How Palta, Wallack drew local restaurateur & Circo brand to I-Drive rooftop

How Palta, Wallack drew local restaurateur & Circo brand to I-Drive rooftop
This updated rendering of the Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage reflects the additional two floors of parking level added in early 2016, for 10 stories overall. The top floor is nearly double the height of others due to a planned restaurant's elevated ceiling. (provided)

The axis point of International Drive and Sand Lake Road -- a unique location able to draw Orlando's 1 million-plus tourists per week, conventioneers and affluent locals from Dr. Phillips and Bayhill -- was key to luring one of New York's top Italian fine-dining chains in Circo to the 10,500-square-foot rooftop restaurant space on developer Joshua Wallack's Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage.

Set to be the brand's second location in the U.S. when it opens in 2017, the Circo Orlando deal was announced Friday with Longwood-based restaurateur Andrew Gross.


How it came together is a lesson in dogged preparation by Wallack and a local retail broker, and the rapid growth in I-Drive real estate's selling power, driven by national record tourist numbers.

Groundwork for the relationship was laid years prior by Bobby Palta, first vice president for retail properties at CBRE. He's led the leasing efforts for Wallack's Mango's Tropical Cafe and planned 10-story parking garage since the two met in 2011.

A rendering of the Circo patio bar and casual dining area.
A rendering of the Circo patio bar and casual dining area. (provided)

Palta worked with Gross in the past on site selection for a number of Buffalo Wild Wings properties in Florida, a franchisee portfolio that would grow to 10 active restaurants and two development sites that Gross' Sunshine Restaurant Corp. sold to Buffalo Wild Wings' corporate in 2014.

"Bobby and I have kept in touch forever, and when I sold we got together. It was just as Mango's was under construction, and he showed me ideas for the restaurant on top of the garage," Gross told GrowthSpotter on Friday.

"At the time I was looking at a different concept outside of Orlando. When I found that wouldn't work, I wanted to find an opportunity back in Orlando, and went back to Bobby to learn more about what the Wallacks were doing. I liked their vision for the growth of I-Drive."

Palta had kept tabs on the growth plan of New York-based LC International, owners of the renowned Le Cirque, Osteria del Circo and Sirio Ristorante restaurant brands. He read in 2014 they were looking to enter the Orlando market, and flew to New York twice in 2015 to try and stake a claim for Wallack's parking garage as the ideal site.

Bobby Palta, broker with CBRE Orlando
Bobby Palta, broker with CBRE Orlando

Selling the location was easy, with the Mango's complex located in the heart of the I-Drive tourism corridor, and adjacent to high-end residential communities Bayhill and Dr. Phillips.

Palta could show LC International officials key data on how many restaurants in the I-Drive submarket perform in the top 10 percent of their respective chains. Full-service restaurants average $8 million in revenue per year ($852 per square foot), and fast casual restaurants $2.7 million ($839/SF), according to CBRE.

An early computer-generated rendering of Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage, superimposed on a photo next door to a building since redeveloped as Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando.
An early computer-generated rendering of Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage, superimposed on a photo next door to a building since redeveloped as Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando. (CBRE)

"We have a well-established Restaurant Row on Sand Lake Road in Dr. Phillips that's able to draw now from the convention center, that local affluent population and the rest of the tourists who come here. But where I-Drive and Sand Lake (Road) meet is the crucial point where they all come together," Palta told GrowthSpotter.

"Right where Mango's and the (parking garage) are is the 'Main and Main' location, and that's why all the investment is flooding in there. In some cases it's an axis point for Central Florida, because of the gravity of people that come there, some 2 million people in MSA population and another 1 million-plus that visit here each week," he continued.

Demographic and traffic data was paired by Palta with the pitch of a rooftop location at 120 feet (10th floor), which will be the tallest building in that center-north segment of I-Drive.

"At that height you'll have views of the fireworks from Universal, SeaWorld and Disney parks," Palta said. "All those things we used to talk to the Maccioni family in New York (LC International principals) to get them to sign off on this area.

The Circo main dining room and private room.
The Circo main dining room and private room. (provided)

"But the real trick was finding the operator. I spent a lot of time trying to find the right person who understands the area and the nuances of Orlando tourism, and can operate a restaurant at that level," he continued. "Andy (Gross), having lived here a long time, knows what kind of volumes are being done on I-Drive. He recognized the void in the marketplace."

Gross and Palta flew to New York again last December to finalize the deal with LC International. This will be the second Circo-brand restaurant in the United States.


Construction on the $20 million Hollywood Plaza parking garage is expected to start in August. Design plans for Circo Orlando are currently being finalized, with building plans and permit applications expected this fall, Gross said. Construction on the rooftop restaurant could start in December, with a projected opening of Spring 2017.

Total investment in Circo Orlando will approach $4 million, a mix of debt and equity, Gross said. He has a lender of choice on hand, but is open to hearing from new lenders and investment partners.

"We're not just buying rights for one restaurant from (LC International), we're getting the rights for all their brands in Central and South Florida," Gross said. "So opportunities for investors and lenders will be ongoing."

A view of the Circo Orlando floor plan.
A view of the Circo Orlando floor plan. (provided)

Wallack dubbed the Le Cirque family of brands "the most world-renowned restaurant chain in the history of mankind" on Friday.

"We had another group that was going to do (the rooftop space), but they dropped out," Wallack said. "Bobby came up with Andy. He saw the vision, and once he came to Mango's and saw how packed it was there it was easy to get on board."

Joshua Wallack
Joshua Wallack (Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel)

Set to have the area's first retractable glass roof, the rooftop restaurant will feature a veranda on the eastern side facing International Drive, but the dining room will orient to the west, which will have floor-to-ceiling windows to give a view of the evening sunset and theme park fireworks.

Wallack's Hollywood Plaza Parking Garage has another 9,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor that will be leased. The owner could not confirm Friday who those lease agreements are with, but has said previously at least one tenant will be entertainment-related.

Since 1974, Le Cirque restaurants have hosted some of the world's top chefs including Daniel Boulud, Geoffrey Zakarian, Bill Telepan, David Bouley, Marc Murphy, Michael Lomonaco, Terrence Brennan, Jacques Torres and many others in the New York City restaurant's kitchen. It's high-end French cuisine has drawn critical praise as one of New York's iconic restaurants.

In 1996, after Le Cirque won the James Beard Foundation's Outstanding Restaurant Award, the family-owned company opened Osteria del Circo in New York, an Italian fine dining sister brand.

The Orlando restaurant's menu will mirror the Circo restaurants in New York City and in Abu Dhabi, with new dishes exclusive to Orlando.


The Le Cirque family of restaurants are currently open in New York City, Las Vegas, New Dehli, Mumbai, Bangalore, Abu Dhabi the Dominican Republic and aboard of 15 Holland America cruise ships.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.