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GrillSmith closing raises questions about mall's restaurant spot

BRANDON — Tampa-based restaurant chain GrillSmith closed its Westfield Brandon location Monday after nearly five years, raising speculation about the challenges of being away from the mall's cluster of restaurants on the west side.

GrillSmith president Billy Grimm said the chain's five other Tampa Bay locations have led to an increase in overall sales of 4 percent this year, building on a 6.1 percent increase in 2013 and a 4 percent increase in 2012.

But the Brandon location underperformed. Why?

Grimm said that being the only sit-down restaurant on the east side of the mall was an obstacle GrillSmith couldn't overcome. A Cheesecake Factory, Bahama Breeze, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, California Pizza Kitchen, Ryuu Japanese Steak House and Panera Bread are in a cluster on the west side of the mall. The "restaurant courtyard" features complimentary valet parking on weekend evenings.

"It was, no bones about it," an obstacle, said Grimm, who was in the midst of an 18-year stint with Outback Steakhouse when GrillSmith opened its sixth location at the mall in October 2009. "Sometimes you make a bad decision. Clearly parking has been a challenge."

Before GrillSmith, Sam Seltzer's occupied the location, originally constructed as the mall office. Dawn Arvidson, marketing director at Westfield, said the strengths of that location as a restaurant include its proximity to the food court and one of the mall's main entrances.

"It's unfortunate that GrillSmith is closing," Arvidson said. "This is an opportunity for Westfield to bring in a new concept that customers have been asking for."

Arvidson said Westfield is working on placing a new tenant in that spot. She indicated it could be another restaurant or possibly a retailer.

"It just takes the right use to be successful," she said.

Grimm said he thinks a wing eatery or sports bar would have a better chance of success in that space. For GrillSmith, a "refined casual" American fare concept from the owners of the Melting Pot, the focus shifts to expanding to St. Petersburg, Orlando, Sarasota and/or South Florida.

The closure "was clearly nothing to do with the Brandon community at all," said Grimm, who indicated that other Brandon locations are "not on the radar at this time, but we won't rule it out."

The staff of about 40 has been offered positions at the other locations, in Clearwater, the original GrillSmith that opened in 2004; New Tampa; Lakeland; Carrollwood; and South Tampa.

Eric Vician can be reached at ericvician@yahoo.com.

GrillSmith closing raises questions about mall's restaurant spot 05/15/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2014 5:59pm]
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