P.F. Chang’s debut ends long journey
Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Monday evening’s opening of this region’s first P.F. Chang’s China Bistro signals the end of a long hunt by the high-end, Asian-themed restaurant.
The 270-seat restaurant, at U.S. 41 and Osprey Avenue, caps years of searching in and around Sarasota and represents another signal that Southwest Florida is evolving and maturing as a retail hub.
In the past two years, for instance, bellwether merchants like Costco Wholesale Club, Trader Joe’s and Cheesecake Factory have either opened here or expressed an interest in doing so.
P.F. Chang’s decision to locate near downtown — rather than near a new, enclosed upscale shopping mall being developed near Lakewood Ranch — also shows that traditional retail corridors continue to have power, analysts said.
Prior to building its own 7,400-square-foot freestanding building, the restaurant chain considered several other area locations — ranging from downtown to the developing Mall at University Town Center.
“We have been exploring Sarasota for some time,” acknowledged Emily Finley, a P.F. Chang’s spokeswoman.
“But when the opportunity to develop a freestanding location adjacent to downtown — and in direct proximity to one of the best areas in the metropolitan market came about — we felt our patience was justified and we are pleased to open exactly where we should be in Sarasota.”
The closest P.F. Chang’s locations have been in Tampa and Fort Myers, though the chain’s Pei Wei Asian Diner opened in a Benderson Development retail center, on Cooper Creek Boulevard near Interstate 75, about two years.
“In this particular situation, the restaurant is located on the major commercial corridor of the Sarasota market with direct proximity and accessibility to where our customer resides and works, along with nearby hotels to serve Sarasota visitors,” Finley said.
The new restaurant also is among the first to showcase the brand’s new décor, and to feature an expanded outdoor patio and an updated menu.
It was nearly a decade ago that P.F. Chang’s first expressed an interest in opening on land that had held the former Sarasota Quay, a 15-acre bayfront tract between the Hyatt Regency and the Ritz-Carlton hotels.
There, Dublin-based Irish-American Management Services Ltd. planned to build a $1 billion residential and commercial project, but those plans collapsed amid the Great Recession.
P.F. Chang’s also showed interest in Pineapple Square, an ambitious $200 million mix of retail and housing that, like the Quay, never reached fruition. That project, however, did bring Sur La Table, Hyde Park Steakhouse, Brooks Brothers and others to downtown.
And while some may consider the Osprey Avenue location somewhat unorthodox, the property is no less atypical than others P.F. Chang’s considered, including the ground floor of the Zenith Insurance tower downtown, at Main Street and Pineapple Avenue.
P.F. Chang’s, which is known for opening around vibrant retail centers and malls, also looked seriously at the Mall at University Town Center, said Brett Hutchens, a partner with Lakewood Ranch-based Casto Lifestyle Properties, the firm that represented P.F. Chang’s in its site selection.
“They wanted be accessible to downtown businesses and the hospital,” Hutchens said. “It was important, too, that they were able to draw from both Longboat Key and Siesta Key, so that’s when they officially ruled out being at the new mall.”
Casto’s Jane Robinson, the former planning director for the city of Sarasota, represented P.F. Chang’s in its search here.
Casto is no stranger to the chain: It developed its first P.F. Chang’s in Winter Park, near Orlando, 14 years ago, Hutchens said.
Mark Kauffman, a prominent local real estate developer and managing partner of the group that owns the new restaurant building, said landing the right site took about two and half years.
“They don’t need the mall traffic to get the customer they want,” Kauffman said. “This is the perfect location for them in Sarasota.”
But P.F Chang’s journey also illustrates how the Sarasota retail sector is being split geographically, between downtown and St. Armands Circle and the University Parkway corridor.
Cheesecake Factory, conversely, has committed to open a restaurant at the 880,000-square-foot Mall at University Town Center.
“They’ve chosen to stay by the water and be closer to affluence, and I imagine they will be very successful there,” Jeff Green, a retail analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners, said of P.F. Chang’s Sarasota location.
“This shows that they wanted to focus on the market between the two bridges.”
Green added that having a bellwether merchant opt to go somewhere other than the developing mall property will further the competition among the two shopping areas.
“There are now two distinct hubs for consumers to shop and dine,” Green said. “And these two areas will compete against one another for that same consumer.”