Wednesday, February 10

Culver's Arlington Location (UN)Explained

culver's jacksonville

Evan Clagnaz is a lot like me. He's from Wisconsin. He wants a Culver's in the Arlington area of Jacksonville. He trusts other people. He has a few million dollars to invest in a restaurant. Etc. 

OK, fine, at 36 I didn't quite have $4+ million to invest. Or at 46. Maybe at 56 (fingers crossed), but by then, all the Culver's restaurants will have been built in Jax, and I'll have missed my chance to own one. Except for maybe one that fails because it’s been built in the wrong location.

Besides not quite having several million bucks to toss at a franchise, there's one more element that distinguishes me from Evan: I know where NOT to build a Culver's in Jacksonville. Because I've lived here for a few years now, I know of several good locations for a new restaurant in Arlington and several bad locations. There are also some locations that could work or could go sideways in a hurry. Clagnaz decided not to choose a sure winner or a sure loser, but I would have to say the potential downside of the selected location far outweighs the potential upside. In other words, I would not have staked my $4 million investment on a Culver's located across from a closed mall on an access/shortcut street in a semi-shady part of Arlington. 

Typical Culver’s

Without doing market research or even Googling it, I’m going to guess at the typical Culver’s franchise location, based on the fact that we stop at every Culver’s we see since moving from Wisconsin. A typical Culver’s is near an expressway ramp and in a newer shopping center as an outlot building on THE main street. It doesn’t tend to be all on its own or in distressed neighborhoods. It’s very rarely integrated into another business (with one exception being the one closest to our Milwaukee house). Generally, a Culver’s goes in exactly where you might expect an Applebee’s to be built, if anyone was still building Applebee’ses. 

Not a Total Train Wreck

There are places in Arlington where a Culver’s would have been a train wreck, like along the Arlington Expressway, with its nonsensical frontage roads and frustrating traffic lights. Not to mention no-tell motels and seedy apartments. Many parts of the Renew Arlington areas would also not be good for a Culver’s, since it’s not really that renewed and the traffic doesn’t exist to support a restaurant chain next to a pawn shop (even if the pawn shop has a pretty new sign on a newly-surface road). 

Most of the stretch of Merrill east of the 295 to University is sketchy at best (as is most of University itself), also a result of suspect apartment complexes. I know, a good destination could help change the negative perception, but it also might go out of business when dads like me refuse to take their families to the area for a relaxing meal, so I guess those areas get McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and local pit barbeques instead. 

The Obvious Locations

Ask anyone in Arlington where the obvious location for a new restaurant, and they’d tell you it’s at Atlantic and Kernan. Sure, it’s East Arlington, but that’s the de facto spot for a new Culver’s in the area. I suppose this location was considered, and it was probably a pricey proposition. And maybe the fact that there’s already a custard stand at the intersection seemed to be a problem. Or the fact that Atlantic rises above Kernan and makes seeing the businesses down below a little difficult. And there’s also having to deal with Sleiman, which probably owns the entire intersection. Still, it’s a good location. The obvious one, where Culver’s tends to be.

Another obvious location would be at Merril and 295, where the new Popeye’s went in. This location has the close proximity to the interstate that Culver’s seems to like, though it doesn’t have the larger big-box retailers that often compliment the restaurant. But it’s mostly new and still an OK area to take the family. And the last Arlington location that might seem obvious is near the Best Buy or Ollie's, even if both sides of Atlantic seem underused, it's still a lot more stable than Monument.

I had half-jokingly suggested the corner of Kernan and McCormick on this website for a Culver’s, mostly because I wanted to be able to walk to one. If one was located at that intersection, it would have to be a total destination, like the actual custard stands back in Milwaukee (Leon’s, Kopp’s, Gilles, Oscar’s, Kitt’s). I suppose Culver’s has a formula that works, and trying something different, like returning to its custard stand roots, isn’t part of that formula. 

The Mall?

That brings us to the actual location that was chosen for the new Culver’s in Arlington. The mall. Or, what’s left of the mall. Clagnaz, apparently against the advice of some, has decided that an abandoned (several times) restaurant across from a closed JCPenney’s (that was the last anchor to a mostly closed mall) is the perfect spot for a new restaurant. It’s also next to a closed Army Navy store, a liquor store, and a gambling den. I know, when I put it like that, it ought to be considered a total train wreck, but with this location, it all depends. It’s technically near a lot of big box retailers and the expressway, and the mall could recover in a new form. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed the abandoned restaurant because Monument is kind of a mess where it hits Atlantic, and I never really considered stopping there for liquor or an oil change (Car Spa) because of the traffic. I call it an access road only because it's used to get to other roads, not because it's less busy than other roads. If Regency Mall can be rebranded as something useful, then who knows. But I assume the mall might become low-rent apartments with some more rim rental, pawn, and porn shops added to the parking lot. Not JEA headquarters or mega-church mall, like some had hoped.

Here’s what Clagnaz, a product of Madison, Wisconsin, had to say to a local business news paper about the area: “There seems to be real diversity in that area that I think we really look forward to. In New York City, I spent 15 years in restaurants. I met a lot of people. I am excited to be able to work with a diverse workforce.” Unfortunately, there’s a big difference between the clientele/workforce at fancy NYC restaurants and the diverse folks who hang out along Atlantic, since most patrons at fine restaurants don’t randomly yell obscenities or keep all their stuff in shopping carts. He probably meant diverse, as in race, but that’s just Jacksonville: it’s not as segregated as in the North. (Actually, Milwaukee is segregated; the rest of Wisconsin is just plain white.) But there doesn’t seem to be much diversity at all in fast food employees in Jacksonville in that none of them ever empty the garbage cans or wipe down tables. Maybe his experience with the American International School of Mozambique can help him convince local teenagers that taking the garbage out before it overflows and washing tables every few hours is a good idea. 

Anyhow, I hope Clagnaz and his investor-friends (who probably will live in non-diverse Ponte Vedra) don’t think they are on some kind of mission to save the world by revitalizing Arlington or guiding misguided, diverse youth. Their goal is to make some tasty custard and burgers for me to eat in a clean and safe environment. And not to lose all their money by investing in the wrong location. 

My Take

It’s probably obvious I would never have put my Culver’s in a location across from a dying mall that’s seen several restaurants already fail, but that’s partially because of all the sad mall-area failures I’ve seen in the Milwaukee metro (Capitol Court, Northridge, Grand Avenue). Since I am not the one with $4.5 million to blow (I could probably scrounge together $4.5 thousand), it’s not my call. Regardless of where it’s located in Arlington, this will still be my new favorite restaurant, at least until I get carjacked in the parking lot, and there’s probably only a really small chance of that happening.

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