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Behind the Line: Stylish cuisine

Tommy Bahama mixes apparel, seafood in restaurant-retail concept

Shoppers at Tommy Bahama locations with restaurants tend to stay longer.  - Photo courtesy of Tommy Bahama Restaurants
By Lauren Kramer
May 01, 2013

Clothing retailer Tommy Bahama is confident that shoppers want food when they shop for vacation apparel. It’s why the chain, owned by Atlanta-based Oxford Industries opened its first retail-restaurant location in Naples, Fla., in 1996, along with 14 more over the 17 years that followed. The most recent restaurant store opened on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in December, with a bar featuring a sugarcane press for cocktails and a menu offering vacation-style dishes like grouper Reubens, macadamia-nut encrusted snapper and seared scallop sliders. 

“We have 10 different types of seafood at our Manhattan location,” says chef Don Donley, culinary director for Tommy Bahama Restaurants. The food is elegant but simple, island-inspired American cuisine with a special emphasis on seafood. Top sellers include coconut shrimp, ahi poke Napoleon and tiger shrimp pasta. 

Each of the retail-restaurants has the same core menu but adds regional cuisine in line with its particular market. Offerings in Manhattan include swordfish and striped bass, while the Naples location features black grouper and the Mauna Lani, Hawaii, restaurant menus pink snapper, opah, monchong and broadbill swordfish. 

In a December 2012 push toward sustainability, the Tommy Bahama Group’s restaurants made the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program a company standard. Among other changes, it meant removing Chilean sea bass from the menu and replacing it with black cod, or sablefish. 

“Prior to December we didn’t emphasize sustainability, but we already had some sustainable species on our menu,” Donley says. “From this point forward, any seafood we serve we want it to be a sustainable product.”

The company does not have one national seafood supplier. Rather, chefs work with regional suppliers in their own markets. 

The restaurants range in size from 6,000 to 13,000 square feet. They generate up to $60 million in annual sales, Donley says. That works out to 2.5 times the sales per square foot of Tommy Bahama’s 96 retail-only locations, says Terry Pillow, CEO. 

“It’s not a business you can do half-heartedly,” he cautions. “You need to bring in real professionals who not only understand the restaurant business, but also understand your brand. The magic happens only when there is harmony with your restaurant offering and the overarching brand.”

The harmony is sustained by food that aims to be “fun, vibrant, colorful, fresh and healthy,” says Donley. “It carries the sense of people relaxing in the islands.” And it’s that atmosphere that extends through the entire shopping and dining experience at Tommy Bahama, leading to guests spending more time per visit. 

The retail-restaurant locations “provide context to the brand and the brand story in terms of who we are as a company and what we do,” says Rob Goldberg, senior VP of restaurants. “They offer the brand in a three-dimensional format, as guests get to see staff in uniforms, food, plate wear, furniture and music, all rolling out into our broader message about relaxation and style.”

Because consumers at the retail-restaurant locations get to see the whole brand and lifestyle, those locations are “tremendous traffic drivers,” he says. “Guests are more comfortable shopping in that environment than in a free-standing store where they might just spend 15 minutes. The hours of our retail-restaurant locations are longer, people shop at night and overall, we have the guest for a longer period of time.”  The hours vary by location, but the Naples store is open until 11 p.m.

The restaurants are open for lunch and dinner daily, and busy locations like the 200-seat Manhattan site can do 250 to 1,000 covers a day. The key is finding locations where restaurants make sense, says Goldberg. “It’s a question of real estate, and finding a great restaurant location that’s also a great retail location is hard, and rules out a lot of real estate for us to begin with.”

Tommy Bahama Group is eyeing new markets, he adds, but isn’t planning to focus exclusively on retail-restaurant locations. “We’d miss out on too many good retail locations if we only opened stores with restaurants,” he says. 

The company’s next retail-restaurant location was scheduled to open last month in Tokyo, representing its first international location, with another planned in Waikiki, Hawaii, in 2014. 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in Richmond, British Columbia

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