Our neighborhood is now officially part of the in crowd, just like the hipsters on McKinney Avenue. We’re finally affluent enough to attract businesses that appeal to the Park Cities and tony suburban types in Southlake.
How else to explain that Matt’s Rancho Martinez is leaving the Lakewood Shopping Center to be replaced by store number 16 in the Mi Cocina chain?
Yes, the rumors are true. Matt Martinez III confirmed what has been floating around since the spring — the Lakewood institution that his father brought to the shopping center more than two decades ago is moving. The Matt’s lease expires in February 2012, and after that? Martinez says that there’s a reasonable chance he’ll open in a new location, and even has one under consideration — “as close to Mi Cocina as possible.”
Which, I suppose, is good news, all things considered. Matt’s has its faults — it’s noisy and the service can be less than spectacular, but it’s part of what makes this neighborhood this neighborhood. It’s no coincidence that you can go into Matt’s on Sunday afternoon and see three generations of one family eating together; that’s what Matt’s has meant to Lakewood and East Dallas.
What’s not as good news is that it points to the changes that are going to start taking place here, especially as the economy picks up. This is not the borderline demographic area that it was even 10 years ago. We’ve got big numbers that appeal to big-time companies like Whole Foods and Mi Cocina, and those companies are going to be coming. And if local businesses lose out in the process, well, that’s just part of the process.
Because this change is about money. Consider just one fact: In a week, Matt’s sells more wine, beer, spirits and cocktails than some bars on Greenville Avenue, according to state tax receipt records, and almost as much as some of Dallas’ most popular restaurants. What restaurant, chain or independent, wouldn’t want a shot at that audience?
Why Matt’s is leaving is a little more unclear. I left messages for Meg Robinson, who works for property manager Rutledge-Willingham, and Hillary Artzt, who works for Mi Cocina owner MCrowd Restaurant Group, and never heard back. But this is what seems to have happened:
• The southwest side of the shopping center, which includes Matt’s, was bought in 2007 by a partnership headed by W.W. Willingham II, according to county tax records. Shortly thereafter, said Matt Martinez, the new owners sued him for control of the Matt’s patio, which they said wasn’t part of his lease. The new owners lost the lawsuit.
• Matt’s had a 20-year lease, dating to the time it moved from the corner of the center, where Centennial and Starbucks are now, to its present location. As renewal approached, Martinez realized he would have to pay substantially more rent, and was prepared to do it: “I knew we had a low rent structure, based on what the shopping center was like when we signed the lease.”
• The Willingham partnership put the property out for bid, and MCrowd made what appears to have been the best offer. It included much higher rent (how much no one is talking about) and the promise to spend $1.5 million on site improvements. Martinez said he was given the opportunity to match the offer; he said he’d pay the higher rent, but that it didn’t make sense for his company to spend that much money renovating the building. So we’ll see a Mi Cocina opening there next spring.
“I know this was a business decision,” Martinez says, “and I don’t have any hard feelings about what happened. I just have to do the best I can for Matt’s. We’re sad to go, but that’s business.”
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