National restaurants eye Delray Beach for space

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The spot vacated by Smoke BBQ has caught the attention of national eateries. It’s not Dull-Ray anymore.

Instead, Delray Beach has reached a new level of business prominence, so much so that the once sleepy village-by-the sea has national restaurant companies taking a hard look at leasing space along downtown’s Atlantic Avenue.

In particular, they’re eyeing space vacated by Smoke BBQ at 8 E. Atlantic Ave. Three national restaurant companies now are vying for the spot, said Tom Prakas, the Boca Raton-based restaurant broker handling the property. The location has taken on added allure with the pending arrival of a Louie Bossi restaurant, which is taking over the 32 East restaurant space in that same block, at 32 E. Atlantic Ave.

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Sources said West Palm Beach-based Big Time Restaurant Group inked a deal last month to take the space and bring its celebrated Italian concept to the avenue. 32 East will remain open for several months as Big Time secures permits, at which time the space will undergo a renovation and reopen this time next year as the latest incarnation of the popular Italian gathering spot, which has locations in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale.

The Louie Bossi buzz is creating greater demand for the Smoke space, which features 3,400 interior square feet and a generous 3,000-square-foot patio, the largest outdoor space in Delray Beach, said Prakas, of  Prakas & Co.

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Prakas declined to name the companies, but he said two are new to the South Florida marketplace and all want a piece of the action on a street that doesn’t slow down during weeknights.

“If I reminisce about how the street has changed, 15 years ago, you could go there at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. at night and pitch a tent in the street and never get hit,” Prakas said.

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Since then, however, even weeknights are clogged with diners wandering the avenue in search of food and fun. The avenue’s growth has been so pronounced it is now spreading, including north along Second Avenue, dubbed Pineapple Grove, and down other streets.

Through the years, Prakas said he’s done probably 40 to 50 restaurant deals valued at more than $50 million worth of properties.

Among the restaurants he’s brought in are The Office, Vic & Angelo’s, Taverna Opa, Che, Sazio, Honey, Dada, RokBrgr, City Oyster, Starbucks, Lemongrass, Bull Bar, Gol! (now Cafe Martier), Max’s Harvest and Max’s Social House (now Death & Glory, a deal he also did).

“I love the fact that we made a big impact,” said Prakas, who now relies on his son Christian to help with the business. Prakas expects a deal on the Smoke space soon.

The interest from national restaurant companies follows the move by national clothing retail stores onto Atlantic Avenue’s streets. They include Urban Outfitters, Tommy Bahama and LF.

Prakas said national restaurant companies often move in line with other retailers, so it’s not surprising they are following the clothing stores’ lead.

Mayor Cary Glickstein said he’s aware of national retailer interest because he fields their calls all the time.

He said the interest reflects a nationwide shift by retailers to urban cores from suburban shopping malls. Retailers are moving to where the population is gathering. These days, it’s in lively urban downtowns.

As proof, he notes that a 2.75-acre lot on West Atlantic Avenue east of Interstate 95 will be transformed into a Publix Supermarket.The lot, on Atlantic and Southwest Sixth avenues in downtown Delray Beach’s Northwest/Southwest neighborhood, will be home to a 25,000-square-foot store.

It’s a change from the standard, larger Publix locations near suburban residential communities. But the move also reflects the city’s maturation as a destination for both residents and businesses, Glickstein said.

“All these companies are rethinking their footprints,” Glickstein said. “Publix doesn’t need more 50,000-square-foot boxes. They can be more strategic in urban areas, and a lot of national retailers and restaurants are rethinking smaller urban areas, like Delray Beach.”

Such a shift is not without risk to the local players who put Delray Beach on the map.

National retailers have the ability to pay high rents, which can crowd out local players that gave Delray Beach its original charm.

Glickstein said Delray Beach is trying to be careful to make sure new, sometimes national arrivals, such as the Capital One cafe coming to the former Green Owl space, are in line with the character of the city’s architecture.

Jeff Sussman, a Boca Raton restaurant broker who also has done deals on Atlantic Avenue, predicts that local players will always trump national companies when it comes to long-term success in the Palm Beach County market.

Local players, such as Big Time, which also owns Rocco’s Tacos and City Oyster in Delray Beach, know the local labor market well. “They’re connected to the fabric of the community,” Sussman said, “and everybody who goes to work for them knows they will be successful and make money.”

Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.

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National restaurants eye Delray Beach for space