Two high-end eateries at Sundial is not lunacy

February 9, 2015

ruthschris-304xx3264-2176-0-136Eric Snider
© 2015 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.

Even those of us most bullish on downtown St. Petersburg are inclined to pause when we look at the upper level of Sundial, with its two big swanky restaurants — Sea Salt and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, totaling 22,000 square feet — with relatively high price points.

What manner of rose-colored madness has infected our once-sleepy town, we wonder?

“We’re taking risk knowing the changes going on down here,” said Louie Spetrini, who came from Los Angeles to take the position of general manager at Sea Salt. “We see it through our own eyes; we don’t have the memory of long-time residents.”

A couple of national restaurant consultants with considerable knowledge of the Bay area dining scene don’t think anyone’s gone wacko, as it turns out. Two large-footprint eateries at Sundial fall in line with several nationwide trends.

That the places stare at each other from across a courtyard is more benefit than detriment. “A lifestyle center like [Sundial] having a couple of higher end restaurant makes it more of a destination for upscale dining,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research firm. “It definitely helps that they’re different products and experiences.”

Orlando-based restaurant consultant Aaron Allen figures that, based on square footage, the two restaurants must do about $12 million combined in annual sales to be viable.

Sea Salt and Ruth’s Chris are not so much fine dining, he says, as “polished casual,” which accommodates larger footprints, customer capacities and check averages. That category, along with lower-priced “fast casual,” are two of the most robust restaurant segments.

The new operators are confident in the continuing growth of the downtown residential and office markets. Plus, “I’ve discovered that there is a huge group of people downtown, retired or financially well off, that go out spending nearly every night,” Spetrini said.

He also recognizes the need to pull from beyond the neighborhood. The GM went table-to-table Tuesday night and happily discovered that “45 percent of the 150 covers we did were from outside St. Pete.”

Mitchell has plans for new grill, steakhouse

June 24, 2013

cameron-mitchell-new-art0-gufnbj49-120130520-exterior-materials-views-1-jpgThe Columbus restaurant entrepreneur has announced two new restaurant concepts for 2014: a “polished casual” American grill at the Lane in Upper Arlington and an “upscale casual” steakhouse in a Gahanna barn that once was home to Hoggy’s Restaurant & Catering.

Neither restaurant has a name yet, but their working names are “the Grille” and “the Barn,” Mitchell said yesterday, smiling.

“Restaurants are such a part of the social fabric of a city,” said Mitchell, founder of several iconic local restaurants, including Cameron’s American Bistro, Cap City Fine Diner & Bar and M at Miranova, not to mention national chain Ocean Prime.

“Columbus is a great restaurant town,” he said. “We’re all trying to make it better.”

When Mitchell and his colleagues opened the Pearl Restaurant, Tavern & Oyster Room in the Short North this year, it was the first new concept for the restaurateur since the economy took a nosedive in 2008.

Early that year, he completed the sale of Mitchell’s Fish Market, Columbus Fish Market, Mitchell’s Steakhouse and Cameron’s Steakhouse restaurants (22 restaurants in all) to Ruth’s Chris Steak House for $94 million.

The deal helped Mitchell repay investors and his restaurants to weather the recession. Now, the restaurant company is growing again.

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants plans to open Rusty Bucket restaurants (in which Mitchell is a partner) in the Cincinnati area in the fall; in Naples, Fla., in January; and “a couple in Detroit” next year, Mitchell said.

The company and its partner opened a Rusty Bucket in Easton last week and are renovating the menus and facilities of existing Rusty Bucket restaurants, he said.

The company also plans to open another Ocean Prime upscale seafood and steak restaurant in Philadelphia in September, and one in Beverly Hills, Calif. — its first foray into California — in April.

The new restaurant concepts were developed to occupy unique properties that became available, Mitchell said.

The Grille, set to open in February, will be a “cleaned-up version of our Cap City, which has been very successful for us,” he said. The menu will focus on fine wines by the glass, appetizers, flatbreads, rotisserie meats and entree salads, with a couple of fish and prime steak dishes, he said.

No white tablecloths here. “It will be warm and cozy,” he said.

The Barn, planned for a spring opening at the Market at Roger’s Corner shopping center on Johnstown Road, will offer “an extensive bourbon selection” as well as a butcher shop, bake shop and smokehouse that will supply the open kitchen, in which customers can view their food being prepared.

The menu will be “very approachable,” he said, with Black Angus steaks; house-smoked chicken, ribs and pork chops; and freshly baked Parker House rolls and pies served family style.

Mitchell is smart to target the “polished” or “upscale” portion of the casual-restaurant segment, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, the Chicago restaurant- and food-research firm.

“It’s a much smaller segment, it has a faster growth rate, with a better quality food and experience, and higher price point,” Tristano said. “And of course, no drive-through.”

The restaurant and food analyst isn’t surprised to see more new concepts from Mitchell and his restaurant company.

“They have a successful track record of developing and growing concepts,” he said. “And when they sell off great concepts, they refocus their efforts in different directions.”