Plans For Capital Grille Given Conditional Use Nod By Newtown Planners
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Plans For Capital Grille Given Conditional Use Nod By Newtown Planners

Apr 22, 2023

NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP, PA —Plans to bring a Capital Grille to Newtown Township took a step forward this week.

In a unanimous vote, the township's planning commission recommended that the board of supervisors approve Darden Restaurant's conditional use application to open the upscale restaurant at the Village at Newtown Shopping Center.

Darden is looking to locate a 236-seat restaurant inside an 8,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Pier One Imports on the east side of Eagle Road.

A layout of the proposed restaurant submitted as part of the conditional use application shows a reception area opening up to a main dining room, three private dining rooms, and a horseshoe bar surrounded by individual tables. The layout also depicts 24 seats on an outside patio on the Eagle Road side of the building.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the discussion between the township planners and Joe Blackburn, a land use attorney representing Darden Restaurants in the application process, was about parking.

While Blackburn and Darden argued that there's plenty of parking at the center to accommodate the new restaurant use, planners were skeptical given their own experience patronizing the center and from residents in the community.

Blackburn said while the application is for 236 seats, about 70 of those seats are located in private dining rooms that would not be in regular everyday use

Planning Commission chair Peggy Driscoll suggested that Darden talks to Brixmor about better use of the existing parking. She pointed to empty parking spaces behind McCaffrey's side of the shopping center that could be better utilized for employee parking.

It was also noted that staggered business hours would help the parking situation. Capital Grille would be open in the evenings after several businesses in the shopping center are closed, including Turning Point which is a heavy user of spaces.

Since the opening of Ardana, parking in the village has gotten more challenging, especially on Friday evenings on McCaffrey's side of the shopping center. Even before that residents have complained about traffic and parking inside the redeveloped center.

Brixmor, the company that owns and manages the shopping center, is allowed to have up to 45 percent of its space devoted to restaurant use, under a redevelopment agreement with the township. The new restaurant would bring the percentage up to 35.7 percent, still within what's allowed under a conditional use.

The conditional use application will next be considered by the board of supervisors where parking is expected to again be discussed.

The more challenging obstacle for The Capital Grille will be securing a liquor license transfer for the restaurant. In the past, the supervisors have been reluctant to approve additional liquor licenses in the township.

Last year when the Blue Point Grill originally presented plans for a seafood restaurant at the neighboring Newtown Shopping Center, the supervisors denied a request for a liquor license transfer from outside the township.

BPG, however, was able to secure an existing license in the township from the Friends Bar and Grill, which had closed in early 2022. It eventually won conditional use approval from the township and is now preparing for a July opening.

If approved, it would be the first Capital Grille in Bucks County and the fourth in Pennsylvania. The Capital Grille's other locations are in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and King of Prussia.

The Capital Grille, which opened its first restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island in 1990, is best known for its "expertly prepared steaks," which are dry-aged in-house for 18 to 24 days and then hand-cut by the restaurant's on-premise butcher.

Its food is made from "exceptional ingredients, artfully prepared," says its website. "It is our sole desire that everything, and we mean everything, that arrives at your table at The Capital Grille delights you. To ensure that experience, we use only the finest, freshest ingredients, artfully prepared in recipes designed to engage all of your senses."

The Capital Grille's wine list features more than 350 selections, and its floor-to-ceiling wine kiosk regularly houses between 3,500 and 5,000 bottles.

"From the moment you step into The Capital Grille, the experience is one of comfortable elegance," says the restaurant's website. "African Mahogany paneling and art deco chandeliers provide a warm, stately setting for our nationally-renowned dry-aged steaks, fresh seafood, and acclaimed world-class wines. With service as gracious as it is attentive, we look forward to impressing you."

The Capital Grille is owned by Orlando, Florida-based Darden Restaurants, Inc., which also owns and operates Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze, and Eddie V's. Earlier this month Darden entered into a merger agreement to acquire Ruth's Hospitality Group, Inc., which owns and operates Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Jeff Werner