The Cheesecake Factory – one of America's best-known restaurant chains – is opening its first Canadian location, and commercial landlords are salivating.
While the company has opened stores internationally through licensing agreements, the 10,400-square-foot location at Toronto's Yorkdale mall will be the first company-owned store outside the United States when it opens in the fall.
"For nearly 40 years, The Cheesecake Factory has been known for creating delicious, memorable experiences for tens of thousands of Canadians visiting the U.S.," said David Overton, the company's founder and chief executive officer, in a news release. "We are now delighted to be expanding into Canada."
The biggest winner in the company's northern migration may be Yorkdale, owned and operated by Oxford Properties Group Inc. The Cheesecake Factory is an attractive tenant as it represents a relative rarity in a crowded and competitive restaurant landscape: a family-style, moderately priced chain that can thrive alongside high-end retail. Mall landlords have been trying to lure the chain to Canada for years.
"It's a long time coming," said Oxford Properties executive vice-president Michael Turner. "We've been having conversations with them for many, many years. … It's a long process and a big decision for them."
One appealing factor for malls is the company's unique pager system that lets customers know when their table is ready. The Cheesecake Factory is known to add repeaters in larger malls to allow the signal to reach customers so they can shop as they wait for their table.
"Customers have the opportunity to enjoy the rest of the shopping-centre experience without losing their spot in the queue," Mr. Turner said.
The Cheesecake Factory said Wednesday that Canadians can expect the same menu and dessert selection offered at American restaurants. The cheesecakes – produced at two company-owned bakeries in the United States – will be the same, as well. As for pricing, the company said menu items will be "reasonably priced within the upscale-casual dining segment."
Love affairs with U.S. chains entering Canada don't always last. P.F. Chang's China Bistro – a popular Asian fusion concept – opened in Canada in 2012. Despite initial fanfare, the Toronto location was shuttered and the original owners filed for bankruptcy protection. The chain still has two Montreal-area locations under new ownership.
Antony Karabus of HRC Retail Advisory isn't worried about The Cheesecake Factory's future success in Canada.
"As far as family chain restaurants, it's one of the absolute best-run chains," he said. "They have proved that they can survive and thrive in 'A' malls."
When asked about future Canadian locations, Cheesecake Factory spokesperson Alethea Rowe said it's a possibility, but there are no further announcements to make.
"We really take a much smaller, more methodical approach to growth," she said, adding that the Yorkdale site was chosen after years of waiting for the right opportunity to enter the Toronto market.
Mr. Karabus said he anticipates four or five locations in Toronto as well as more locations at top malls across Canada within a few years. There is, of course, a challenge.
"You run out of 'A' malls very quickly," he said.