It’s official. The Cheesecake Factory is coming to Lawrence Township.
At the Township Planning Board meeting on Monday, the board unanimously approved a site plan application for construction of a new 8,916-square-foot building attached to Quaker Bridge Mall that will be occupied by the popular chain restaurant.
With room to accommodate 299 diners, the new Cheesecake Factory in Lawrence will also feature a bakery and bar.
Inn September a representative of the mall’s owner, Indiana-based Simon Property Group, confirmed that negotiations were underway with Cheesecake Factory.
The new restaurant will be built along the west (Route 1) side of the mall adjacent to the mall entrance located between the Macy’s and J.C. Penney department stores. It will stand on the side of the entrance opposite where the Lawrence Grill presently is located.
Sixty-four of the Cheesecake Factory's seats will be located in an outdoor patio area, planned to be open from March to October, weather permitting. The view from the patio area will be screened with evergreens 6 or 7 feet tall.
To accommodate the new restaurant, 87 parking spaces will be eliminated, some handicapped parking spaces relocated, a section of Inner Ring Road moved, new pedestrian crosswalks and landscaping installed, and other improvements made.
Construction of the new restaurant is expected to begin in January and be finished next October. During the same period, a major renovation of the rest of Quaker Bridge Mall will take place, according to Thomas Schneider, executive vice president of development for Simon Property Group.
"Seventy percent of the mall property will have new or re-located tenants" after the renovations, Schneider said while being questioned by Jonathan Epstein, an attorney from Drinker Biddle’s Princeton area law office, which was hired to represent Simon Property Group before the planning board.
Schneider said the mall will get a thorough facelift. "There will be new ceilings, handrails, floor coverings, entrances and graphics. It'll be a whole new look. A lot of work will be done," he said, noting that the renovations will mean jobs for local tradesmen. The mall will also be made more energy-efficient, he added.
Construction of the new restaurant is part of a significant expansion of Quaker Bridge Mall – including multiple stores, restaurants and parking garages – that has been in the planning stages for several years, but which has experienced several setbacks due to the economic downturn.
"We have major tenants interested" in setting up shop in the mall, and having a restaurant like the Cheesecake Factory is “an important first step" in improving Quaker Bridge Mall, Schneider said.
Douglas Middleton, senior project manager at Cheesecake Factory, said his company has a very strong track record.
He said Cheesecake Factory, with 164 stores nationwide, has the highest average annual sales of any restaurant chain in the United States. Annual sales are over $1 billion, he said.
The new restaurant at Quaker Bridge Mall will have a 200-item menu and employ 250 to 300 people fulltime, he said. It will be open seven days a week for long hours, he added, and will look great, with granite and limestone floors, custom woodwork, light fixtures and other attractive design features.
Energy-efficient features of the restaurant will include insulated glass and a white roof, Schneider said. He said Cheesecake Factory also is investigating other energy-efficient techniques, such as possibly using solar energy to heat water.