Wolfgang Puck Retreating From Crowded Avenue of Restaurants

by Deborah Belgum

After being one of the first major restaurants to open on the Rosecrans Avenue Corridor between El Segundo and Manhattan Beach, Wolfgang Puck has closed his Wolfgang Puck Caf & #233; at 2121 Rosecrans Ave.

The restaurant, which opened in 1995, was facing increasing competition from a bevy of upscale eateries that have jostled to get a space in the burgeoning commercial area teeming with new retail developments.

In recent years P.F. Chang's China Bistro opened one block away. McCormick & Schmick's opened in the same office building as Wolfgang's. And Il Fornaio and Cozy Mel's came on board a few years ago.

Jannis Swerman, spokeswoman for Wolfgang Puck's Worldwide Inc. and Wolfgang Puck's Fine Dining, said the company decided to sell its lease on the El Segundo restaurant. "They got a really good offer," Swerman said.

Continental Development Corp., which developed the office complexes along the corridor, said it is still working out the lease details with a new eatery and won't be announcing who will be occupying the space for at least another three weeks.

The shuttered South Bay location leaves four Wolfgang Puck Caf & #233;s in Los Angeles County.

Hello to Fleming's

While Wolfgang Puck is leaving the Rosecrans Avenue Corridor, Paul Fleming is arriving.

Fleming, the man who invented P.F. Chang's China Bistro, last week (Jan. 16) opened his latest concept restaurant called Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in the new Atrium Building at 2301 Rosecrans Ave. This is the first steakhouse that the company has opened in Los Angeles and the 16th in the chain.

Bill Allen, who co-founded the steakhouse chain with Fleming, said they picked the Rosecrans area because of good demographics and a brisk retail business surrounded by high-end office buildings. "There really isn't another high-end steakhouse experience that is close to there or comparable," said Allen.

The steakhouse was designed with women in mind. The d & #233;cor is lighter, the ceilings higher, the entr & #233;e prices $5 cheaper than at the average steakhouse, and 100 different wines can be purchased by the glass.

Consequently the average check is $50 compared with $70 to $75.

The first Fleming's Steakhouse was opened in Newport Beach, where the company is headquartered, in 1998. The co-founders are scouting for sites in Pasadena, West Los Angeles and Woodland Hills.

Slow Go

Another delay has occurred in the Beverly Hills retail project bracketed by Beverly Drive and Canon Drive to house a two-story Crate & Barrel store.

City officials have put out a bid for a new general contractor after the previous general contractor got tired of waiting for a lawsuit to be settled.

The city still is in negotiations with the Beverly Canon Merchants Association and Thibiant Beverly Hills Inc., which filed the suit, over mitigating future construction noise and paying the association's attorney fees, said attorney Lisa Weinberg.

The association won a judgment last year to have 93 valet parking spaces added to the project, which is being constructed on a city surface parking lot.

All along merchants have wanted a smaller retail project that doesn't bring in too much traffic and doesn't take away any parking spaces available to customers coming to shop in the area, said Fran Berry, owner of the Farm of Beverly Hills and president of the merchant association.

The project developer is Regent Properties, which is looking for other retailers and restaurants to lease space.

Staff reporter Deborah Belgum can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 228 or at dbelgum@labusinessjournal.com.

Drug Store Explosion

Spurred by opportunities presented from an aging population, Walgreen Co. is on a expansion spree across the United States, and Los Angeles is one of its prime targets.

Currently the Illinois-based chain only has a handful of drugstores in Los Angeles County. But it plans to open two more this summer on the Westside, where it currently has none, and is looking at other L.A. locations.

The nation's No. 1 drugstore company is taking over an 18,000-square-foot space that was once occupied by the Santa Glen Market at 10407 Santa Monica Blvd.

Walgreen also is building a free-standing drugstore in Santa Monica on Wilshire Boulevard near St. John's Health Center. The 14,500-square-foot store will open sometime in July, said spokeswoman Carol Hively.

Walgreens has 286 stores in California with 13 in Los Angeles County. The company's goal is to have 492 stores in the state by 2005.

"Most of those will be concentrated in Southern California," Hively said. "It is time for us to expand there. It is a place where we will see more elderly people in the future as the population ages there. They will be entering their peak drug prescription years."

Walgreens' strategy is to expand to areas popular among retirees. That includes Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina. It also is positioning itself in popular tourist towns like Las Vegas.

"Our stores do well in tourist areas because tourists stop in to buy sunglasses, suntan lotion, magazines and things like dramamine," Hively said.

Walgreens is accustomed to competing with other major drugstores such as Rite Aid and Sav-on. It caters to customer convenience by positioning its stores on corner lots that have easy entrances for motorists, big parking lots and drive-through prescription windows.

"When they put in a store, they quickly take quite a bite out of the market," said Derek Leckow, an analyst with Barrington Research.

Deborah Belgum

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