The new Stewart’s Root Beer Drive-Ins now being franchised in Florida by the Cranford, NJ-based restaurant chain will bear little resemblance to the refreshment stands of the same name that go back to the 1920s, says Tom Prakas.

The restaurant broker, who launched The Prakas Group in Boca Raton last December after many years of experience in this specialized field, is now working on a half-dozen potential sites that could close within the next three to four months, he tells

Initially, the Prakas firm has an exclusive from Stewart’s to nail down 15 parcels of 30,000 sf to 40,000 sf in heavy-trafficked locations. Stainless-steel-covered prefab restaurants of 1,300 sf to 3,000 sf will be placed in the center of each site circled by parking, including spaces for in-car eating.

Every location will also offer drive-through window service and outdoor seating, with the larger restaurants providing 40 seats indoors. Prakas estimates that land purchase prices will range from $12 to $20 psf.

Franchisees can expect to invest $250,000 to $500,000 per unit, depending on site and size of the individual drive-in.

“It’s a real cool concept with a ’50s fish bowl look,” Prakas says. At the outset, prospective locations include South Beach in Miami-Dade County, Margate and Coral Springs in Broward County, and Royal Palm Beach, Wellington and West Palm Beach in Palm Bach County.

The first Stewart’s in South Florida is expected to open within five to 12 months. Frank Russo, director of operations for Stewart’s, describes the menu as a mix of traditional fare such as hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries, and more modern items such as salads and grilled chicken sandwiches. Full-service indoor seating not typical of Stewart’s in the north has been included with Florida’s climate in mind.

Currently, Stewart’s operates some 60 units in the Northeast, with 38 of those in New Jersey. The move into Florida represents the firm’s first attempt at franchising. The company sold off the bottling rights to its root beer in 1989.

That bottler, known as Cable Car Beverages, was acquired in 1997 by the national soft-drink maker Triarc Companies, which continues to market the packaged product through its Stewart’s Beverages unit.

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