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. Whats left at Jefferson Pointe is a pizza parlor and a childrens 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. Thats the clientele. Everything is driven by the customer.
That explains the success of out-lot restaurants at Jefferson Pointe. Eddie Merlots and Biaggis 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.
Theres 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.
Its 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 Wendys 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 Wendys of Fort Wayne Inc. Wendys will be a great addition to southwest Fort Wayne and will spur economic growth
Just not within Jefferson Pointes food court.
Chick-fil-A store operator Jeff Hoffman gets it.
Restaurants like Jefferson Pointes Logans Roadhouse, OCharleys 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 buildings drive-thru. Thats 60 percent of my business. Thats where the money is. Im also able to take care of my customers if they want to sit down in our dining room.
You cant 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. Its just the nature of the business. Thats why were looking at doing something different with our food court. You have to be able to change.