Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Panera rolls out table tracking, rapid pick-up systems

The new Panera Bread table tracking system.
Panera Bread is adding table service without the tips at its Bradenton area restaurants.

Panera recently rolled out the company's Table Tracker and Rapid Pick-up systems at the 1520 Cortez Road location.

Instead of staff yelling out names and order numbers or trying to squeeze past a line of people waiting for their pager to buzz, customers are handed a coaster-like device at their tables. Each table has a tag with a sensor inside that communicates to the pager and the ordering system where you decided to sit down and where staff should bring the food.

It definitely helps eliminate the congestion at the pick-up counter and makes claiming a table easier, too.

So far, the Cortez Road location is the only one in the Bradenton area to have the Table Tracker feature, said David Ivey, district manager for Panera's franchisee Harmony Food Partners. More locations have plans to roll out the feature, including the new location on North Cattlemen Road scheduled to open in October, he said. Harmony operates the Panera cafes on Cortez Road, Tuttle Avenue/University Parkway and Gulf Gate's Sarasota Pavilion.

Panera also has cafes off of Bahia Vista and U.S. 41 in Sarasota plus on the corner of Bee Ridge and Cattlemen roads.

The five Bradenton-Sarasota area locations do offer the Rapid Pick-Up ordering system that allows for online orders to be placed and picked up on a shelf by the entrance.

Certain Panera locations also offer delivery and a feature with the smartphone app to order from your table, but the local restaurants do not have that feature yet. The individual delivery is unlikely here, but the ordering system is a possibility.

Panera is also opening a new restaurant on North Cattlemen Road in October across from the Mall at University Town Center. The restaurant plans to hire 40-50 people and conduct interviews Aug. 8 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Aug. 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Center for Culinary Arts, Keiser University, 6151 Lake Osprey Drive, Sarasota.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thorntons fuel rewards a new player in Manatee County

Drivers looking for something extra while paying a little less at the pump have a new option in Manatee County.

Thorntons gas station opened over the weekend on the corner of State Road 64 and 48th Street Court E. It is the first station for the Louisville-based company south of the Sunshine Skyway.

Most in Manatee County are familiar with the Fuel Perks program offered by Winn-Dixie to provide discounts off of Shell gas if you buy groceries. That program gives a 5 cent per gallon discount for every $50 spent at Winn-Dixie. Some products can give bonus points, too. Points expire during the following months, but if a family plays their shopping cart and trips right, it can result in a hefty discount.

Thorntons offers something a little different, and it's not tied to any grocery store.

The company's Refreshing Rewards program has three tiers. The first tier gives new members a 10-cent per gallon discount for every fill-up during the first 30 days of membership. It also offers certain perks on items you buy the most in the convenience store and patrons are automatically entered in a sweepstakes. The program also has a companion smartphone app both for iOS and Android.

When I signed up today, the program also gave me a discount on 44-ounce fountain drink or FizzFreez  -- the Thorntons equivalent of a Slurpee. The cost is just 99 cents for that jumbo drink, and it looks like that can be redeemed 100 times.

After 10 visits to the store, the fuel discounts go away with the exception of  a 10-cents per gallon discount on your birthday. That's an awfully long ways away for anyone with a June birthday like myself. The store will also email you receipts and send price alerts when fuel drops. However, in the meantime, there will be discounts for items in the store that might be equal to a gas discount anyway.

Once you hit 25 visits, this triggers the VIP level giving a 3 cents per gallon discount on every visit. If you only get gas once a week, and happen to stop at the one Thorntons in Manatee County each time, this will take you about six months to reach -- meaning patrons go five months without a discount after that first month.

If you have a job near Brandon or Clearwater, and a long commue it might be more attainable, especially with Thorntons in Largo, Clearwater, Brandon, Riverview and Carrollwood. 

Which fuel rewards program is the better deal? Add your thoughts below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vera Bradley now hiring for Mall at University Town Center store

Vera Bradley is now hiring for its Mall at University
Town Center store. PHOTO PROVIDED
Indiana-based handbag designer Vera Bradley is now hiring for its Mall at University Town Center store.

The company's website is advertising for a store manager, a part-time retail team leader and a part-time sales associates. Those interested can apply online through Vera

The Herald previously reported in May that the store would be opening a retail store in the mall, as its pop-up outlet in the Ellenton Premium Outlets continues to extend its run there.

The store will be located on the first level of the mall beside Johnston & Murphy, near the center court. Several other stores started hiring as well. Furniture store Lovesac is also advertising for a store manager.

The two-level, 880,000-square-foot mall off of Cattlemen Road and University Parkway is expected to open Oct. 16.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

MalibuFox boutique opens on University Parkway

MalibuFox is now open at 5275 University Parkway.
CHARLES SCHELLE/Bradenton Herald
A women's fashion boutique whose clothes were featured in Neiman Marcus is now open on University Parkway.
Danielle Garrow, fashion designer and owner, opened MalibuFox on Monday inside the University Park Center/Market at University Town Center. The store is across from Kohl's at 5275 University Parkway, Suite 103.

"It feels good, like a sigh of relief," Garrow said inside her shop Tuesday. "Now it's finally here."

I talked to the Lakewood Ranch resident in April when she signed her lease about her passion for fashion:

Garrow's eclectic collection is inspired by Southwest Native American themes and colors and a Malibu beach vibe, she said.
"I kind of design for the Bohemian beach babe kind-of-girl," she said. That style led her to luxury department store Neiman Marcus, which ordered her line last year, a surprising deal so early in her career. The experience opened her eyes to big department store demands.
"Working with big stores is an amazing opportunity and a lot of work goes into it," Garrow said. "It's something I'm definitely not ruling out."
A grand opening celebration is set for Aug. 9 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the store. It will include food, giveaways and Garrow will unveil her own line of clothes.

In the meantime, she's carrying brands such as WildFox, BB Dakota, Lovers+Friends, Yumi Kim and LA Made.
The store hours are initially 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and once her staff is solidified, she expects to be open until 7 p.m. Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m.

For more, call 941-312-2439 or visit and

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mall at University Town Center Macy's Now Hiring

Macy's, one of the anchor stores at the new Mall at University Town Center,
is now hiring. FILE PHOTO

Read more here:
The Macy's inside the Mall at University Town Center is now hiring,in preparation for the mall's Oct. 16 opening.

The first batch of jobs posted over the weekend include 22 positions. More are expected to be posted soon.

Macy's anticipates having a career fair for hiring, likely making an announcement in the coming weeks.

To apply at Macy's, visit

Positions posted so far include evening stockers, retail commission associates, an on-call retail support associate, team leads and jobs in jewelry, bedding, women's shoes, cosmetics and loss prevention.

H&M, Saks Fifth Avenue and other stores are hiring as well, the Herald previously reported. A sample of  those job openings can be found on CareerSource Suncoast, the region's jobs agency, is also working on a Web page to act as a one-stop place to find available jobs at the mall. About 2,000 full- and part-time jobs are expected to be created from the mall.

The 880,000-square-foot mall includes anchors Dillard's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue plus Apple, Crate & Barrel along with more than 100 restaurants and stores.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wall Street Journal takes notice of Mall at University Town Center

The Mall at University Town Center
Courtesy of Manatee County Government Information Outreach
The Wall Street Journal is starting to take notice of the impending opening of the  Mall at University Town Center.

That national media outlets would swoop in to do big pieces on the mall's role in America and using the Mall at UTC for a prop for a story, was bound to happen, even though the local construction doesn't represent a national mall rebound trend.

Robbie Whelan from the WSJ on the mall madness and where Taubman plays into all of this:

That was a common event from the 1980s through the early 2000s when mall construction boomed. But new mall development has slowed to a trickle in recent years, falling from more than 25 million square feet of gross leasable space added in 2001 to less than four million each year starting in 2010, according to Green Street Advisors. Only eight new malls have been built in the U.S. since 2008, Green Street says.

Taubman, a real-estate investment trust based in Michigan, has been an exception to the rule. The company currently has three domestic projects under way in Sarasota, Hawaii and Puerto Rico — with a combined cost of $905 million to the company — as well as two malls planned for China and one for South Korea, with a combined cost of $560 million.

Taubman is building because it believes its projects are located in markets that are underserved by retail, and because of the mall owner's track record of attracting high-quality tenants. Sarasota, for example, will "fill the void between Tampa and Naples" for upscale, destination retail, the company said. The mall's retail space was 90% committed months before the opening, Taubman said.
I visited the topic of malls in the national spotlight in a column in March when CBS "Sunday Morning" talked about how no new indoor malls have been built since 2006, but they overlooked both the Mall at UTC and Taubman's Salt Lake City Creek Center that opened in 2012, which was partially indoors. Basically, outlets kept repeating a line about mall construction from a 2009 WSJ article and never bothered to check to see if it was still true years later that no new malls opened or were under construction since 2006.

As Whelan notes above, Green Street Advisors say eight new malls have been built since 2008, but I can't verify the specificity of that item. That probably includes outdoor malls/outlets as well. The International Council of Shopping Centers provided data on indoor mall openings to me in March citing only one in Arkansas and Salt Lake City as indoor malls that opened since 2006.

The WSJ story also revisits Taubman's deal of it selling off seven malls.