HARTFORD — The city's new restaurant and entertainment cluster, Front Street, added a new name Monday: Ted.
Ted Turner and his Montana Grill, that is.
HB Nitkin Group, the firm busy filling Front Street with restaurants, confirmed that Ted's Montana Grill will take up about 4,700 square feet of the development, a name held close by developers after news of a casual mid-priced restaurant broke in late June.
Restaurant executives said the location should open by April 2014.
The news is the latest in a string of bookings for the urban business district: Infinity Hall and Bistro, UConn's downtown Hartford campus, Front Street Bistro, Capital Grille.
"Leasing and moving forward on residential, and the announcement of UConn moving, we will have really created — and are in the process of creating — a dynamic urban environment," Helen Nitkin, co-founder and chairman of the Greenwich-based HB Nitkin Group, said in an interview Monday.
Ted's Montana Grill doubles the number of "grills" on Front Street, raising some questions about whether there's room in this town, at least this part of the town, for restaurants that seem so similar. Nitkin said there's little overlap between The Capital Grille — which was announced last November — and Ted's Montana Grille.
George McKerrow, chief executive and co-founder of Ted's Montana Grill, has good reason to believe that there's room for both establishments — he used to own The Capital Grille, before his company sold it to Darden in 2007.
"Here's the difference," McKerrow said in a telephone interview from his office in Atlanta. "The Capital Grille specializes in dry-aged steaks and a wine list of over 400 top-notch brands and its an $80-$100 per capita spending. It's a very upscale high dining white tablecloth restaurant."
At Ted's Montana Grill, he said, "we specialize in 20 kinds of beef and bison burgers at closer to $22 per capita: We're talking about something much more affordable."
And will Hartfordites bite into a bison burger at all? McKerrow said that the company's restaurant at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor has been quite successful. And downtown Hartford? "Some of our most successful restaurants are in downtown urban markets," he said.
The booking puts occupancy at Front Street to 72 percent. Another restaurant, which development head Nitkin declined to name, has also signed onto the development, she said. That addition would push the occupancy rate to 76 percent.
Asked about the Ted's announcement, Chris Potter, a spokesman for The Capital Grille, said, "What's good for Front Street is good for The Capital Grille, and we're excited to get the restaurant open." Though he wouldn't disclose the restaurant's start date, Potter said it should be before Ted's planned April 2014 launch.
Thomas E. Deller, the city's chief development officer, said the restaurant adds to the variety at Front Street.
"When you look at Front Street, you're trying to create an entertainment venue, a place where people in the city, where visitors or conventioneers can get a meal and see some entertainment," he said. "Ideally we could see that entertainment connect to the Wadsworth and Main Street."
A large, national name like Ted's Montana Grill — which has 44 restaurants in 16 states — could make it easier for smaller, more local businesses to move into the downtown area, according to Michael Zaleski, executive director of the Hartford Business Improvement District, a non-profit that works with city departments and downtown property owners to improve the quality of life downtown.
"As Front Street continues to sign up retail tenants, it continues to be a good sign for the city and downtown," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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