Sunday, September 14, 2003

Restaurant is a sweet attraction

Mall managers drool over Cheesecake Factory

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

One of the most popular casual dining restaurants in the country is coming to Kenwood Towne Centre, offering shoppers a massive menu and to-die-for desserts that will leave even the hungriest mall rat in need of a doggie bag.

But hungry diners aren't the only ones salivating at the thought of the wildly popular Cheesecake Factory opening its doors at the Sycamore Township mall.

From a financial standpoint, the signing of the Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based restaurant chain is a major coup for the regional mall. The foot traffic that its restaurants generate can translate into higher sales for nearby tenants and a greater percentage rent for landlords.

"In every market they go into, they're one of the highest-volume, if not the highest volume, restaurants in the market," said David Casper, senior marketing manager at Kenwood. "Obviously, it's going to bring more foot traffic to the property, and that has a variety of benefits.''

The Cheesecake Factory's moderately priced though upscale-looking restaurants with their Italian-inspired designs attract an average of 1 million customers a year, which essentially makes them anchor tenants at the malls where they locate.

The company plans to build a 12,000-square-foot restaurant in the new open-air "streetscape" addition that Kenwood is building on the south side of the mall. When it opens in the first half of next year, it would be the first Cheesecake Factory location in Greater Cincinnati and third in Ohio, joining t hose in Columbus and Cleveland.

Although most of the company's 60-plus stores are freestanding restaurants in dense urban environments, such as its Midwest flagship store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, all three Ohio stores are mall-based.

Locating in malls helps The Cheesecake Factory ensure that it meets its minimum demographic requirements of 250,000 people with an average household income of $65,000 in a five-mile radius, Howard Gordon, a Cheesecake Factory spokesman, said.

"The development that we're going into is a really good location for us, and it's in a really good food town,'' Gordon said. "It's time we came to Cincinnati, and we're really happy to have found such a good location.''

The Cheesecake Factory deal comes at a crucial time for the 1.1 million-square-foot Kenwood mall, which has sunk millions of dollars into its new renovation in hopes of attracting new customers.

But consumer spending remains tepid in an up-and-down economy, and the mall is competing with a new generation of lifestyle centers and entertainment-oriented malls that have proven highly appealing to consumers.

"Adding a restaurant element was very important to us,'' Casper said. "We've got Panera Bread, and we've had Ruby Tuesday in the past, but nothing to this extent.''

Restaurants have always been seen as a good way to bring people to a mall.

P.F. Chang's, Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday's serve that role at several malls in Greater Cincinnati.

But none of those restaurants comes close to The Cheesecake Factory's draw, which can be measured by its more than $1,000 a square foot in sales.

That's more than twice the industry average for casual dining restaurants of $332 a square foot, according to the National Restaurant Association.

And while those numbers indicate that the restaurant opens its doors to all who come to gorge themselves on its famously large portions, it doesn't take reservations.

That means long waits, sometimes more than an hour, giving patrons plenty of time to stroll the mall's corridors and shop.

And while the restaurant business is famous for its unpredictability, The Cheesecake Factory has sustained its success for two decades.

Several of the company's most profitable locations have been open since the company went public in 1992.

The Cheesecake Factory, which has 64 restaurants nationally, started 25 years ago in Beverly Hills, Calif. It continues to try to lean toward upscale locations, typically in shopping malls, as it expands.

The chain has one Ohio location (in the Easton Town Center north of Columbus) and one in Indiana (in the Fashion Mall north of Indianapolis). It has plans to open 10 more - one at the Kenwood Towne Centre here and one in a new lifestyle center being built in Lyndhurst, an eastern Cleveland suburb.


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