Lakeland-based Manny's Original Chophouse will open its fourth Orlando-area restaurant near Disney on S.R. 535 in Lake Buena Vista.
The kitschy, road trip-themed steakhouse is taking over the space at 12124 S. Apopka-Vineland Road formerly occupied by Joe's Crab Shack, which closed in July 2017.
Franchisees Paulina Lu and Ben Liu opened their first franchise store in 2015 on Kissimmee's W192 tourism corridor in a former Houlihan's restaurant. That was followed by a Baldwin Park location which opens this month, and a third location in Altamonte Springs scheduled to open in August.
Founder Manny Nikolaidis opened the first chophouse in Haines City in 2004 and currently operates four locations in Polk County. The casual family restaurant specializes in USDA Prime steaks, aged on site, and made-from-scratch sides.
Brian Wong, associate with Viva Orlando Realty, has worked with the franchisees on all four of their lease negotiations. He said they targeted the Lake Buena Vista submarket for its strong demographics and to expose the brand to customers from all over the world.
"We looked at Lake Buena Vista as being extremely prime real estate in Orlando," Wong said. "From a tourism standpoint, that hotel submarket has the highest occupancy on an annual basis and the highest average daily room rates."
The other factor that led the franchisees to commit quickly to the site with a 10-year lease was the pending closure of The Crossroads shopping center due to the I-4 Beyond the Ultimate widening project, scheduled for construction in 2020.
"We recognized the potential upside if and when the Crossroads property was going to be shut down," Wong said.
The Florida Department of Transportation is actively negotiating to buy the shopping center and has notified all tenants -- many of which are national chain restaurants -- they must cease operations in 2019.
Wong said the former Joe's Crab Shack building presented a rare opportunity to enter the tourism corridor market and take over a large building (9,050 square feet) with ample parking. The Lius are planning a major renovation to correlate to the Manny's concept.
"We are going to dramatically change the look of the inside and re-landscape the outside," Wong said. "It needs to be a Manny's. Anything that reminds you of Joe's will have to be replaced."
The road-trip themed decor that's prevalent in the Polk County and Kissimmee locations has been toned down for the Orlando franchises.
"The theming is evolving," Wong said. "We're making it appropriate for the area. You have to look at who the local clientele is going to be. We want the look of each restaurant to resonate with the demographics in the neighborhoods they're in."
The franchisees want to open the Baldwin Park and Altamont Springs locations before announcing an opening date for the Lake Buena Vista location.