Welcome to the
22nd year of Atlanta Restaurant Real Estate News. The information
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A month, or so, after the fact, the take away from this year’s International Council of Shopping Center’s annual Convention (ReCon) is half the crowd, twice the results. The once teeming halls felt empty as approximately half of last year’s registered attendees made the 2009 show. The North Hall was virtually uninhabited despite the presence of booths from several major developers. The central hall (where the RBN booth was located) was slightly more up-tempo while the South Hall, especially the first day of the show, was thriving. Keep in mind; the South Hall is where many of the retailer’s booths are located along with the ever-popular free pretzels, coffee, ice cream and other giveaways.
The tone of the show was somber. The economic realities of limited capital deferred or delayed expansion plans and grim tales of layoffs and downsizings put a damper on the usual ebullient mood. To coin a popular cliché, we’re in the first or second inning of what looks like a long game. The anticipation, from our perspective, is that any serious economic recovery won’t be felt until the beginning to middle of 2010 with new projects likely to begin making appearances in early 2011. By that time, consumer confidence should be restored, unemployment figures should be in decline and limited expansion will have begun. That’s today’s view. Talk to us in about six months for an update.
The social scene was active. While many major developers cut back or eliminated their annual parties and dinners there was still plenty to do. After all, this is still Vegas. The convention floor had a new wrinkle this year. Virtually every booth offered hand sanitizer as fears of Swine Flu and other infectious diseases hung in the back of people’s minds. What will be interesting to see is how attendance is at the regional shows — like Orlando, Atlanta, Chicago and New York later in the year.
Vegas may have been slower than normal this year but the pace of new restaurant openings in Atlanta continues as at a brisk pace. Consider that in the past few months the following have all made their Atlanta debuts: 30 Tables and 11 Stories, at the Glenn Hotel Downtown: Waterhaven, Abattoir, Livingston’s, with Gary Mennie at the helm at the Georgian Terrace Hotel, Joia, from the owners of Antica Posta, Hudson Grill, Vertigo and Pacci, at the Palomar Hotel, all in Midtown; Paul Albrecht’s Social Vinings, Sugo and a second location for popular in-town eatery Noche in Vinings and a fourth Gladys and Ron’s in the Shannon Mall area.
Look for a re-do of the former Clubhouse at Lenox Square later this fall. CentraArchy, the parent company for California Dreaming and New York Prime, will open Lenox Square Grill later this year featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a lively bar scene. Also announced recently a change in name for Buckhead Life’s newest Peachtree Road eatery, in the Sovereign Building (opposite the Inter-Continental Hotel.) now to be called Niko’s.
‘Tis the season for changes. Concentric Restaurants Trois, in midtown Atlanta, will re-open with a new name and concept by late summer/early fall. In the interim, the bar and event spaces will remain open. High end Neo, at the Mansion, in Buckhead, is also in for some alterations. Taking advantage of its lineage (new in Italian) the restaurant has introduced a more reasonable local/Southern menu with items such as fried green tomatoes, grits, corn and fresh North Georgia trout. This is not that dissimilar an approach as next-door neighbor Craft that might prove interesting.
Also keep an eye for the opening of several Tilted Kilt restaurants (a cross between an Irish Pub and Hooter’s) in suburban Atlanta.
Recent closings of note include Ricard Ullio’s Cuerno; Duluth’s Star Diner, Sage Decatur and City Grill and Dailey’s, both in downtown Atlanta.
The times they are a changin’ … Either as a reaction to the times or a deliberate marketing strategy some mainstay fast food restaurants are dramatically adding or changing their product lines. Consider, KFC now features grilled chicken, Pizza Hut is pushing pasta like there’s no tomorrow, Domino’s is carving out a niche for itself with subs and pasta stuffed bowls, Arby’s has a roast beef burger, and McDonald’s is getting into the coffee business. Times may be tough but on some of the world’s most glamorous retail streets rents have proven remarkably resilient. Prime spots on Hong Kong’s Russell Street and Causeway Bay are still commanding a lofty $1,100 sq. ft. Madison Avenue and Dublin’s Grafton street have witnessed declines to the $750 sq. ft. range, while the tab on New York’s Fifth Avenue and Paris Champs Elysees have also dropped by $250 sq. ft. — to a reasonable $600 - $700. Those rents may seem reasonable to hot dog vendor Pasang Sherpa. He pays the City of New York $600,000 per year for his prime cart spot outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s a lot of dogs.
Is there any more complicated place in the world than Israel? We don’t think so. Consider than in a country the size of Massachusetts live six million Jews surrounded by 300 million Arabs, many of whom are dedicated to the eradication of their country. There are holy places for three of the world’s great religions. The country is governed by 11 political parties, arrayed in ever shifting coalitions and characterized by frequent elections.
Pick up a newspaper today and the headlines could just as easily have been written 25- or even 50-years ago — accounts of border skirmishes, attacks and counter-attacks, dissatisfaction with the sitting government and calls for its replacements; citizens clamoring for the exchange of land for peace and their equally passionate counterparts not willing to yield anything.
It’s one of the few places where you’ll see a headline reading “Five Million Dollar bomb-proof playground opens” side by side with a report of the latest fashions and trends from a Tel Aviv boutique.
Yes, it’s complicated but it’s also one of the most engaging places a traveler can go. I’ve been to Israel twice previously, but this was the first time to spend significant time in Tel Aviv. Built along the Mediterranean, and featuring an eight-mile beach promenade, Tel Aviv has the street feel of an Italian or Spanish city like Florence or Barcelona. There are numerous sidewalk cafes and restaurants featuring all of the world’s major cuisines, fashionable stores along tree-shaded Ben Yehuda and Dizengof Street, untold numbers of clubs and discos along with bustling high-rise office and residential buildings.
The Israeli cuisine is Mediterranean in orientation, with familiar dishes like hummus, tahini and falafel joining grilled and fried seafood. Many meals, including breakfast, start with numerous portions of small, marinated salads, (mezze), pureed eggplant, marinated peppers, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and whatever else is fresh and in season.
The British can be credited with many triumphs during their colonial period but city planning in Tel Aviv was not one of them. Familiar with the blustery winds off the North Sea, the city’s main boulevards were laid out north to south by the British in the early 1920’s when the city first started growing. As a result the temperate sea breezes are effectively blocked from reaching the crowded side streets.
Israel, like many countries, has to depend on guest workers for much of their menial labor. Here Chinese, Thai and Romanians do much of the construction, farm labor and landscaping work. Filipinos, mainly woman, provide nursing and health care for the elderly.
Tel Aviv continues to grow, with the aid of European and American investors, a growing high tech industry and the influx of newcomers many from the former Soviet Union. North of the traditional city boundary, (going toward Herzliya) is what locals call “New Tel Aviv” a community that will eventually feature 50,000 residential units, offices and retail. There are numerous buildings already completed and several more under construction though the pace of development here is slowed like everywhere else in the world.