Renderings were drawn, interior designs were planned, and Josh Wallack was being introduced as the landlord of an Orlando location of New York steakhouse Smith & Wollensky. But after a year of negotiations and preliminary expenses, the parent company of the high-end restaurant decided not to go forward with what had seemed like a done deal.
“Of all the deals I’ve done in Orlando, this is the one that slipped away from me,” said Wallack, of Wallack Holdings, which owns Mangos Tropical Cafe on International Drive and Hollywood Plaza with the recently constructed parking garage next door with a prime top-floor restaurant space that was intended for Smith & Wollensky.
Wallack blames Las Vegas.
Danu Partners, the Irish investment firm that owns the Smith & Wollensky brand, opened a restaurant at the Venentian in Las Vegas last year, a replacement restaurant of sorts for one that had closed, but its construction was fraught with problems. “It wasn’t Smith’s fault,” said Wallack. But he said construction was problematic, and that may have led to the company’s decision to not open another Smith & Wollensky, at least not at this time.
Still, Wallack said he was invited to the opening of the Vegas S&W, in May, had his picture taken with all of the company executives and was being introduced as the landlord for the next restaurant they would build.
But then, at the end of January, Danu Partners decided instead to purchase Strega, a group of Italian restaurants in Boston, to grow its U.S. restaurant business. So the Orlando deal was off.
“We spent at least a year and tens of thousands of dollars,” said Wallack.
Smith & Wollensky was the second restaurant intended for the space at the top of Hollywood Plaza. While it was still under construction, an Orlando restaurateur was planning to open Circo, the Italian brand from New York’s Le Cirque restaurant family. But when that company filed for bankruptcy, the Orlando Circo died.
Wallack has resumed his search for “another high-end, hotsy-totsy” restaurant at the top. He says he has one major group looking but he wants to have four. “I’m not interested in putting something up there that goes out of business in one year,” he said.
Wallack was instrumental in getting Orange County to agree to allow dynamic digital art, large screens that showcase art and video, in the International Drive corridor. “The dynamic art ordinance will be a game changer for Hollywood Plaza,” he said.
He also said it will help attract other high-end restaurant brands to the area. “We’re way behind our major convention competitors,” such as Chicago and Las Vegas, in terms of restaurant offerings.
And he hasn’t given up hope on opening a Smith & Wollensky in Orlando. But it will have to be at another location and it won’t happen for a few years.
Smith & Wollensky was started in New York in 1977 by Alan Stillman. It currently has nine locations, including one in Miami Beach.