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Upscale eatery Fig and Olive coming to Fashion Island

U.S. shopping centers are moving from fast food to fancy food. McDonald's and Hot Dog on a Stick are out. Fig & Olive and Cucina Enoteca are in.

July 30, 2013|By Tiffany Hsu

The Fig & Olive restaurant chain drips with foodie cred.

The eateries, which started in Manhattan, feature fancy olive oils and celebrity sightings. An average diner's check easily breaches $50. The Mediterranean-inspired cuisine is the antithesis of quick-stop mall chow.

But come November, a Fig & Olive will open in a 12,000-square-foot space at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, beating out 50 others for the prime spot away from the main shopping plaza.

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There will be ocean views, a garden with a fireplace, wine shelves and a white room inspired by the Cote d'Azur. Each of the 60 olive trees ringing the site costs $15,000, only a small part of the multimillion-dollar investment by the restaurant chain and the Irvine Co., which owns the property.

"The stigma of opening in a mall is going away," Fig & Olive founder Laurent Halasz said of his first foray into a shopping center. "There's been a huge change."

U.S. shopping centers are moving from fast food to fancy food.

It started a few years ago as tired food courts began transforming into slick dining terraces. Now, upscale restaurants are making an appearance, even replacing department stores as mall anchors.

At Irvine Co. Retail Properties, which owns Fashion Island and Crystal Cove Shopping Center, also in Newport Beach, an increasing portion of mall revenue is coming from food. Two staffers are dedicated to finding dining tenants; two years ago, no one was.

"We view these restaurants as being traffic draws," said Dan Sheridan, the company's president.

Drawing visitors has become a big concern for mall operators, who figure they need more than apparel and shoe stores and the occasional movie theater.

They're battling growing online shopping options and free shipping offers. Plus, the busier schedules wrought by the recovering job market have more consumers making purchases from the convenience of their phones and computers.

At the same time, shopping center owners are losing interest in multi-unit budget eateries and are courting elite foodie favorites with the lure of prominent plots of land and consultations with top-level mall executives. They're targeting the growing ranks of diners who shun cookie-cutter chain menus for meals they can brag about on blogs and social media.

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