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MALL–Trendy Changes Finally Sprouting at Promenade Mall

One and a half years after being acquired by a new owner, Shoppingtown at Woodland Hills Promenade is beginning to take shape. The mall has struck a deal to bring in a major tenant, Jillian’s, which has committed to opening a 65,000-square-foot mega-plex of bars, restaurants, interactive video games and bowling lanes. The Jillian’s complex will take over much of the center’s lower level when it opens next year. Westfield America, which acquired the ailing shopping center in 1998, has also signed a lease with P.F. Chang’s, a restaurant chain that will replace Bob Burns just outside the mall’s entrance. “The intent has been to reposition the center into a more lifestyle, entertainment destination,” said Catharine Dickey, a spokeswoman for Westfield America. Residents and real estate experts have been expecting a remake of the Promenade since Westfield acquired the 600,000-square-foot property in 1998. The mall has had a number of anchors through the years, including I. Magnin and Saks Fifth Avenue. But efforts to create a luxury shopping center were unsuccessful and the anchor positions have since been taken over by Macy’s and an AMC 16-screen movie theater. Jillian’s, which currently has 32 locations across the country, features at least six different rooms containing entertainment and restaurants. The company is opening its first Southern California location at Universal CityWalk next month a scaled-down version of the mega-plex that will include bowling lanes, a video cafe and game room. But the center in Woodland Hills, planned to open in the first quarter of 2001, will offer a full complement of activities, said Steven Foster, founder and CEO of the Louisville-based company. “We’ve done some independent surveys and over 35 percent of our guests return once a week, and 40 percent return once a month,” Foster said. “That’s due to the fact that there are so many things to do.” While the Jillian’s deal may be the mall’s most significant move, possibly a sadder one for longtime patrons was the shuttering of the venerable Bob Burns restaurant, and its pending replacement with P.F. Chang’s. A national chain with 39 restaurants, P.F. Chang’s caters to affluent diners with a formula that combines Chinese food and a bistro-like atmosphere. Sauces are prepared at the table, the wine list is extensive, and the desserts, including cheesecake and macadamia-nut torte, are drawn from a variety of culinary influences. End of an era Bob Burns had become a tradition for its diehard customers. Some came for the restaurant’s old-school ambiance and meat and potatoes fare. Many diners celebrated birthdays and anniversaries there. Hal Fishman, the KTLA television news anchor, showed up regularly to hear a Scottish folk group that performed there. But tradition doesn’t count for much in the restaurant business, and on New Year’s Eve 1999, after more than 25 years at its location just outside the mall, Bob Burns closed its doors. “I think the people who had come to us for many years were regulars and kept coming,” said Beth Burns, who with her siblings Bobby and Bonnie, own Bob Burns restaurants and Marmalade Restaurant Co. “But I think for the younger generation, the 25- to 35-year-olds, it wasn’t a restaurant that appealed to a lot of them.” Westfield America, which owns the mall, would not comment on the reasons for not renewing the restaurant’s lease, but others point out that Bob Burns’ loyal following could not compensate for the one draw that it lacked something new. “Most of our clients on the real estate side are looking for those concepts that are different than what they’ve seen, that are glitzy and splashy and will be a competitive point of difference from the mall that’s down the street,” said Ed Engoron, president and chief executive of Perspectives/The Consulting Group, which specializes in restaurants. Founded in North Hollywood in 1957 by Bob and Elizabeth Burns, Bob Burns became a bustling place to meet for the Valley’s film industry. “In the early ’60s, we had all the studio business, and we were open 24 hours a day,” said Beth Burns, the founders’ daughter. The restaurant served up a menu of steakhouse selections, Caesar salad and ample sandwiches on white tablecloths against a living-room backdrop with a crackling fireplace and cozy booths. But while the regulars piad the restaurant’s bills, the business was not drawing new customers, particularly younger generations, Burns said. “It was hard for them to come in the door the first time,” Burns said. “Maybe because we didn’t have that trendy image, although when most people did (try it) they were blown away and thought it was a great place to bring a date.” Shrinking chain Bob Burns had grown to a chain of six restaurants, but as leases expired, all but two were closed. With fewer restaurants, costs per location increased. “It’s definitely harder to survive because of the overhead and the cost of running a business,” Burns said. In an attempt to satisfy such rapidly changing tastes, some chains are spinning off new restaurant concepts and others have begun to revise their menus regularly. Indeed, some years back the Burns family began working on a new restaurant concept, Marmalade Cafe, and has since opened five locations in Calabasas, Westlake Village, Santa Monica, Malibu and Sherman Oaks. “Our concept (at Marmalade Cafe) has been much more away from the red meat and potatoes that Bob Burns is known for,” said Burns. “Many things on the menu are meatless, not because we’re trying to be (vegetarians), that’s just the way people like to eat. There are trends in eating habits and a restaurant has to keep up.”

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