Florida's nearly 39,000 restaurants are projected to do $41.7 billion in sales this year, according to the National Restaurant Association. And the appetite for eating out is showing up in a big way at the Cypress Creek Town Center development that traverses State Road 56 just west of Interstate 75.
The initial retail center on the northern portion of the development will include both Mellow Mushroom pizza and Chuy's Tex-Mex restaurants, according to Pasco County building permit records.
The two restaurants will bring the number of fast-food, fast-casual and family-dining options to 15 along the half-mile stretch of SR 56 in Lutz. And that's not even counting the food court offerings inside the Tampa Premium Outlets mall.
"It's a lot heavier on food service than what I thought it would be," landowner Robert Sierra said in a recent interview.
Sierra's companies own the 204 acres on the north side of SR 56, across the highway from the mall, Costco and a strip of eight restaurants. The Sierra property already is home to Ford's Garage and Pollo Tropical. Wendy's and Taco Bell are both under construction, and a Bahama Breeze also is planned to the east.
Between Taco Bell and the Bahama Breeze site, Hutton Development of Chattanooga, Tenn., is building a seven-store, 3.3-acre strip center that will feature Mellow Mushroom and Chuy's. Building permit records show Mellow Mushroom will occupy 5,600 square feet and Chuy's nearly 7,900 square feet, including a 605-square-foot outdoor patio.
At what point does the market become saturated?
"Fifteen restaurants is a lot of restaurants. It's doable, but it's going to be a challenge," said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst with the national business consulting firm NPD Group.
Though the number of restaurants has been contracting both nationally and in Florida, the growth has been among chain restaurants, Riggs said.
"Chains tend to do better. They've got more marketing clout, and they're supported by corporations," she said.
Chuy's, which has five restaurants in the Orlando area, will be opening its first site in the Tampa Bay region. The chain began in Austin, Texas, 35 years ago and spread beyond the Lone Star State in 2009. It now totals 83 restaurants in 16 states. Chuy's describes itself to investors as operating value-driven, full-service restaurants featuring made-from-scratch menu items. The restaurants have a common decor, but each location is different in format, the company says, in order to present an "unchained" look.
Mellow Mushroom, which features stone-baked pizzas, has locations in Brandon, Clearwater and Tampa. It, too, offers designs unique to individual restaurants, usually decorated with locally sourced art.
"The Tampa area has been a great market for Mellow Mushroom, so we're very excited to be expanding our presence to Wesley Chapel," Annica Kreider, vice president of brand development for Mellow Mushroom's parent company, Home-Grown Industries of GA Inc., said in an email. "We've been interested in the Wesley Chapel market for some time now, so we're thrilled to be starting the process."
The new retail center also will include a Men's Wearhouse, Great Clips, Mattress One, and a dental office, building permits show. Many of those store names appeared previously on conceptual site plans circulated by leasing agents. But the building permit applications provide public record of the tenants headed for the Cypress Creek Town Center's northern component.
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Hutton's building contractors also have applied for permits that identify some of the potential tenants to be located in a planned retail center across Sierra Center Boulevard from the string of restaurants. The permits identify the tenants as Burlington Coat Factory, PetSmart and Five Below, a retailer that caps its prices at $5.
At least one proposed restaurant failed to materialize within the town center. On the Border, a Mexican restaurant, filed preliminary plans with Pasco County in 2015 to build a restaurant on the south side of State Road 56, adjacent to the Starbucks that recently opened. The land, however, is now being marketed by the Southeast Retail Group as the site of a three-store, 9,800-square-foot retail center. Hunt Real Estate acquired the property last summer for $750,000 from the Jacobs Group of Ohio.