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DALLAS-One of the region’s most prestigious shopping meccas, the Plaza at Preston Center, is being expanded to accommodate Houston’s sister in its first bid to test the market outside Southern California. A 40-year ground lease is backing the play.

The plaza’s owner, buying some abutting tracts for parking, is in the process of scraping the former Momo’s Italian Specialties and plans to rebuild the expanded site with a 4,804-sf freestanding restaurant for Cafe R&D. The 167,631-sf retail center, which historically runs at 100% occupancy, has four restaurants, with Houston’s as the only freestanding model in the lineup. Momo’s vacated in May 2005 when its lease expired and talks were underway with Houston’s parent, confides Dennis Leibovitz, executive vice president for Dallas-based Retail Connection.

“I’d been tracking it for Houston’s for three years,” Leibovitz tells GlobeSt.com. “All restaurateurs would like to find a place in the plaza.” He says the Beverly Hills, CA parent’s MO is to secure trophy sites, then decide which concept gets the dirt.

Leibovitz says the restaurant chain’s other considerations also would have been Texas firsts, Gulfstream or Bandera, but the three-year-old Cafe R&D got the nod for its first move outside California, where it has units in Newport Beach and Century City. Houston’s year-after-year performance in the plaza since its fall 1998 opening drove its parent’s decision to grab a second restaurant spot when something became available, the broker says.

The Caruth Family Communities Foundation, the plaza’s owner, has tapped Good, Fulton & Farrell Inc. of Dallas to design the addition, which will face Wentwood Drive. Hill & Wilkinson Ltd. from nearby Plano is the general contractor. Mike Geisler, founding partner of Dallas-based Venture Commercial Real Estate LLC, represented the foundation, which has quotes from $40 per sf to $45 per sf, triple net, riding on the plaza’s inline space.

“The building will reflect the center’s surroundings,” Leibovitz stresses. “Each Cafe R&D is different. They reflect the center that they’re in.” If the construction schedule is held, Cafe R&D will be open for business in October.

The concept’s menu is filled with American classics–sandwiches, salads and desserts. But the hook is a seasonal menu and an interior with an exhibition kitchen. The cafe prototype includes a bar and dining patio.

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