New Restaurants Coming in Thanks to ‘Wawa Effect’
There are signs of the “Wawa effect” across the Treasured Coast.
Not only has the gas station and convenience store chain helped bring down gas prices near its first three locations, it has spurred new development.
Billy Moss, a commercial broker with Lambert Commercial in Vero Beach, predicted new restaurants would want to open near the popular Pennsylvania-based chain known for its cult-like following.
“Wawa is the homecoming queen,” Moss told me in 2015. “Once they are there, they are the pied piper of retail, and they attract others.”
The region’s first two Culver’s restaurants are opening near the Stuart and Port St. Lucie Wawa stores this month.
Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is under construction near the first Indian River County Wawa at the southeast corner of U.S. 1 and 12th Street, which was the old Vatland dealership. An unnamed restaurant is planned between the Wawa and Popeye’s.
Get ready for ButterBurgers, frozen custard and fried cheese curds.
These are three of Culver’s specialties and will be on the menu at the new Stuart and Port St. Lucie restaurants.
Two different owner-operators are opening franchises and more are planned, including one in Jensen Beach on U.S. 1 at the site of the former Seacoast Bank.
The Port St. Lucie Culver’s at 10770 S.W. Tradition Parkway is scheduled to open 10 a.m. May 15. The Stuart Culver’s at 2501 S. Kanner Hwy will open May 22.
“Culver’s is most famously known for our ButterBurger and fresh custard,” said Dale Deakin, owner-operator of the Stuart location. “A ButterBurger is 100 percent Midwest raised beef on a lightly buttered toasted bun.”
Culver’s custards include vanilla, chocolate and a flavor of the day. Flavors of the day are posted at www.culvers.com and on marquees in front of the locations.
The fast-casual chain’s menu also includes chicken and fish sandwiches, salads, soups and sides. Culver’s serves lunch and dinner from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Expect both locations to be very busy for several weeks.
Gerald and Susan Smith moved to Port St. Lucie from Chesterton, Indiana, to open the Tradition location.
“We fell in love with the community and really liked the location being close to I-95,” Gerald Smith said. “But it really came down to the feel of the community and Tradition and the potential growth we saw in the area.”
Although the Port St. Lucie Wawa, which opened March 30, is attracting more businesses to Tradition, Keiser University and Tradition Medical Center also are fueling the resurgence of development here.
Keiser University’s $14 million Tradition campus opened March 20 at 9400 Discovery Way. The two-story, 74,000-square-foot campus can accommodate 1,200 students.
Also in late March, popular local business Taco Dive opened in Tradition Village Square in what was last Dos Amigos Mexicali Restaurant & Tequila Bar.
Recovery Sports Grill opened its first Florida restaurant April 3 at 10350 S.W. Don R. Led Duke Drive in front of Homewood Suites and near the hospital as well as close to the intersection of Tradition and Village parkways.
The chain is owned by BBL Hospitality, which also owns Homewood Suites.
“We always knew that we’d put a restaurant here. But we were waiting for Tradition to develop a little more,” said John Palmeri, Recovery’s sports information director. “We felt very comfortable that there’s going to be enough traffic on this corner to have a restaurant.”
Wes McCurry, of Fishkind and Associates, which acts as development manager for the Tradition Land Co., said in March that Tradition’s growth is being driven by casual dining and healthcare.
“The activity has been fast food with drive-thrus, counter-service restaurants… most of that in the one- to five-acre size,” McCurry said during a panel with Treasure Coast commercial brokers. “While we’re happy to see that occurring, it’s still not enough. We want to see more.”
More is on the way.
Chipotle and PDQ are also looking to come to Tradition near the new Panda Express, which opened its second Port St. Lucie location April 18 near the Wawa.
PDQ specializes in hand-battered chicken tenders, made-to-order sandwiches, daily cut fries and hand-spun milkshakes. Starbucks also is opening a new store east of Interstate 95 on Gatlin Boulevard.
Rob L. Lord Jr., president and CEO of Martin Health System, is glad to have the new businesses by his growing hospital.
The hospital opened in December 2013 and filled up a week after opening, Lord said. Construction is underway to add three floors to the hospital.
“The additional retail businesses that are opening in the area will improve access to much needed goods and services for everyone,” Lord said.
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