Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar Eyes Orlando for Expansion

November 2, 2012

Anjali Fluker, Orlando Business Journal, © 2012 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Tampa restaurant group wants to bring its tapas-style concept to Orlando-area neighborhoods.

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar LLC — which has three restaurants in Clearwater, Tampa and Sarasota, as well as one opening in south Tampa — is narrowing the site list for its first metro Orlando location.

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar eventually plans to put eight of its restaurants in the area in the next two years. Co-owner Alex Sullivan declined to share potential construction costs since the concept is looking at both existing spaces and ground-up development. However, the chain’s newest 4,000-square-foot, 150-seat store in south Tampa was a $2 million effort.

The focus on tapas is somewhat rare in Orlando, where a handful of such concepts exist, including Ceviche and the planned Loft 55 in Orlando, as well as Cafe Tu Tu Tango on International Drive and El Bogedon in Winter Park. However, none of these concepts have multiple locations locally.

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar may be a viable competitor to the successful Seasons 52 restaurant chain owned by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE: DRI), which focuses on small plates and healthy meals, said restaurant industry analyst Darren Tristano.

Though the group has yet to sign any leases, Sullivan said he likes Winter Park, the Sand Lake Road area in southwest Orlando, Waterford Lakes in east Orlando, Lake Mary and Altamonte Springs, to name a few submarkets.

“We were trying to determine what makes sense for us, and Orlando is close to home,” said Sullivan, who added that the restaurant’s main demographic appears to be women, but Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar also offers steaks and burgers to draw in men. “A lot of people think Orlando and think of Disney, but there are lot of residents who appreciate good food, a great atmosphere and great restaurant. That’s our customer.”

The new restaurants could create up to 160 temporary construction jobs based on ground-up construction, as well as nearly 400 permanent jobs at buildout. First-year sales in each existing restaurant are forecast for $2.5 million, reported the Tampa Bay Times.

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar is looking for about 4,200 square feet of space in the Orlando area, said Jorge Rodriguez, director of retail for commercial real estate brokerage firm Colliers International, who represents the chain in its Orlando growth.

Though the concept is less than 2 years old, the owners are longtime successful restaurant executives. Sullivan’s father, Chris Sullivan, was a founder of Outback Restaurants, and other partners in the restaurants are former executives with Oceanaire Seafood Room and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

And that almost guarantees success in the local restaurant industry. “They’ve got instant credibility on the street when you’re talking about those people,” said David Gabbai, a restaurant/retail broker with The Shopping Center Group LLC in Longwood, who’s not involved in the Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar expansion. “If I’m making a call to a landlord that has available property and [Sullivan is] part of the group that started Outback, that will get them noticed.”

The concept also sets it self apart by having all customers order from an iPad, while also providing them with full waiter service. The iPad also stays at the table through the meal, so it can provide entertainment for kids or allow someone to order something else without having to wait for a server.

Meanwhile, this is a good time for a group that can get financing to expand as the rest of the market still recovers.

“If a concept is able to expand financially without leveraging itself too far or franchising, that’s an ideal situation — before the other chains start to bounce back,” said Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based restaurant industry analyst firm Technomic Inc.

What this means to you

• Real estate, construction and vendor opportunities

• New restaurant can be venue for business meetings, events.