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Wave of new restaurants in downtown Burbank represent a change in commerce

With several new restaurants opening in downtown Burbank in recent months and more anticipated, it's a sign for some that the district is becoming a more appealing destination in the region, but the trend also indicates that "the face of commerce is changing."

Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened at the Burbank Town Center in September. A few months later, Steak 'n Shake opened nearby, across from the AMC Burbank 16 — only the third California location for the burger joint with restaurants throughout the country, concentrated mainly in the Midwest, according to the company's website.

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Several more restaurants are coming soon, said Mary Hamzoian, economic development manager for the city. Those include Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ and Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill, both expected to open in the coming months, as well as several still in the permitting process, such as the Yard House sports bar, expected to open above Barney's Beanery.

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"That's when you know how well your downtown is doing," Hamzoian said, referring to the growing list of well-known restaurant brands and concepts coming to the district.

However, some businesses are also moving out, Hamzoian said. She attributed that largely to the fact that leases are expiring, and property owners see an opportunity to raise rents and find new, stronger tenants. Sometimes that can seem to take a long time while much of the work is being done behind-the-scenes.

Los Angeles-based taquería Guisados is working through the permit process for a location at what was formerly an Orchard Flats juicery, at 312 N. San Fernando Blvd. Carving Board Sandwiches is expected to move into a now-empty florist storefront at 218 E. Olive Ave.

Downtown needs to balance the growing number of restaurants with retailers, Hamzoian said, but that can be more difficult as landlords favor eateries in an economy being reshaped by online shopping. The types of businesses that are expected to do well are the ones offering experiences that can't be replicated online, she said, and "you can't eat on the Internet."

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The city is already working with the owners of the property that was, until earlier this month, the campus of Marinello Schools of Beauty, Hamzoian said, "actively and aggressively" seeking a retail tenant. The roughly 11,000-square-foot space could be ideal for a discount shoe or cosmetics store, based on the area's demographics, she said.

Alex Benes, a partner and the culinary director at Wood Ranch BBQ, said his company had been looking to open a Burbank location for some time, but had trouble finding the right spot until word got out that Elephant Bar might be closing. The company quickly reached out to the Cusumano Real Estate Group, which owns the property, to express interest.

For Benes, some of the key factors were the daytime activities in the area, with nearby retail at Empire Center and IKEA, as well as the AMC theaters. He also said the proximity to offices makes for strong happy hours, while nearby residences mean there will likely be a regular evening customer base.

Hamzoian said she personally referred more than a dozen firms to the Cusumano group after they expressed interest in the former Elephant Bar location at 110 N. First St.

Michael Cusumano, co-owner of the real estate group, said the site attracted a lot of interest because it is a stand-alone restaurant at a prominent intersection and has its own parking lot, but also because the area "is continuing to establish itself as a destination."

For example, he said, attendance at the fall beer festival in downtown has grown dramatically. The four-block event drew more than 2,800 attendees last year, compared to 600 and 225 at the one-block events in 2014 and 2013, respectively, according to data Hamzoian provided.

"You can't underestimate the overall appeal of downtown Burbank," Cusumano said.

Wood Ranch is one of his personal favorite eateries, he said, and he predicts it will have long lines when it opens, likely in mid-June.

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"It will help continue the momentum of downtown Burbank," he added.

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Chad Garland, chad.garland@latimes.com

Twitter: @chadgarland

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