By Elizabeth Aguilera
The Denver Post
Park Meadows’ new outdoor addition The Vistas has quickly become a destination for out-of -state restaurants making their Colorado debuts.
Mikuni and The Counter, both of California, Arizona’s White Chocolate Grill and Ohio’s Brio Tuscan Grill have all put down roots in the new outdoor shopping area.
Restaurant operators say they’re attracted to the area’s demographics.
“Look at Highlands Ranch. It’s nothing but rooftops, and look at Inverness or DTC and you see nothing but office towers,” said Josh Blanchard, operations partner at The Counter. “We like the synergy at The Vistas, the adjacency to the mall, the parking advantage, and the area is dense.”
Denver’s reputation as a friendly, educated, open-minded and healthy city also helped seal the deal for the restaurants.
“It ranks high on a lot of scales,” said Derrick Fong, chief executive of Mikuni Restaurant Group, which operates the Mikuni sushi restaurant.
The newcomers were scouted and invited to check out Park Meadows by a team at General Growth Properties, said Pam Schenk, general manager at Park Meadows. General Growth Properties owns Park Meadows.
“This gives us a whole new level of entertainment and sophistication for the suburbs,” Schenk said.
In addition, the center offers entertainment and fine dining closer to home at a time consumers are watching the economy closely.
“It’s always nice to be chased,” Fong said of the center’s interest in Mikuni. He and Kotaro “Taro” Arai, whose family founded the restaurant, traveled to The Vistas and quickly inked the deal.
Ditto for White Chocolate Grill.
“We said yes immediately,” said Bobby Fitzgerald, co-owner and director of operations for White Chocolate Grill. “Normally a business of our size does not get into a premier site of this size.”
White Chocolate Grill opens today. It is the fourth restaurant for the company. The site is 6,800 square feet. The operator spent $3.5 million on its new location, which is expected to generate nearly $6 million in sales annually.
Fitzgerald calls the area the “urban suburbs.”
“It’s a place where folks, like myself, in their mid- to late 30s, who are not living in LoDo or Cherry Creek, are raising their families but they still appreciate quality and have an urban style,” he said. “They feel urbanesque.”
Mikuni, which has a devout following in California, tends to set up in areas just like this, a little suburban but high-end.
It was opened in 1983 by Arai’s father, a pastor, when the family immigrated from Japan. In 1993 Fong began doing the accounting.
“This thing has legs and could probably go somewhere,” Fong remembers thinking. Eventually Fong went to work for Mikuni full-time with
Taro, 38, managing the creative and food operations.
Last year the company tallied $27 million in annual sales. The 8,400-square-foot Park Meadows location cost $3.9 million to open.
Next door at The Counter, there are 312,000 hamburger combinations to create, said Josh Blanchard, operations partner.
Customers can choose a burger off the menu or create their own at the restaurant, which is a franchise.
“When I visited the concept in Santa Monica, I knew the concept would thrive here,” said Blanchard, who previously worked in operations for Noodles & Co. “The energy, the quality, the ingredients, Coloradans care about those things.”
Elizabeth Aguilera: 303-954-1372 or firstname.lastname@example.org