An Australian chocolate bar and café with more than 230 stores worldwide is planning its U.S. market entry via Orlando's International Drive, taking vacant restaurant space next to a long-anticipated future attraction.
To be located at 7653 International Dr., the dual-tenant retail building lies north of Sand Lake Road and directly west-adjacent to where a hotel is planned as part of the future Skyplex entertainment complex.
The property was leased until earlier this year by Panda Express (3,574 square feet) and Tilted Kilt (6,418 square feet), and has been marketed since the spring by CBRE's Bobby Palta and Alex Gordon as separate or combined space for new retail outlets.
Newly-signed and planned for the 3,574-square-foot space is "The Golden Pod Chocolate Room," which will be the first North American location for Australia-based business The Chocolate Room.
The brand has franchise stores in seven countries across Asia, the Middle East and United Kingdom. The original Australian menu includes gourmet coffee, mostly breakfast foods and handmade chocolates, including chocolate drinks and milkshakes.
"This will be their flagship store, and what better place than I-Drive for a brand new store in the U.S. because you have access to so many markets," Gordon told GrowthSpotter. "I believe they plan to do something different with their menu here, in terms of offering breakfast and dessert as well as a light lunch menu."
A construction permit application filed in early December is now under review by Orange County.
The franchisee is Meit Shah, a businessman who splits time between Orlando and India, and is a lead coordinator of EB-5 foreign investor recruitment for Park Development Corporation's City Center West Orange project, planned for more than 43 acres in Ocoee.
Shah said Wednesday he and two partners have invested in the new Orlando store, and hold franchisee rights for the entire U.S., with plans to open more locations in the coming years.
"There is no such high-class chocolate cafe on I-Drive," he said, and affirmed plans to expand the menu to approach that of a full-service restaurant.
BWC Construction of Ocala is the general contractor, and construction manager is Harish Shah, no relation to the franchisee.
"I've seen the café interior in Australia on a trip, it's really one of a kind," Harish Shah said.
The group is targeting an opening week of Feb. 14 in time for Valentine's Day, he noted, an aggressive estimate based on the building permit application being filed just this month.
Sample materials for the café flooring, walls, tile and ceiling have all been imported from the parent company in Australia, and currently sit at a New York-area port awaiting customs review, Harish Shah said.
Interior buildout of the I-Drive restaurant is currently estimated at more than $200,000, he added.
"This is a niche that is pretty much going unfulfilled in this (northern) part of I-Drive," CBRE's Palta said. "We're excited because it will help draw traffic to that side of Sand Lake Road, which we've talked about for years but still need more action there."
The remaining 6,418 square feet in the former Tilted Kilt space is still open for lease, said Gordon, and has drawn multiple Letters of Intent in recent months but no contract commitment.