Tuesday, June 19, 2018

[EXCLUSIVE] Mall of Georgia in Bloom: Seasons 52 Coming Soon

Darden Restaurants plans to bring their upscale concept Seasons 52 to Mall of Georgia in Buford next year.  The new restaurant will be built on vacant land along Buford Drive, on an outparcel of JCPenney.  The new location will be the chain's third in Georgia following locations on Peachtree Road in Buckhead and on an outparcel of Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody.
According to Gwinnett County planning documents, plans for the new Seasons 52 were first received by the county last May but were then labeled only as "Mall of Georgia Restaurant."  A development permit for the property was issued by Gwinnett County on December 29, 2017.  The restaurant will be situated on a 1.6 acre site and will provide parking for 67 vehicles.

The Mall of Georgia commercial district is already home to two other Darden concepts, LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden.  LongHorn is located on Mall of Georgia Boulevard at Buford Drive with Olive Garden across the street, also on Buford Drive.  Red Lobster, which up until May 2014 was also owned by Darden, is next to Olive Garden.

Orlando-based Darden launched Seasons 52 in 2003.  There are currently 42 Seasons 52 restaurants nationwide.  In recent years, the company has closed restaurants in Santa Monica & Los Angeles, California and Chicago, Illinois, while it opened a new restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico this past April and plans to open in Troy, Michigan later this fall.   

"Seasons 52 is a wine bar & grill that offers fresh, seasonal restaurant dishes served in a casual and sophisticated atmosphere."  The restaurant is known for supporting a healthy lifestyle with smaller portions and healthier entrees and preparations.  

Darden Restaurants operates over 1,500 restaurants worldwide across eight distinct brands: LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Eddie V's Prime Seafood, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Yard House. 

LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen are members of Darden's core restaurant group, while Eddie V's Prime Seafood, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Yard House are part of the company's "Specialty Restaurant Group."  

According to Darden produced "site selection criteria," Seasons 52 restaurants are typically 7,500-9,500 square feet with a 750-1,000 square foot patio on a roughly two acre pad site.  The restaurants need "access to 150+ spaces on site or via cross parking. Depending on parking we need the right to provide or participate in a valet program."  The planned allotment of 67 likely valet parking spaces on-site, with access to the adjacent JCPenney lot and deck, should more than satisfy the parking needs.  A similar parking setup exists at the Seasons 52 at Perimeter Mall where it has limited on-site parking with access to a large lot shared with Dillards.   

The brand's stated $45 check average would make it one of the most expensive restaurants in the area.  The company also indicates that Seasons 52 restaurants do about $5.8 million in "Average Annual Restaurant Sales."
A typical freestanding Seasons 52
Surely Darden did their homework in deciding there was a need in the market for such an upscale offering, but one has to wonder if introducing the company's recently acquired Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen concept might have made more sense.  

Cheddar's, which appeals to a more value driven, casual demographic, would seem to be a better fit for the area, but perhaps they too will come in time.  Purchased in 2017 by Darden, Cheddar's currently has a handful of locations in Georgia: Gainesville, Valdosta, McDonough, Athens, Pooler, Albany, Macon and Warner Robins, with plans for continued growth in both new and existing markets. 

The opening of Seasons 52 at Mall of Georgia is a departure from Darden's intentional opening of it near The Capital Grille, a brand with which it sees as having synergy.  Both existing Atlanta area Seasons 52 restaurants and many of those in other markets are located within close proximity of the upscale steakhouse. 

One of the closest competing offerings to those of Seasons 52 may be Bonefish Grill, a concept from Tampa-based Bloomin' Brands, which opened in the LA Fitness-anchored The Plaza shopping center in 2007.  Bonefish, like Seasons 52, is one of the more upscale offerings in the area, and regularly has waits according to local sources.  

Despite the (false) narrative that all malls are dying, there are still some very productive malls, Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza in Buckhead and Mall of Georgia in Buford being among successful malls in metro Atlanta.  

Aside from food court additions and novelty snack and dessert openings,  Mall of Georgia, which opened in 1999,  has welcomed seven new sit-down dining options to the mall in just the past five years.  Marlow's Tavern, The Cheesecake Factory, Buffalo Wild Wings, Red Robin, Alino Pizzeria, Buffalo Wild Wings, Tin Lizzy's Cantina and Smokey Bones, have all opened in the mall or in the area known as The Village, adjacent to the food pavilion, since late 2014.  Smokey Bones, which opened in The Village in 2016, was originally developed as a Darden concept, but was sold off in 2007.  

In addition to openings on mall property, recent openings on property surrounding the mall include Hooters, on an outparcel of Dillard's, Le Madeleine in a former TGI Fridays, Pao Pao Ramen Factory on Buford Drive, Burger 21, Panera Bread & Zo√ęs Kitchen in Mall of Georgia Crossing and soon, I Luv Pho at Marketplace at Millcreek, among others.  

Representatives from Simon Property Group, who own Mall of Georgia, indicated they had no comment on the upcoming opening, directing us instead to Darden's media relations team.  A representative from Darden said "it is still too early for anything to be solidified so I can’t offer any details or plans" when we inquired as to the timeline for the new Seasons 52 at Mall of Georgia. 
Preliminary sitework is underway, but construction on the actual Seasons 52 restaurant has not yet begun.  Sources close to both the mall and restaurant indicate the plan is to have the restaurant open by spring 2019.  

Are you excited for the addition of Seasons 52 to the Buford/Mall of Georgia area?  Do you think Seasons 52 will be successful at Mall of Georgia?  What restaurant would you most like to see open next at Mall of Georgia?

Please share your thoughts below. 


Anonymous said...

I would much rather see a Cheddar's put there. I do not like Seasons 52. And, I certainly do not consider it to be "upscale". Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

Wow Eli you must be out of breath on this one! Great article ... You TV star you! Smile.

Anonymous said...

While many (including myself) don't consider Seasons 52 "upscale," for Buford it is more upscale than many options out there. I'm not insulting people in Buford by saying that. It's the lack of options. There aren't local "farm to table" restaurants up there and there won't be any time soon. The ambiance at Seasons 52 is more date-like/romantic than other chain restaurants. While I live far from Buford and likely will never set foot in there, I think it'll be a good option for the area.

Unknown said...

We are excited about Seasons 52 We have been to Perimeter many times. ( we live in Buford) My take on food is this is the upper limit of my budget Without an expense account.

I eat to survive NOT live to eat.

Anonymous said...

The mall of Georgia area needs a traders Joe's or whole foods. The closest one of those are almost an hour away.

Skrybe said...

Wait. There's still actually some vacant land on Buford Drive?? Ha!

Anonymous said...

Very excited to hear!! Love Seasons 52. Please bring Capitol Grille with you. Yes this is a place where we are craving more upscale dining. Plus a whole foods, trader Joe's sprouts either one would be successful.

Anonymous said...

Disappointed to hear that. Seasons 52 is neither upscale nor good tasting in my opinion. Don't see its concept surviving in this area. More upscale restaurants or even grocery stores would be nice.

Unknown said...

I am so excited about seasons 52 the food is great bring maggionis

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