Developer Launches ‘Eatertainment’ Chain In Bet On Quick Retail Bounce Back
The developer of a massive youth sports complex in Emerson, Georgia, is hoping to capture demand for entertainment-themed restaurants with his new venture as Atlanta emerges from the pandemic economy.
Atlanta-based Competitive Social Ventures is opening four theme restaurants — three in Metro Atlanta and one in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — and plans to build a chain of entertainment-focused restaurants throughout the Southeast, Managing Partner Neal Freeman said.
A veteran retail real estate developer, Freeman led the development of the $100M LakePoint Sports Community, a youth sports complex that hosts over 30 sports and has more than 1 million visitors a year nearly 40 miles to the north of Downtown Atlanta. With investment from principals of Atlanta real estate firms Mayfair Street Partners and Hotel Equities, CS Ventures is launching a retail business focused around in-person dining and experience after a year of pain in the space.
“The consumer has just made that loud and clear that they want to experience life and they want to experience retail and they want to record it and they want to share it,” Freeman said. “It's definitely the wave of the future.”
CS Ventures has three concepts: a 1920s-themed bar with bowling called Roaring Social, a golf-simulator-equipped restaurant called Fairway Social, and a concept that fuses food and the leisure sport pickleball.
In April, CS Ventures is debuting Fairway Social in Downtown Alpharetta at a newly developed retail project, The Maxwell. Later in the spring, the firm is opening Roaring Social in Downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The speak-easy-themed restaurant will feature bowling lanes and look from the outside like a 1920s clothing store and tailor shop. Customers will enter the main bar through a back door, a CS Ventures spokesperson said.
CS Ventures also is planning to open a second Roaring Social at The Hamilton, a Hilton-branded boutique hotel in Downtown Alpharetta, by the summer. Next year, CS Ventures plans to open Pickle and Social, a restaurant with pickleball courts that would be built in a redevelopment of a former Kohl's-anchored shopping center in Roswell.
Freeman said he sees these themed restaurants as his next evolution as a developer, a career that he began by developing grocery-anchored shopping centers in the Southeast. In 2014, Freeman opened the 1,300-acre LakePoint complex that now includes a hotel and other uses geared toward young athletes and their families. One component of LakePoint Sports inspired Freeman to go in a different direction in his development career, he said.
“The part of LakePoint I enjoyed the most was LakePoint Station, which is the family entertainment venue,” Freeman said. “It gave me a sensation I don't normally get in business as a landlord. That's what I want to do from now on ... to create something that is business-to-consumer.”
LakePoint fell into bankruptcy in 2019, but it re-emerged that same year. Then the pandemic hit, and the complex shuttered in March. It reopened in July. Freeman remains a financial partner at LakePoint, but he ceded day-to-day operations to CEO Mark O'Brien in 2018.
CS Ventures is entering an industry still struggling to shrug off the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated eateries across the country. Restaurants lost $240B in total projected sales last year, according to the National Restaurant Association, and table-service restaurants were especially hard hit: 80% of all diners chose takeout or delivery over in-restaurant dining.
“That will obviously continue, even in the post-pandemic environment,” NRA Senior Vice President Hudson Riehle said.
Known as a niche in the restaurant industry called eatertainment, the themed restaurant category was established in the 1970s and 1980s with groups like Dave & Buster's and Chuck E. Cheese. But it has proliferated since then into a slew of other restaurant-and-bar-driven concepts, including golfing venues like Topgolf, dine-in movie theaters, bowling alleys, ax-throwing venues and go-cart racing.
Restaurants with some sort of competitive sports angles had gained 32% of the retail leisure market, ahead of barcades — vintage arcades with alcohol service — and more traditional entertainment venues like Dave & Buster's, according to a 2019 JLL report.
Consumers aren't shying away from outdoor eatertainment concepts, even during the pandemic, Conekt Hospitality founder LeMonica Hakeem said.
“I think Americans are extremely eager to get back to life,” Hakeem said. “You go to Topgolf today and there's a waiting line, even in the pandemic.”
One of the giants in the industry, Dave & Buster's, is already seeing business pick up as it reopens locations across the country. While a quarter of its 140 locations remain closed, four Dave & Buster's outpaced their 2019 in the third quarter of 2020, CEO Brian Jenkins said on a Dec. 10 earnings call, and most of the open stores were seeing business improve markedly over Q2.
Freeman said he saw a similar rise in business at LakePoint Sports. Since reopening in July, LakePoint Sports' business is back 90% to pre-pandemic levels, he said.
After a recent survey, the National Restaurant Association is seeing strong demand to return to in-dining at restaurants, Riehle said.
“The pent-up demand is substantially higher than it was pre-pandemic,” he said. “The entertainment component is obviously driven by that socialization need. Going forward, the socialization component is really going to be, from the consumer perspective, a very, very important driver.”
Freeman said these restaurants were dreamed up before the pandemic. But now that life is beginning to return to normal, Freeman said he is confident CS Ventures pipeline will be successful.
“If we had opened in April, I would say we would have made a mistake,” he said. "But our timing is going to work out nicely."