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DALLAS-The Wall Street message that drives restaurateurs to Dallas-Fort Worth has two more newcomers staking claims in a fiercely competitive market with more seats, from black tie to casual, per capita than any place in the US, says a Weitzman Group lead executive.

California-based BJ’s Brewhouse & Restaurant has just leased the second of eight sites planned for its DFW casual dining lineup while it negotiates for spots in Austin and Houston. Smith & Wollensky, a ritzy New York City-based restaurant chain, has just bought 2.5 acres and a 12,000-sf building at 18438 Dallas Parkway for a Texas inroad. In the past 18 months, at least 15 new concepts have opened doors in the nationally recognized testing ground of Dallas-Fort Worth.

“Restaurant companies are driven to Dallas Fort Worth partly by demographics and partly by investment bankers,” Brian Glaser, Weitzman’s senior vice president in Dallas, tells GlobeSt.com. “Investment bankers like restaurant owners to first make it in Dallas-Fort Worth. If they are successful here, then the feeling is they can make it most anywhere.”

BJ’s Brewhouse picked a 93,397-sf site at 4803 Beltline Rd. along Addison’s restaurant row. Ground breaks in about 30 days, falling within weeks of the grand opening of the Huntington Beach, CA-based chain’s first location, an 8,500-sf restaurant in Lewisville. Before all is said and done, BJ’s Texas package will have two, maybe three, locations in Austin and five in Houston. Talks already are under way for one site in Austin and three more in Houston. A 10,000-sf restaurant in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake opens at the end of this year.

The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group also starts construction in 30 days, according to Glaser. He represented seller, RAM International, in the negotiations for the premier site while Geoff Henrion of Dallas-based Staubach Co. brokered for the restaurateur. The game plan is to open the doors in March 2003.

The selective restaurateur is touted as the nation’s third-largest grossing restaurant and the leader in New York City. Its Dallas choice puts the metro onto a 15-location roster that includes include Miami Beach, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

North Texas diners, by reputation, are picky, but they’re willing to spend…so concepts come and developers build because sales volumes are the drivers for rent levels. Retail centers, anchored by restaurant pad sites, are increasing in popularity in the metroplex.

“The market in Dallas-Fort Worth has always been a restaurant market,” Glaser explains. “Everyone wants to be in the restaurant business, but not everyone will succeed. If you succeed here, at above average or even average, chances are you will be a success almost anywhere.”

BJ’s and Smith & Wollensky are heading into competition for the check against such relative newcomers to the North Texas market as Big Bowl, Bamboo Club, Bahama Breeze, Maguire’s, Tom Tom’s Noodle House, Buffalo Wild Wings, Perry’s Steakhouse, Chicago Pizza & Brewery and Famous David’s BBQ. Coming soon will be Magic Johnson’s Fatburger and P.F. Chang’s Pei Wei Asian Diner.

Most concepts, new or otherwise, are buying or leasing in multiples, sheer proof of the clout that the sector wields on DFW transactions. “Despite the fact that restaurant volumes are flat or, in some cases, down almost 25% in 2001 (attributable to Sept. 11), restaurants continue, as they should, to identify Dallas-Fort Worth as a great market with great sales potential,” Glaser concludes.

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