Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Darden Puts Out Wildfire in Dunwoody to Open The Capital Grille

Wildfire Restaurant in Dunwoody will close effective December 21st. The restaurant served steaks, chops and seafood and also catered to guests with gluten allergies and religious diets with special seasonal menus. Having opened in 2006, the restaurant's lease is being purchased by Orlando-based Darden Restaurant Group. It's my understanding that Darden plans to open Atlanta's second The Capital Grille in the space and hopes to have it up and running about six weeks after the Wildfire closure.

The Capital Grille's current Atlanta location is atop the Capital Building on East Paces Ferry in the heart of Buckhead. Ned Grace opened The first The Capital Grille in 1990 in Providence, Rhode Island. Later, the restaurant expanded and launched the Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse chain. Atlanta-based Longhorn Steakhouse purchased The Capital Grille and Bugaboo Creek in 1996, and the new entity was renamed RARE Hospitality International. In 2007, RARE sold the Bugaboo Creek chain to Trimaran Capital Partners, a New York-based private asset management firm, and then sold their remaining chains to Darden.

After the Atlanta location closes, Wildfire will be left with seven locations; five in Illinois, one in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and one at Tysons Galleria in McLean, Virgina. The chain is a concept from Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants. Lettuce Entertain You is best known for their popular Maggiano's Little Italy chain.

Please note, this gets a little confusing...

Maggiano's and its sister chain Corner Bakery were both sold to Dallas-based Brinker International in the mid 90s but LEY retained the rights to Maggiano's in Illinois and still owns and operates five locations in Chicago and one in Milwaukee. (Corner Bakery was purchased earlier this year by Atlanta-based Roark Capital Group)

Though never affiliated locally with Wildfire, local Maggiano's in Buckhead, Cobb and Dunwoody will accept Wildfire gift cards through next year.

Oddly enough, I was informed of a similar situation that occurred at Aventura Mall in South Florida. Ocean Prime, which just opened this week in Buckhead, had its Aventura Mall restaurant's lease purchased by LVMH so that they could relocate and expand their Louis Vuitton boutique from nearby Bal Harbor. In both cases, the restaurants were performing well by all accounts, but were presented with offers lucrative enough for them to give up their leases.

Darden opened the first Seasons 52 in Orlando in 2003 and entered Atlanta in 2006. Atlanta was the second market for the chain but it has since been launched in multiple additional markets including King of Prussia, Pennsylvania and Costa Mesa, California. Sources tell me that it's Darden's current plan to model growth of Seasons 52 around that of The Capital Grille. When The Capital Grille opens next year in Dunwoody, they will sit side by side with Seasons 52 in the Dillard's outparcel at Perimeter Mall. The two concepts would seem to compliment each other well: The Capital Grille, a high-end steakhouse and Seasons 52, a healthier alternative where all entrees are 475 calories or less.

In all honesty, it's a wonder Tampa-based Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar from OSI Restaurant Partners is not the one closing. Its location within Sembler's Perimeter Place is hidden from view and is their only in the market. Having previously never dined there, I've been sent not one, not two, but THREE $50 gift cards. Desperate much? Locally owned McKendrick's Steak House is also in the area, but somehow has hung on for years and probably will continue to do so.

OK, your turn. What do you think of this restaurant shake-up? Were you a fan of Wildfire and are already planning a trip to Chicago? Do you prefer The Capital Grille to any other steakhouse? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, I enjoyed Wildfire. I have 2 gift cards I need to use up! At least the replacement is good (but way more expensive).

Anonymous said...

Disappointed to see Wildfire close. I liked the place. Though it isn't like I was a regular diner there. As for your McKendrick's comment that it "somehow has hung on", I find that a little ignorant on your part. Have you noticed the amount of offices in the Perimeter area? East of 400, McKendricks was for a long time the only high end steak place until Flemings. There's a Ruth's Chris on Roswell and 285, but us "east of 400" people, don't like go to Roswell. McKendricks is extremely crowded many nights and has a decent lunch crowd. It's my number 1 expense account place. Considering the economy and their crowds are still large, the term "somehow hung on" seems awfully displaced. That's just my opinion...

SB said...

I wonder how this relates to the ABC article last week about how hard it is to find good restaurant space in the Perimeter. The fact that Darden wanted a Capital Grille up here so bad they bought out a lease speaks to that.

Atlantan99 said...

@SB,

Thanks for the comment. I too find it odd that restaurants are that eager to enter the market. Garrison's Broiler & Tap / Hudson Grille remains empty on the front portion of the mall as does the former American Cafe within the mall. While perhaps the outparcel spaces at Perimeter are more attractive to would-be operators, it's still surprising no one has touched these other two spaces.

ScottZillaWillEatYoChildren said...

Touching on what the 2nd Anonymous said about the offices around Perimeter Mall, I think that there are enough high-end steakhouses around here with McKendricks & Flemings in the mix. We don't need a third. We also have Joey D's (which I'd classify as a more upscale Longhorn) so best wishes to Capital Grille (which I do enjoy) but wish it wasn't another steakhouse coming in.

Anonymous said...

Scott - I am that 2nd anonymous and couldn't agree with you more. I've been to the Capital Grille and I've had a good meal there, but I'll always pick McKendricks, so it's as if I'm losing a restaurant that I occasionally go to (Wildfire) for a restaurant I'll probably never go to (unless someone else chooses it and is paying!

Anonymous said...

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants is a franchisee of 5 Maggiano's locations in the Chicago area. Maggiano's is owned by Brinker International, owners of Chili's.

Darden has demonstrated that if you can't create a good restaurant, you can buy one.

Billy said...

Wildfire was the perfect "tweener" restaurant in this area for my wife and I...higher end than Longhorn but cheaper than Flemings. I'm very very sad to lose this place. The cornbread was my favorite in Atlanta.

On a completely different note, I'm excited that this area is getting a Chuy's in December...it's going to do extremely well.

Atlantan99 said...

Hey Billy,

Yea, it's sad to lose Wildfire, as I said in the article, I'm amazed Fleming's is not the one closing.

Have you been to Chuy's before? Is it all that different / better than Uncle Julio's?

Anonymous said...

Chuy's price-point is much lower than Uncle Julio's with comparable food (and better salsa!)

Anonymous said...

I really liked Wildfire. Great atmosphere, friendly staff and good food. Sorry they are closing.

Anonymous said...

I'm really disappointed to hear this. Wildfire is a favorite. Capital Grille is good but not as good as Wildfire. Wildfire seems more reasonably priced. Any chance they will open somewhere else in the city?

Atlantan99 said...

Hello Anon,

Yes, it is sad to be losing Wildfire. I would not say I was a regular though I had been multiple times and always had a great meal. At this point in time, there are no plans for another Wildfire in Atlanta.

Thanks for the comment and for reading the blog.

Anonymous said...

I've been to Chuy's in Franklin TN a few times. The place is insanely popular up there (think 60-90 min wait on weekends). The food is not bad. It will do well in that neighborhood though.

BO-PO said...

My most favorate rest. in Atlanta. Was going to have my retirement dinner there in January. Will be greatly missed. BO-PO

Anonymous said...

It is very sad to see WF go. It was a great place to go out to eat and also a great place to work with a very close staff. It will be greatly missed.

Anonymous said...

Mckendrick's = Tokars, everything about that joint is dirty. They were best of criminal friends. Tokars killed his wife, Mckendrick lets his wife scre the help. Seh La!