Frankie's Hot Dog Franchise Opens As Mall Seeks Well-rounded Mix

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Frankies Hot Dogs franchise owner Karen Pedbereznak and her husband chose Westfield Meriden mall for their new venture because it was close enough to Waterbury for shoppers to recognize the brand.

"The feedback has been very positive," Pedbereznak said.

The foot-long hot dog chain, widely known in the area, arrived this month to fill space left vacant when a deli exited the upper-level food court. Tenant turnover, whether in a food court or other mall spaces, is an ongoing issue for any mall, but Westfield spokeswoman Katherine Bolas said she was pleased with Frankies' new location.

"Frankies is a welcomed addition to Westfield Meriden's food court - offering shoppers and mall employees another option to choose from, whether grabbing a quick bite or sitting down to enjoy a meal," Bolas said. "As a locally owned franchise they have a great following around Connecticut, and are already adding to their fan base with rave reviews from the Meriden community since they opened here earlier this month." The popular franchise bolsters the offerings at the food court, and is included among the new specialty shops and local brands "" Fashion to Figure, Ulta Beauty, TJ Maxx, Francesca's Chef's Equipment Emporium - Westfield points to when describing a well-rounded tenant mix.

Westfield also faces the daunting task of trying to fill the massive former anchor space left vacant when J.C. Penney exited last spring.

Tucked among suggestions about movie theaters, a college branch, grocery stores and bounce houses, are solid plans by Westfield to bring more restaurants into the 150,000-square-foot behemoth.

"Westfield's leasing and development team continues to explore all options to fill the former anchor space," Bolas said. "We evaluate all options that may complement the experience our shoppers have here - that means anything from anchor tenants and specialty shops, to restaurants and entertainment options. We look for tenants that fit in well with our current mix that provides a great place for families to find every day, good value options." Meriden's demographics play a key role in determining how to configure the space and what tenants, or restaurants would fill it, and what shoppers can expect to see in the future.

"All corporate chains have set demographic requirements and all are different 'income, population and foot traffic,' said Mark Moeller, owner of Recipe of Success, a restaurant consulting group in Shelton.

Malls with anchor stores, such as Nordstrom, or that have an Apple store can draw higher end, popular restaurants such as P.F. Chang's, which caters to 30- to 60- year olds. The Cheesecake Factory or Outback Streakhouse might be possibilities. If there is a high percentage of young people within 25 miles, a Dave & Buster's chain could fill considerable space, Moeller said.

Meriden, which lost a Lord & Taylor several years ago because of its demographics, could support some of the newer, fast-casual chains such as Chipolte or TGI Friday's, Moeller said. Both restaurants could occupy less than 2,000 square feet, he said.

The public has also weighed in on social media over what restaurants it would like to see at the mall. Suggestions included Dave & Buster's, P.F. Chang's, Rainforest Cafe - which just pulled out of Westfarms mall - Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Texas Roadhouse, and The Cheesecake Factory.

Moeller suggests Westfield look to more creative uses for the J.C. Penney space outside of retail or restaurants. For instance, a water park like CoCo Key would fill the space and generate income if there wasn't already one in nearby Waterbury. He points to a large trampoline park that filled empty retail space in Stratford as another example.

"What about a fitness center?" Moeller said.

Craig Johnson, a retail consultant and owner of Customer Growth Partners in New Canaan, calls Westfield Meriden "a difficult mall." He suggested a Primark, a popular Irish-based chain aimed at young people that retails clothing and accessories at Wal-Mart prices and occupies about the same footprint. Primark is primarily in the United Kingdom and Europe, but the chain recently announced plans to open its first U.S. store in the former Filene's Basement in Boston, and to build more stores in the U.S. in 2016.

Although a Primark could solve Westfield Meriden's challenge, Johnson fears the greater Meriden foot traffic wouldn't support it.

"Meriden is a tricky location. It's not a major population center," he said.

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