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More restaurants are looking to south side: Eateries eye expansions in 'underserved' market

February 12, 2007

Big-name restaurants scouting for Indianapolis locations have snubbed the south side for years.

Eateries like Champps, Cheesecake Factory and Rock Bottom Brewery headed north, drawn by upscale developments and affluent neighborhoods, or downtown to capitalize on the high-traffic from convention visitors.

But now, more high-end restaurants are showing interest in the south side, local retail brokers say. Among the chains looking are Fox & Hound, Champps and Old Chicago, a pasta and pizza concept that's part of the Rock Bottom family.

Several other national chains-including Paradise Bakery & Café, California Pizza Kitchen and Bravo Cucina Italiana-are expected to establish their first south-side locations within a 125,000-square-foot lifestyle center under construction at Greenwood Park Mall.

The project, which will replace the mall's former L.S. Ayres department store, has proven a catalyst for getting restaurants to take a new look south, said Steve Delaney, a partner and restaurant specialist with The Linder Co., a Carmel-based real estate firm.

"I think it's an underserved market, with disposable income, a lot of people and a very successful mall," Delaney said. "Restaurants down there tend to do very well."

The south side has been hampered in landing restaurants because it's not growing as fast as other parts of the city, Delaney said. Plus, the market's aging retail centers don't "show well" to restaurant owners scouting locations.

Residents on the north side also have more disposable income to spend, data from SNL Financial shows. In 2006, the median household income in Hamilton County was $88,155, while Johnson County's was $64,720.

People on the south side have been fighting a second-tier stigma for years, said Southport Mayor Nannett Tunget. She used to complain to L.S. Ayres managers in Greenwood that the chain's north-side stores carried nicer clothes.

"I think the perception sometimes is, there are not enough moneyed people on the south side, that we're rednecks and all we want is McDonald's," Tunget said. "That's not the case. The market is here."

Delaney agrees. He said the restaurants he has placed on the south side, including Buca di Beppo and Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill, are doing well.

"A lot of the restaurants on the north side will land there eventually," he said.

Ruby Tuesday plans to open its first south-side restaurant in August. The chain chose a location along U.S. 31 on the site of the former Colorado Steakhouse, said Ed Crofton, president of a group that operates eight Ruby Tuesday restaurants in central Indiana.

"We've been trying to get a presence on the south side for a while," Crofton said.

Most restaurant concepts looking to break into the Indianapolis market start with a location on the north side, with Keystone at the Crossing as the top choice. That isn't likely to change, said Don Williams, senior vice president in the local office of St. Louis-based Colliers Turley Martin Tucker.

But the south is closing the income gap and catching up on other measures restaurants track.

"The south side is coming alive," Williams said. "The lifestyle component at [Greenwood] mall has been sorely needed. That's the magnet."

According to a Colliers report, the new lifestyle center will include several restaurants: Paradise Bakery & Café, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based chain with locations in Carmel and Castleton; California Pizza Kitchen, a Los Angeles-based chain hoping to return to the market after locations at the airport and Fashion Mall closed; and Bravo Cucina Italiana, a Columbus, Ohiobased chain with two north-side locations.

The report also mentions Elephant Bar as a potential restaurant tenant, but Delaney said that deal fell through.

Some of the other concepts looking around the south side already have locations in Indianapolis, too. Littleton, Colo.-based Champps has restaurants downtown and at Keystone at the Crossing, and Wichita, Kansas-based Fox & Hound has locations in Carmel and Castleton.
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