Shopping Centers Today International

JAN 2016

Shopping Centers Today is the news magazine of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)

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" Havana Central is a popular spot for special-occasion out- ings like birthdays and group dinners, so it will be compet- ing with other high-energy chains," Hallow said. Merrin, a former e-commerce executive, found himself in search of a new line of work when the late-1990s dot-com boom became a bust. He certainly moved fast, launching Ha- vana Central in New York City's Union Square in 2002. In- terestingly, Merrin is not Cuban himself. "I had a good friend who is Cuban, and we were talking about opportunities, and she said there's really no national or regional chain doing Cu- ban food," said Merrin. "The more research I started to do, I realized it was a real opportunity — and still is." Merrin actually traveled to Havana, where he visited kitch- ens in restaurants and even in private homes. He also resorted to poring through old books and photos in an effort to tap into Cuba's glamorous past as the "American Riviera." All this research resulted in a culinary offer- ing that includes such classics as ropa vieja (shredded, braised beef) and vaca frita (fried and shredded flank steak), as well as design touches intended to re-create the image of a lost paradise that perhaps the eldest, at least, among the U.S. Cuban community may recall. In yet another nod to the past, the bar at each Havana Central is modeled to look like Sloppy Joe's Bar, an icon of pre-revolutionary Havana. "In everybody's mind's eye, or at least the Ameri- can population's mind's eye, Cuba is still a very sexy, sort of mysterious, fun, tropical place," Mer- rin said. "When you talk about Cuba, people think of the mojitos, the Carmen Miranda dancers, the nightclubs — it was an extremely entertaining, wild and crazy place prior to Castro. That's the feeling we want to evoke." The very first Havana Central, which has since closed, measured only 70 square feet. By a huge con- trast, the Havana Central restaurant at Roosevelt Field, in Garden City, N.Y., totals 13,000 square feet. Havana Central aims to keep leaning to that larger format. "We're looking to open restaurants of about 9,000 square feet and about 250 seats," Merrin said. "We are looking at malls, but also top-tier urban lo- cations." The company wants to be near well-estab- lished, large-format restaurants such as The Cheese- cake Factory and Capital Grill. "From my perspective, it's the more the merrier," Merrin said, "because then we become [part of] a big restaurant destination." Havana Central's next move will most likely be into Miami, the epicenter of Cuban cooking, according to Merrin, and Los Angeles is a target too. "I think that there are very few areas that we would not do well in," Merrin said. "We'd like to build up to 100-plus restaurants in key locations around the United States." That sort of growth may take some time, according to Hal- low, but the long-term outlook for Cuban cuisine is strong. "The Cuban segment is still largely undeveloped, because many Americans aren't familiar with Cuban cuisine — most of us have never been there," Hallow said. "Once Americans start vacationing to Cuba and eat the food, then they will start seeking those dishes and flavors here in the U.S." SCT For leasing, contact Jeremy Merrin, president, at (212) 584-4020 or 26 S C T / J a n u a r y 2 0 1 6 r e T a i l i n g T o d a y T h e r e s T a u r a n T s T h e g l a m o r o f p r e - C a s T r o C u b a .

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