I’d say one of the more common questions I get is “Why doesn’t Kent have more restaurants?” It’s a good question that is actually a commonly shared by residents and students alike. As good as it is, it’s not easy to answer. In my 2 years in Kent, I’ve seen restaurants that wanted to be in Kent but they couldn’t find any buildings that would work, and I’ve also seen restaurants that didn’t feel that Kent was a good fit for their market niche. That being said, here’s an interesting interview with the Vice President of a restaurant chain that gives some insight into how restaurants make location decisions.
Islands Restaurants Location Strategy
Interview with Lewis Jackson
Vice President Real Estate & Development
Tony DeGraizer started Islands Restaurant with the first location on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles. Today the company operates at 60 different locations serving Southern California, Arizona, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada. Buxton sat down with Vice President of Real Estate & Development, Lewis Jackson, to discuss what factors go into the location process for Islands Restaurants.
Question: What is the history of Islands?
Answer: Islands Restaurants was founded in 1982 with a basic philosophy – serve great, fresh food with friendly service in a fun atmosphere. Entrepreneur Tony DeGrazier had a vision of a restaurant that would offer a simple, original menu featuring gourmet hamburgers, specialty drinks and a fun, tropical theme. In fact, he wanted to recreate the dining experiences he had in the 1960s while stationed in Oahu with his Navy buddies. Tony was an experienced restaurateur having owned three steak houses in L.A. and Dallas in the 70’s. Tony wanted to start a casual, tropical themed menu reminiscent of his days living in Hawaii while in the Navy.
Question: What are your customer’s demographics?
Answer: Our customers tend to be between the ages of 25 and 50, with an average age of 35 years old. They are willing to drive between 12 and 16 minutes to our locations. Families are an important component in their lives. They also have middle to upper incomes of $75,000 or more. A high percentage of our customers have college educations.
Question: What states do you currently operate in?
Answer: We operate at 51 Restaurants in California with the balance in Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Colorado.
Question: What are your growth goals?
Answer: We plan to open five to seven new locations per year, predominantly in our existing markets.
Question: What is your location strategy for a community?
Answer: When looking for a new location, we look for a progressive, dynamic and higher educated population with strong community identity. We also look for a strong emphasis on both new area development as well as a progressive look at redevelopment opportunities, and a strong school system and transportation system.
Question: What are the major factors you consider in picking a community?
Answer: Communities that have vibrant, progressive employers, strong families and growth in community housing and employment are high on our radar screen. We also look for a strong employee base with a community college or higher education institutions in proximity.
Question: What are the major factors you consider in picking a site?
Answer: A few of the many factors we consider when picking a site are access, co-tenants, and other restaurant competition. We also pay close attention to future growth in the immediate area, cost of entry and development, design restrictions or opportunities, schools and major employer proximity.
Question: What will eliminate a community or site from considerations?
Answer: When a community lacks strong enough incomes and education levels, has a poor community reputation for stability and lacks a strong school system we are very hesitant to consider it for a site.
Question: How important are community incentives to your location decision?
Answer: This is a factor that may make or break a project in the final stages. However, it usually is not a major factor in first looking at a site.
Question: How important to your location decision is the attitude of community leaders?
Answer: Strongly Important. If the leaders aren’t easy to work with, it makes the location process very difficult.
Question: If a community leader seeks a meeting with you to promote his or her community, what can they do to peak your interest?
Answer: Communities who have strong co-tenancy and community involvement are what we are interested in most. Also suburban communities that are redeveloping their downtowns and older retail centers undergoing revitalization are high on our radar screen. Putting together a marketing package regarding history and future plans for the specific community would be of interest to the Islands Restaurant Real Estate Team.