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Downtown Commons (DoCo) Reveals First Restaurant Tenants

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logo-sacramento-business-journalStory by Sonya Sorich

Early Restaurant Picks Reveal Retail Strategy for DoCo
Entertainment Venues are Key to Making Arena-Area Retail a Destination.

Bowling lanes. Farm to fork. Innovative design elements.

Those details about the first three businesses in the retail area around Golden 1 Center provide a glimpse of its future. Or, at least, a sense of the vibe that the Sacramento Kings and retail development partner JMA Ventures are looking for.

They want a mix of memorable stores and restaurants that make the area — dubbed Downtown Commons, or “DoCo” — a lifestyle and shopping destination. Still unclear is how many of the restaurants and stores will be local — and how that mix will affect the project’s fortunes.

“We are particularly motivated to draw tenants that are new to the market and enhance the downtown experience without diluting its unique character,” said David Scanlon, a retail broker with Cushman and Wakefield who’s handling all retail & restaurant leasing for the venture. “We want to create a retail destination that’s busy seven days a week.”

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Those first tenants — all restaurants, and all new to the market — are Pour Society, Punch Bowl Social and Sauced BBQ and Spirits. The businesses will take up at least 37,000 square feet, or more than 10 percent, of the total retail space expected in the first phase of development around the arena.

More tenants are coming, including non-restaurant businesses, according to Scanlon. In the meantime, experts say the first three additions highlight an important goal behind DoCo.

The restaurants appear to reflect a desire by developers to establish “a destination dining district that happens to be near an arena,” said Kathleen Norris, a managing principal for Cincinnati-based Urban Fast Forward, a real estate and consulting firm that focuses on retail district revitalization and urban development.

Will Chain Restaurants Succeed?
The three restaurants announced in September all have at least one other location and no obvious ties to the region. On the surface, that runs counter to the area’s general aversion to chain restaurants.

But Scanlon thinks the eateries are a good fit. “We know that downtown Sacramento generally doesn’t respond well to predictable chain concepts, so we’ve put careful thought into targeting tenants with a strong sense of personality, character and culture,” he said.

Pour Society
Pour Society combines farm-to-fork dining with a well-known chef. Punch Bowl Social offers an extreme model of experience-oriented dining. And Sauced marks a departure from the type of food often offered at retail centers.

Scanlon said Pour Society was appealing as a “chef-driven restaurant concept.” It comes from chef Bradley Ogden, whom Scanlon called “one of the original farm-to-fork chefs in California.”

Ogden’s hospitality group operates multiple restaurant concepts. This will be the second location for Pour Society, joining a Houston restaurant that opened in early September and so far averages four stars on Yelp, based on 22 reviews. That location’s menu has options such as a Texas banh mi sandwich ($14), Mexican fried chicken thighs ($18) and an open-faced pastrami sandwich with a jalapeno-cheddar waffle ($16).

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Punch Bowl Social has five locations: Austin, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit and Portland. Seven more are in the works, including the Sacramento site. Punch Bowl combines food and craft cocktails with bowling lanes, board games, an arcade and private karaoke rooms.

Many bowling-alley concepts expressed interest in the downtown project, according to Scanlon. But Punch Bowl was appealing because it offers a trendy atmosphere along with high-quality food and entertainment, he said.

Its menus feature options ranging from cauliflower nachos ($8) to “Hipster Chicken” brined in Pabst Blue Ribbon and pickle juice ($17). Existing locations have between three and four stars on Yelp, based on hundreds of reviews.

Sauced
Sauced, which has locations in Livermore and Petaluma, had considered a Sacramento-area location and renewed its interest with the arena project, according to Scanlon. He said Sauced was appealing because it filled a “unique category” in the retail dining scene. Barbecue restaurants aren’t common in the region’s major retail centers.

“The food blew me away. I was very impressed,” Scanlon said of his impressions of Sauced in Livermore. Menu options include a pulled pork sandwich ($12.99), a half-rack of spareribs ($19.99) and a “Dixie Burger” topped with pimento cheese and bacon ($13.99). Existing locations average three and a half stars on Yelp.

Offering ‘Eater-Tainment’
Retail expert Norris thinks the three restaurants are consistent with a national trend. “Experience-oriented dining is what’s succeeding these days,” she said.

Punch Bowl Social is the most obvious example of that theme, offering a setup in which its dining area leads to a variety of attractions inside the restaurant. Company CEO Robert Thompson said the venue fills a dining niche called “eater-tainment.”

Punch Bowl Social locations rely on a design format that combines four themes: Victorian, industrial, mid-century modern and mountain lodge. Intrigued? Thompson hopes so. He wants the average customer to spend three hours in Punch Bowl Social.

Experience-oriented dining isn’t limited to bowling alleys and karaoke rooms, Norris said. It also can mean learning about unique foods and craft cocktails, both of which are a focus at Pour Society and Sauced. And in its other location, Sauced also provides live entertainment.

Were the restaurants chosen with a specific demographic in mind? Scanlon said the concepts “are geared toward modern Sacramentans.”

Core Customers: Millennials
But others used a more specific term: millennials. Thompson called the group his “core customers.” And Norris said the three eateries will likely appeal most to millennials and empty nesters, both of whom have the money and time to visit restaurants regularly.

“They love the idea of an experience tied to dining,” she said.

The approach is common in retail areas near arenas in other cities. Bowling venue Lucky Strike Lanes & Lounge has locations near the Staples Center in Los Angeles, as well as AT&T Park, where the San Francisco Giants play. Not surprisingly, terms such as “craft cocktails” and “comfort food” are common in descriptions of eateries near both venues.

Apparel Retailers Coming?
Arenas and stadiums have the potential to work as catalysts for retail transformation in downtown areas. Many experts cite Coors Field, the ballpark for the Colorado Rockies, as a major force in the revitalization of “LoDo,” Denver’s Lower Downtown.

But Scanlon doesn’t compare the Sacramento project to arena retail areas elsewhere in the nation.

“DoCo remains a one-of-a-kind development both in architectural design and the type of tenants we are targeting,” he said.

Experts say tenants should go beyond food. “Restaurants alone are not going to do it,” said Larisa Ortiz, principal at New York-based Larisa Ortiz Associates, a retail consulting firm that works with urban commercial districts nationwide.

Already the retail area has a major department store: a Macy’s branch inherited from the former Downtown Plaza.

Would apparel stores work at DoCo? “I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea if the point is to create offerings when there’s no games,” Ortiz said.

Scanlon agrees. He said he’s working with some “really exciting national apparel tenants” that would be new to the market.

The final version of the project will have “a balanced collection of shopping, dining and entertainment,” according to Scanlon.

Then, there’s the issue of locally owned businesses.

“I would hope that as this development matures, Sacramento creates opportunities for its independent chefs to be down there,” Norris said.

Four local restaurant groups will be among those serving food inside the arena. Without elaborating, Scanlon said he’s in discussions with a variety of locally owned businesses, including restaurant and nonrestaurant concepts, to be in the outside retail development as well.

Sonya Sorich is social engagement manager and a staff writer at the Sacramento Business Journal. She oversees social media activity and writes about retailing, small business and restaurants.

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