University Town Center likely to get Cheesecake Factory
Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
In a sign of the caliber of tenants that the developers of the Mall at University Town Center are working to lure, The Cheesecake Factory has tentatively committed to be one of several restaurants at the upscale shopping center when it opens in October 2014.
The Cheesecake Factory would be especially significant for the mall because it is a bellwether merchant — along with the likes of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Crate & Barrel, Apple and others — that have mass appeal and supply cache to a community.
“Strong restaurant concepts like The Cheesecake Factory can almost become their own untraditional anchors in a mall,” said Jeff Green, president of Phoenix-based retail consultancy Jeff Green Partners. “They can be as central to a property as a department store and fill big spaces.”
It is unclear whether The Cheesecake Factory would open within the planned 880,000-square-foot mall or construct a free-standing restaurant on one of several planned outparcels.
Mall co-developers Taubman Centers Inc. and Benderson Development Co. said The Cheesecake Factory is among a number of restaurants that have shown interest in University Town Center, being built at Interstate 75 and University Parkway.
“We are speaking with many retailers and restaurants but have nothing to share at this time,” said Taubman spokeswoman Karen MacDonald.
The Cheesecake Factory also declined to provide specifics on any Southwest Florida restaurants.
“The restaurant development team is always on the look-out for A-1 sites to further grow our Cheesecake Factory brand presence, and all sites that fit our criteria for success will be seriously considered,” said Alethea Rowe, a spokeswoman for the chain.
Rowe said that publicly traded company plans to open 10 new restaurants nationwide this year.
The mall University Town Center, one of very few enclosed malls being built in the country, is expected to offer a blend of regional and national luxury chain retailers, similar to the tenant mix in Tampa’s International Plaza and Orlando’s Mall at Millenia.
The Cheesecake Factory operates restaurants at both of those Taubman-owned malls.
The restaurant, known for its expansive menu offerings and decedent cheesecake desserts, typically builds elaborate 10,000-square-foot to 12,000-square-foot restaurants. By comparison, an average 350-seat restaurant will measure about 4,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet.
The Cheesecake Factory’s restaurants, too, are normally limited to exclusive shopping areas, upscale malls or urban centers with significant populations.
The Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based chain’s interest in University Town Center and on expanding nationally comes as economic recovery throughout the U.S. is boosting its bottom line.
In the first quarter, the chain’s net income rose 22 percent, according to a company quarterly report.
The brand noted that it benefited from an earlier than normal Easter holiday and a busier than average spring break season. Shares were up by 4.5 percent in late April following the release of its initial 2013 earnings.
But The Cheesecake Factory’s restaurant at University Town Center, in keeping with recent internal development trends, could be somewhat smaller if plans reach fruition.
That is because in recent years the chain has scaled back its restaurant footprints — to 8,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet — as it entered more suburban markets and connected “dots” geographically between restaurants, said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president with Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm.
“This technique is designed for smaller markets, like Sarasota, which will in turn increase the brand’s penetration in larger markets, like Tampa, and stretching to Fort Myers and Naples,” Tristano said. “Their smaller-formatted store is a low-risk way to enter a market, and the restaurant will likely be even busier that way.”
In addition to Tampa and Orlando, The Cheesecake Factory operates restaurants at the Brandon Town Center Mall in Brandon and the Coastland Center Mall in Naples.
The company also has a half-dozen restaurants in the Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas.
More to come?
Tristano and Green noted that by bringing The Cheesecake Factory to University Town Center, it signals that other national chain restaurants — now absent from Southwest Florida and with slightly higher check prices — will also flock to the area.
“Most of the time you see restaurants like this piggy back on one another,” Tristano said. “If Cheesecake Factory opens, a steakhouse that’s complimentary in nature will follow suit.”
At the Mall at Millenia, The Cheesecake Factory shares space with The Capital Grille, Brio Tuscan Grille and P.F. Chang’s.
At International Plaza, those same restaurants occupy the mall, together with Blue Martini, Ocean Prime, Zen Bistro Grill & Sushi, and other casual dining concepts.
P.F. Chang’s, a popular high-end Asian fusion restaurant, is working to open its first Southwest Florida restaurant at Osprey Avenue and U.S. 41.
The chain intends to open there in July. Until now, the closest P.F. Chang’s was in Tampa, though the chain’s Pei Wei Asian Diner is open in a Benderson Development retail center on Cooper Creek Boulevard, across University Parkway from University Town Center.
“The clustering of restaurants will be good for the area, but it will split the offerings you normally see together, like Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s,” Green said.
Both Green and Tristano noted that having P.F. Chang’s and The Cheesecake Factory in different sections of Southwest Florida will ultimately broaden the dining market overall.
“The grouping of restaurants is part of a strategic plan that generates traffic,” Tristano added. “Having two areas of restaurant clustering creates more choices and ultimately different destinations for shopping, dining and entertainment.”