By Holly Dutton
Making the grade in the New York City restaurant scene continues to be all about location, according to a panel of eatery executives debating at the International Council of Shopping Centers expo last week.
“If the landlord has an A+ location, he or she knows they have that and there’s very little give on rent,” said Doug Griebel, chairman and co-founder of upscale Mexican cuisine chain Rosa Mexicano.
“You want the A+ location because of the traffic volume.” Griebel was taking part in a “Food as Fashion” panel moderated by Douglas Elliman retail chairman Faith Hope Consolo as a Women’s Special Industry Group presentation during the national conference.
Michael Stillman, president and co-founder of Fourth Wall Restaurants, which owns the Smith & Wollensky flagship restaurant and the Hurricane Club, among others, said his company recently signed a deal for a 12,000 s/f space at 57th and 6th Avenue that will be Quality Italian restaurant, which is slated to open sometime next year. Previously a Staples store, he said his company is being welcomed into the neighborhood.
“The landlord was excited to have us and bring us in as sort of an anchor tenant,” said Stillman.
Shake Shack, Inc. CEO Randy Garutti said his company opened a location almost a month ago in Westbury, Long Island, and it is “one of the busiest restaurants we’ve ever had,” despite being in a suburban market with competing fast food chain like Wendy’s, a company that has also revamped its menu to feature health and ingredient-conscious items. Garutti said Shake Shack is also partnering with upscale fitness club chain Equinox to open a juice bar.
Panelists also touched on the health and allergy-conscious trends that have taken over the industry.
“There’s a significant difference between our menu from 22 years ago and the menu now,” said Rosa Mexicano chairman and co-founder Doug Griebel. A new awareness of ingredients and allergies as well as a changing neighborhood in the Union Square north location paved the way for menu changes and an added kids menu.
“This generation understands food,” added Garutti.
Griebel cited Taco Bell’s new commercial campaign featuring an “authentic” Mexican chef whipping up new menu items as a sign of the times that healthier food is appealing, and an ad people would never have seen a decade or two ago.
“People are investing more in what they eat,” said Stillman.
The Nation’s Restaurant News executive editor Robin Lee Allen agreed that there is a “growing consciousness of what people are putting in their bodies,” adding that “polished casual” is the newest trend in restaurants, with customers seeking a high-end experience that’s not too overboard.
“It’s not quite fine dining, but it’s better than Applebee’s or Olive Garden,” she said.
The holidays are a good time for retail restaurants, the panel agreed. Revenue increases, and people are more generous, said Griebel, and it’s also a good barometer for how your restaurant is faring.
“If you’re not making money in December, you should probably put it (restaurant) to bed,” he said.
For restaurateurs looking for future expansion, they should look east, said panelists.
Shake Shack recently opened its fourth restaurant in The Middle East in Dubai, at the Mall of the Emirates.
“The Middle East is an amazing place to do business,” he said, praising Dubai as a “melting pot.”