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Posted on Sun. Sep. 16, 2012 - 12:01 am EDT

Rethinking food court

Jefferson Pointe plans overhaul as eateries shun centralized spot

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Jefferson Pointe officials are in the midst of a more than $2 million renovation that includes remodeling its food court, but most of the restaurants at the complex aren’t located there. Here’s a look:

•Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano

•Bob Evans

•Burger King

•Chick-fil-A

•Chipotle

•Eddie Merlot’s

•Enzo Pizza*

•Flat Top Grill

•Logan’s Roadhouse

•McAlister’s Deli

•O’Charley’s

•Panera Bread

•Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill

•Starbucks

•The Tilted Kilt

* – Inside the food court

Source: Jefferson Pointe

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The food court was failing.

Jefferson Pointe – one of the largest shopping places in northeast Indiana – wants a restaurant area worthy of its reputation. Opened in 2001, the more than $75 million facility has always had a steady stream of eateries come and go.

But things came to a head last year when Panda Express left for Apple Glen Crossing Shopping Center to have its own stand-alone building. What’s left at Jefferson Pointe is a pizza parlor and a children’s play area but nothing else.

The dining depot looks abandoned.

Mall owner Institutional Mall Investors of Skokie, Ill., said it is in the planning stages of re-creating the 15,000-square-foot food court, which will include a Tucanos Brazilian Grill that will take up half the space next year.

There could be other offerings as well but not necessarily places to stuff your face.

The strategy makes sense, said John Livengood, president and CEO of the Indiana Restaurant Association. He said lifestyle centers such as Jefferson Pointe typically cater to middle- to upper-income households that prefer a casual-dining atmosphere to burger and fries.

“They tend to want more upscale offerings,” Livengood said. “That’s the clientele. Everything is driven by the customer.”

That explains the success of out-lot restaurants at Jefferson Pointe. Eddie Merlot’s and Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano are examples. And while Tucanos is one part of a more than $2 million renovation under way at the shopping center, it is no less important than a road under construction to ease congestion there.

According to an International Council of Shopping Centers report, annual sales per square foot at food courts last year was $823, a 4.2 percent increase from 2010. Jefferson Pointe management hopes Tucanos will prove itself a destination that will draw diners – and shoppers.

“There’s no sense beating a dead horse,” said Mike Brooks, general manager, referring to the decision not to maintain the status quo at the food court. “You have to realize when something is not working. Ultimately, we listen to our customers, and (Tucanos) is the type of restaurant we think will work.”

Livengood agrees.

“It’s not a surprise,” he said. “(Tucanos) would be a better use of space.”

The point seemed to be hammered home about two weeks ago, when Wendy’s announced its decision to follow the path of Panda Express and open a location at Apple Glen by November. And although officials at the hamburger chain spoke glowingly about Jefferson Pointe in a statement, they chose not to locate inside its food court.

“This up-and-coming area is an ideal place for a high-quality, quick-service restaurant,” said Don Keywood, director of Wendy’s of Fort Wayne Inc. “Wendy’s will be a great addition to southwest Fort Wayne and will spur economic growth …”

Just not within Jefferson Pointe’s food court.

Chick-fil-A store operator Jeff Hoffman gets it.

Restaurants like Jefferson Pointe’s Logan’s Roadhouse, O’Charley’s and Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill are establishments where people want to sit back and kick up their heels. But patrons of fast-food outlets want just what their name implies.

“You see that right there,” Hoffman said, motioning to the line of vehicles snaked around his building’s drive-thru. “That’s 60 percent of my business. That’s where the money is. I’m also able to take care of my customers if they want to sit down in our dining room.

“You can’t do that in a food court.”

Brooks says he gets it too.

“Look, restaurants come and go probably more than any other tenant,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the business. That’s why we’re looking at doing something different with our food court. You have to be able to change.”

pwyche@jg.net

 


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