Shopping for Retail Synergies

The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio hosts 11 full-service restaurants.
The Shops at La Cantera in San Antonio hosts 11 full-service restaurants. General Growth Properties

Independent operators, restaurant groups, and emerging chains find eager partners in real estate developers on a mission to create dining-driven destinations.

Wine Not Hospitality CEO Luke Johnson could have chosen to put his new restaurant, Kinfork, anywhere in the Chicago area.

A suburban Main Street.

A busy thoroughfare lined with strip malls.

A freestanding pad in the shadow of a hotel, across from a convention center, or next to a towering office complex.

All fine options in their own right, Johnson reasons, but none held the allure of Woodfield Mall, one of the nation’s largest shopping destinations with nearly 300 retail, dining, and entertainment options under its immense charcoal-colored roof.

Amid the 2015 holiday shopping season’s rush, Johnson opened Kinfork in the Schaumburg, Illinois, mall anchored by retail powerhouses Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, and Nordstrom.

The 400-seat restaurant, which inhabits some 13,000 square feet in the mall’s northwestern corner, sports a camping theme and spins out classic American dishes from its 11-foot-wide wood-fired grill—entrées diners can savor alongside moonshine, smoked peanuts, and s’mores.

“I think people are ready for something new, and we’re trying to deliver it,” says Johnson, who developed Kinfork with input from the Simon Property Group, one of the world’s leading retail real estate enterprises and Woodfield’s well-heeled owners.

Johnson first encountered Simon executives when they visited the Rack House, Johnson’s single-unit, barbecue-themed concept in nearby Arlington Heights, Illinois. Admiring the restaurateur’s style and operational acumen, Simon personnel encouraged Johnson to put his next full-service concept at Woodfield Mall.

Johnson happily obliged.

“They want to refresh and are banking on new things,” Johnson says of Simon, “and I saw a huge opportunity with tremendous upside.”

Retail Bound

While major retail centers like Woodfield have long been the domain of national full-service brands like The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s, as well as an assortment of well-established quick-service players, mall developers and owners are increasingly recruiting trendsetting full-service independents, boutique restaurant groups, and celebrity chefs in an unrelenting quest to establish a point of marketplace differentiation, enhance discoverability, and appease an ever-swelling consumer appetite for experience-driven destinations.

“It’s happening across the country and in all different types of markets,” International Council of Shopping Centers spokesman Jesse Tron confirms. “It’s not necessarily a move away from national names, as much as a more keen interest in newer concepts.”

Since the recession, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants executive vice president David Miller has observed that restaurants have transitioned from being a secondary consideration at major U.S. malls to become the primary thought.

“Mall owners recognize that great restaurants can drive traffic,” says Miller, whose Columbus, Ohio–based group operates 12 distinct concepts and 26 restaurants, including some in retail centers. “When a given restaurant brings in 2,000 to 3,000 patrons each week, mall ownership recognizes that value.”


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