Graeter's returning to Lexington with location in Chevy Chase

First new store will be in Chevy Chase Plaza

ssloan@herald-leader.comOctober 6, 2011 

The chant goes, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream." Well, start screaming because Graeter's is returning to Lexington.

A company franchisee signed a lease Wednesday to open a store as early as mid-February in Chevy Chase Plaza at Euclid Avenue and High Street.

"We are ecstatic to be back in Lexington," said Richard Graeter, CEO of the family owned and operated regional chain that is based in Cincinnati.

The company's eight stores in Lexington and Northern Kentucky closed in December after issues with the previous franchisee. The company had hoped at least two of the Lexington stores would reopen earlier this year under new management, but Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt snapped up the locations.

"Lexington is a really hard market to find a great retail space," Graeter said. "It took us a lot longer than we expected.

"We were disappointed we weren't able to reopen a couple of the former locations."

The new spot is on the first level of the building best known as the home of Fox affiliate WDKY (Channel 56).

"We're excited to have them back in the market," Bret Caller, a partner in Caller Properties, which owns Chevy Chase Plaza, said of Graeter's. Caller said his company also was negotiating with McAlister's Deli, which is "looking for multiple locations in the market," to open a restaurant on the first floor.

"Our goal was always to bring retail to that first floor," he said. "It's coming along. We need a few more tenants, and we'll be finished."

For the new store, Graeter turned to franchisee Jim Tedesco, who operates several Graeter's stores in Louisville and Southern Indiana. Tedesco said he made numerous trips to Lexington before settling on the Chevy Chase location.

"It just felt right," he said, noting the deal came together in just a month after he first viewed the space. "It's a good neighborhood and a heavy walking area.

"It's also close to campus and a lot of popular restaurants around there with a lot of residential property on the other side."

If it seems he was choosy, it's to be expected.

"Location's really critical for us," Graeter said. "Just one block can make a difference between a successful store and an unsuccessful store.

"Rather than just rush into the first place available, we wanted to take our time and find what could be a great home for the next 25 years. And I think we found that here in Chevy Chase."

At 2,044 square feet, the new store will be somewhat larger than the old Lexington locations, which typically were 1,400 to 1,500 square feet, Tedesco said.

It also will have a new look for Lexington, as Tedesco intends to make the store far more appealing inside than some of the previous ones were.

"This store is going to be like no other Graeter's that they're used to seeing," he said of Lexington patrons. "It's going to be a first-class store.

"It's a premium spot, we have a premium product and we're going to build it up to be a premium location."

Tedesco also plans to open more stores in Lexington.

"We won't do anything until this one gets up and running, but our plans are still to put a couple of stores in Lexington," he said.

The Lexington announcement comes as the company has reopened two stores in Northern Kentucky. The company-owned locations have seen outstanding business, Graeter said, with one of the locations consistently being tops in the chain for a number of days.

But with its return to Lexington, Graeter's will face a vastly different dessert landscape. In the months since the chain left the market, numerous frozen yogurt locations have sprouted around town.

"My opinion is we're unique," Tedesco said. "There's a special market for hand-dipped, quality ice cream.

"They are a competitor because they're frozen desserts, but after you get past the frozen desserts, we're two different products."

And, he added, the fro-yo fad has hit Louisville just as hard, and "our sales are still strong and growing here."

Reach Scott Sloan at (859) 231-1447 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1447.

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