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BOCA RATON, FL-One common thread ties together the pool of commercial real estate investors that Athan “Tom” Prakas represents in South Florida.

“With what is happening in the stock market, people are getting back to the basics,” says the founding president of Prakas Group Inc., a boutique commercial real estate services firm based in Boca Raton that specializes in restaurants, nightclubs and other commercial properties.

“They don’t want to gamble on risky deals,” Prakas tells GlobeSt.com. “They’re saying, ‘Find me a prime location,’ whether that’s a strip center, office building, restaurant or nightclub. We just happen to be in the right market at the right place at the right time.”

This two-year-old firm is about to eclipse fairly impressive first-year sales volume, largely on rapid increases in a population that is looking for good places to eat and party, the broker says.

“There’s no doubt we’re quickly getting to be the top player in the South Florida nightclub and restaurant brokerage business,” Prakas tells GlobeSt.com.

He says, “There are only a few restaurant-nightclub brokers in South Florida. So, there isn’t much in the way of audited industry numbers. We think we’re the biggest player in Broward and Palm Beach counties because we’re closing around 10 deals every two weeks.”

Already through August, the firm is reporting about $30 million in total gross sales. That compares with about $24 million for all of last year. “We could easily reach $55 million to $60 million this year,” Prakas says.

It’s not as if Prakas just fell into this fast growing and specialized segment of the commercial real estate industry. Acquainted with the industry through family business, Prakas opened, operated and sold a number of restaurants and nightclubs over the past 28 years in Ohio and Georgia.

About six years ago, he opened the Cigar Bar in Downtown Boca Raton, the first establishment of its kind in the upscale community, capitalizing on the once-fanatical national demand for such specialized entertainment facilities.

While divesting that property, Prakas sensed a niche existed for specialized brokerage services that understood the peculiarities of buying, selling and leasing restaurant and nightclub properties.

Since opening for business in January 2000, Prakas says, demand for his services has increased exponentially. He’s cultivated a fairly impressive client list that includes West Palm Beach-based Big Time Restaurant Group Corp., which is developing a chain of restaurants and nightclubs in South Florida.

In one recent restaurant deal, Prakas Group represented an investment group that targeted the First Union Financial Plaza on busy Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach as a site for the development of a new Sopra, a high-end Italian restaurant.

After investing nearly $2.5 million in renovations, Prakas says, the investment group operating as Sun Atlantic Properties retained him to broker the acquisition of the entire 42,000-sf building in a deal valued at $7 million with Gripe Development Co.

“About 75% to 80% of our business comes from commercial sales and leasing, but 25% to 30% of the volume comes from sales and leasing of restaurants and nightclubs,” Prakas says.

“Our strategy is to go out and find good commercial sites and to market those properties to a select group of private investors–stock market investors, professional people, physicians,” he tells GlobeSt.com. “We never intended to become a big brokerage that puts listings on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service). We market to a few investors we qualify as serious buyers.”

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