Restaurants like BrickTop's eating up Coral Gables retail space
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
A co-founder of the popular Houston's restaurant — soon changing its name to Hillstone — is returning to Coral Gables with a new restaurant concept he hopes is just as successful.
Joe Ledbetter, co-owner with Tom Brunnberg, is bringing BrickTop's — with only one Florida location, in Naples — to South Florida to occupy 7,000 square feet at the northwest corner of Andalusia Avenue and Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
Mr. Ledbetter and Mr. Brunnberg have been in the restaurant business in South Florida, from Palm Beach to Coral Gables, for 20 years.
"It is a market in which we have deep familiarity and we think Coral Gables is the center of the bullseye," Mr. Ledbetter said. "With all the population density, office and retail development, financial headquarters and cultural diversity, it is a powerful place to do business."
BrickTop's, which is to offer a lunch, dinner and brunch menu, also has locations in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte.
The restaurant is to have 15 tables for outdoor dining seven days a week. The eclectic menu, Mr. Ledbetter said, is to include fresh grilled fish and steaks, fish tacos, a selection of sandwiches and salads, and brunch featuring everything from eggs benedict to homemade doughnuts.
Monette Klein-O'Grady, who represented the restaurant owners in the 15-year lease agreement, said the transaction came together in about three months because everyone was willing to sit at the table and negotiate a fair market price.
"Coming back to open this location is very exciting," said Ms. Klein-O'Grady of the owners opening another restaurant in the Gables. "It's a fabulous concept that will be a great addition for Coral Gables."
Barbara Tria, senior commercial associate at Kerdyk Real Estate, represented the landlord, Robert Balogh, in the transaction.
Ms. Klein-O'Grady, a partner at brokerage Prime Sites, who represented the original owners who brought Houston's to the Gables, said at a commercial real estate forum this month that Houston's "set the trend for what has evolved into the restaurant market in Miracle Mile."
Retailers and restaurants target locations with strong residential, office and retail activity measurable through sales, she said, because they like to follow success.
Houston's is one of those successes, a Gables signature restaurant with a large following as patrons line up for hours to get a table, disregarding other restaurants steps away.
But the owners want to try a new concept. Gradually, the name, signage and menu of Houston's are to morph into Hillstone, one of the brands under the umbrella Hillstone Restaurant Group.
"Hillstone restaurant is our new brand. We think it will be a great fit in some of our premier markets…," said Anne Gibson, spokeswoman for Hillstone Restaurant Group.
So far, the group has Hillstone restaurants in New York City, Boston and San Francisco, according to the company's Web site.
"The menu won't change much," Ms. Gibson said, adding that some new local and regional specialties are to be added to the menu.
She says the company doesn't think changing the name from Houston's to Hillstone could hurt its popularity.
"We are not very concerned in the sense that we are not going to do a lot of things that will make the restaurant seem completely different," Ms. Gibson explained, adding that "our clients are used to seeing us change and evolve."
Mari Gallet, executive director of the Coral Gables Business Improvement District, says restaurants continue to be a centerpiece of downtown Gables, with a handful of new ones set to debut in the months to come.
The 300-seat Seasons 52 and BrickTop's are each assembling full-service restaurants after leasing several spaces previously occupied by stores. Seasons 52 is taking over six storefronts in the 300 block of Miracle Mile and BrickTop's is taking over four.
What looks like 14 empty stores, Ms. Gallet says, are actually spaces being assembled for bigger restaurant operations that are now in the permitting and build-out phases. Other restaurants coming soon are, she said, are Ale House, Norman's 180, Panera Bread and Iron Sushi.
With existing spots and coming-soons, downtown Gables is boasting 82 restaurants that are keeping its vacancy rate at 6%.
"That's a normal turnover type of rate," Ms. Gallet said. "Things are turning very quickly. Nothing is sitting."
The new restaurants settling in the Gables benefit the area's retailers, she said, helping attract more foot traffic and creating a vibrant destination.
"People drive from other cities" to come to Gables restaurants, Ms. Gallet said. "So these restaurants do bring a lot of consumers that otherwise wouldn't have come."
Area restaurateurs get nervous with openings because, at the end of the day, it translates to more supply, she explained. When a new restaurant opens it affects their business, she said, but in the long term it benefits all.
Mr. Ledbetter hopes to complete BrickTop's floor plan in about four months to then begin the permitting process, followed by build-out. No opening date is yet set.
"Seeing new restaurants such as BrickTop's and Seasons 52 come into the Gables attest to its vitality," Mr. Ledbetter said. "The opportunity to do business here is very exciting to everyone at BrickTop's and we are looking forward to the opportunity."