About a year ago a couple of my friends decided to open a new restaurant franchise in town. The concept was solid: fast casual gourmet wraps, grilled sandwiches, and soups with an international flair. I think global fusion was how the brochure described it. It was one of the fastest growing restaurant concepts in the country and had about 30 successful units in California as well as several other states. The only question left was where do we locate the first two in St. Louis? Now St. Louis as a food town is a pretty competitive place with more restaurants per capita that most major cities in the United States. A lot of upstart restaurants have come and gone here. Acting on advice from the home office of the franchise, the owners decided to build open the first two in shopping malls. After all it made sense. The best place to open a business is to go where the most people are and shopping malls have a ready-made customer base built right into them. That’s why the rents for restaurant space at most malls is so high for the amount of space that you get.
So my friends picked out the two locations and got a deal because the same company then owned both shopping malls. For the first unit they hired an established manager who had worked for them before at several other restaurants that they had owned. They hired a good, seasoned crew and had a grand opening. In essence they did pretty much everything right. They opened the second restaurant a few months after the first one. After the first year both restaurants failed. The sales just weren’t there. The only thing that they can attribute it to is that a shopping mall really wasn’t the right place for the concept. Despite the fact that there was ample parking and a lot of foot traffic and the fact that the mall was in a very upscale neighborhood, folks coming through shopping with their kids along didn’t want to eat at a fairly expensive place with food that was unusual and didn’t have an extensive kid’s menu.
Now, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, (www.stltoday.com) the deal to have a major developer start work on the ill-fated Ballpark Village downtown has fell through despite a promise of huge tax incentives from the city. Ballpark Village is the development that was slated to be built in the big vacant muddy crater that now sits right next to the new ballpark. It sits on the spot where the old Bush stadium used to sit. It was to be an important part of the revitalization of the downtown area.
I really don’t know what will work there, maybe a park? But I do know that a collection of condos, retail shops, restaurants, and office space won’t. Just look at the old St. Louis Center that was built downtown in the eighties. It was supposed to revitalize the area too. It was pretty much a failure from the start and most of its space remained empty until they finally closed it.
I know a green space right next to the ballpark won’t help fill the city’s tax coffers but it sure would be nice.