December 07 2011
Source: The News Journal
By: Eric Ruth
WILMINGTON—The Wilmington Riverfront’s growing “restaurant row” will add another player next summer with the arrival of a New Hampshire-based Mexican chain called Margaritas.
The Pettinaro real estate company, which owns several properties on the Riverfront, has signed a lease with a local franchisee to open the restaurant on the pad site between Iron Hill Brewery and Big Fish Grill.
The arrival of Margaritas, probably by June or July, will continue to broaden the dining and entertainment options in the Riverfront redevelopment area, which not too many years ago was a forlorn post-industrial zone where few ventured.
Today, the area boasts nearly a dozen restaurants on and around the Christiana River. It was that vibrancy that convinced franchisee Craig W. Colby, a 48-year-old University of Delaware graduate, to take his chances there.
“I’ve been balking at putting a restaurant on the Riverfront for the last two years, but things seem to be going well down there now,” said Colby, who operates Delaware’s three Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and three Cosi sandwich shops. “When they approached me, I took a shot at it.”
Colby at first considered opening a Red Robin on the site, but was persuaded to consider Mexican cuisine by Riverfront Development Corp. Director Michael S. Purzycki. The city currently has few options when it comes to sit-down, full-service Mexican food, Colby said.
“I went out looking for the best Mexican franchise I could find, and I feel that I found that in Margaritas,” Colby said. “I think you’re getting a great combination of an energetic bar atmosphere with authentic Mexican cuisine.”
Of the 23 Margaritas locations opened since 1985, 22 are in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut. The chain’s first franchised location in New Jersey opened earlier this year.
Colby said Delaware will see more Margaritas in time—his deal calls for four more in the next five years. A 20-year veteran of restaurant franchises, he started with Burger Kings in Delaware and southern New Jersey. His franchise deal with Margaritas—as with Cosi and Red Robin—gives him the rights to the entire state of Delaware.
Before committing to the Riverfront location at 640 Justison St., Colby talked with other restaurant owners in the area, and he came away convinced the area was doing well and time was running out to get in.
“I just know it’s my last shot” to open on the Riverfront, he said. “If I want it, I have to grab it now.”
It was the second restaurant deal in recent months for Pettinaro, which also recently leased space in the nearby Shipyard Center to Ubon Thai Cuisine. The company now owns properties occupied by six restaurants on the Riverfront.
Rob Stenta, Pettinaro’s director of real estate, said Margaritas seemed the perfect fit for the space.
“It’s really hard to make something like that not do well,” he said. “If you go into Iron Hill or Big Fish Grill at lunchtime, it’s always packed with businesspeople from the city. It’s hard imagining that not happening with Margaritas.”