appropriately with the traditional Saks Fifth Avenue shopper.”
The 2,600-square-foot restaurant’s design is simple, with sleek tables and chairs and black-and-white finishes.
Its name pays homage to one of Saks Fifth Avenue’s legendary fashion designers, Sophie Gimbel, who designed women’s apparel for Saks for 40 years and married a Saks executive. Among her many simple and elegant designs was a red coat and dress she created for Lady Bird Johnson.
“We’re not creating a museum to honor Sophie, but a restaurant brand, if you will, keeping in mind what she stood for — like the simplicity in the way she designed — as we go along,” Kaufman said.
IT STARTED IN CHICAGO
Saks opened its first Sophie’s concept in Chicago earlier this year. Sarasota will be the second. More restaurants are planned in larger markets.
“These kind of restaurants primarily target women. It’s very much a place for ladies to lunch and meet their friends, then continue shopping,” said Jeff Green, a retail analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners. “The demographic in Nordstrom cafes is traditionally older. I imagine the restaurant in Saks will do very well in Sarasota.”
Saks Fifth Avenue will close its existing 40,000-square-foot store at the Westfield Southgate Mall in October, when the mall being jointly developed by Taubman Centers and Benderson Development debuts.
Saks Fifth Avenue has further invested in the importance of the Southwest Florida market by closing its Tampa store at Westshore Mall.
When the 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center opens in October, Sarasota will have the only Saks department store on the Gulf Coast north of Fort Myers.
Saks joins Macy’s and Dillard’s as anchors for the new mall, the only enclosed mall scheduled to open this year in the United States.
A slew of other national, high-end retailers have committed to opening stores there, including Apple, Anthropologie, lululemon, Tiffany’s & Co. and Brooks Brothers, to name a few.
Sophie’s will compete with other national restaurant chains — Brio Tuscan Grille, Capital Grill, Seasons 52, Cheesecake Factory and Zinburger — as dining options at the new mall.
“There are so many great restaurants in Sarasota. We hope Sophie’s will fit right in,” Kaufman said.
The restaurant will not stay open later than the department store does. Each Sophie’s will have a menu unique to its market. For example, Sarasota’s menu will have more fresh seafood than others, Kaufman said.
While the Sarasota Sophie’s menu has yet to be created, and the Chicago restaurant is open only for breakfast and lunch, its menu gives a taste of what Sarasota can expect. It includes a $12 cocktail menu with a rhubarb basil gimlet of distillery gin, basil, bitters and lime juice. Entrees include a North Atlantic salmon for $25 and an “Amish chicken breast” for $21.
A RETAILING TREND
Saks Fifth Avenue is the latest upscale retailer to venture into the dining sector in recent years.
Nordstrom’s department stores, including the one in Tampa’s International Plaza, have their own line of in-store cafes, which serve lighter fare, coffee and cocktails.
The concept has helped make Nordstrom more of a destination for shoppers, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Chicago-based Technomic, a food consulting firm.
“Combining a high-end restaurant with the Saks or Nordstrom clientele is a service to the customer that goes beyond just the typical shopping experience,” he said. “The idea of restaurants in department stores is coming back, and we’re seeing a lot of it internationally. It has great strength and is moving forward.”
Macy’s, too, has dabbled with restaurant concepts in larger markets — such as its Stella 34 Trattoria, an Italian restaurant tucked onto the sixth floor of the Macy’s in New York.
Brooks Brothers announced that it plans to open its first restaurant, “Makers and Merchants,” a steakhouse, around the corner from its flagship store in New York this year. The restaurant is taking over vacant space once used for a Brooks Brothers women’s line.
“Price is not the issue here, considering the type of store shoppers are in,” said Green, the Phoenix-based consultant. “We really only see these kind of restaurants inside upscale department stores, even though they used to be in more traditional stores.
“Full-service restaurants won’t ever be in traditional stores anymore.”