Piccolo Buco – in Oak Brook, Illinois
Guest: Jo-El Quinlan
Topics: Piccolo Buco, restaurant industry
Chris Ressa 0:00
This is Retail Retold, the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris Ressa, and I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC Management.
Welcome to Retail Retold everyone. Today I’m joined by Jo-El Quinlan, Senior Vice President of Development at Cooper’s Hawk. Jo-El has been in industry for over 30 years with a specialty in restaurant development. I’m excited for her to be here. Welcome to the show, Jo-El.
Jo-El Quinlan 0:36
Thank you, Chris. Pleasure to be here.
So Jo-El, well, why don’t you tell everyone a little bit more about who you are and what you do?
Great. Well, I’m at Cooper Hawk. It’s, it’s a super fun concept to work for. We are a little bit different and a little bit unique. I’ve been here about seven years. We are a privately owned company. So that’s been fun. Also, you know, prior to Cooper Hawk, I’d spent 10 years with Darden Restaurants. I’ve been with TGI Fridays back in the day, so a lot of casual dining restaurant experiences.
And for me, the role of Cooper’s Hawk was particularly interesting because of the concept and the brand, and the fact that we are a winery and we produce our own wine. But also after moving all over the country, for work related opportunities. I’m back in Chicago, which is where I grew up, and where I went to college.
So I really feel like I’ve come full circle. So even though it’s, it’s a new place to live, for me, it’s not that new, but it is nice to experience like as a grown up, not any college kids. So it’s a lot of fun to be back. And it’s just a great organization to be a part of, you know, very young, very entrepreneurial growing like crazy. It’s, it’s a lot of fun.
That’s terrific. Let’s, let’s walk back a little bit. I think everyone in the world loves and connects with restaurants on some level. And this restaurant development piece is so interesting to some. How did you get into this part of the restaurant business?
Sure. So originally, my very first job was with MIDAS muffler. So very different than a restaurant so but it was in the real estate department. And so I learned a lot about real estate. And I learned a lot about development and zoning. You know, nobody wants a muffler shop in their town, even though everybody needs one. Nobody wants one. So learning all about you know how you go through conditional use permits and special use permits and all that sort of thing.
So you know, I stayed there for 14 years. So I mean, I did love it. I had a lot of great friends there. But an opportunity came up for me to go to KFC and I actually worked in the Northeast for KFC for a number of years. So that kind of got me into like the fast food restaurant business. And then, and then I, received an opportunity from TGI Fridays.
So that was my first foray into casual dining, and my first foray into having like a, you know, being the in charge of the national real estate program. And, you know, interestingly, I mean, I just kind of fell in love. I mean, I love food. I love wine. I love going out, I think it’s a great way to connect with friends and family. It’s, it’s interesting, I’m kind of adventurous that way. So you know, getting into casual dining was great.
And then you know, getting to Darden where so many brands, everything from you know, all of garden to Capitol grill. So really getting to understand so many. I mean, I can’t tell you how many Texas Roadhouse is I’ve been into and you know all the competitors for all of garden and Longhorn and monster. But it’s really, it’s just, it’s fun.
And you know, part of your job, like I always say, I have the best job in the company, any company, my job is to go out into markets and go look at How’s all the competition doing and how’s the retail doing in shopping and eating? That’s my job. So it’s really a lot of fun doing your homework. And then, you know, once you get into that, it’s like, oh, gosh, you know, this is such a great opportunity. And it’s so much fun, and the travel was great.
There was a lot of travel, you know, if you’re not a road warrior, this is not the job for you. But if you enjoy that, it’s really great. And then coming to Cooper’s Hawk really added another element in that, you know, we make our own wine. So, you know, there’s this whole other part of Cooper’s Hawk, which is making our own wine and, you know, all the things we can do for our wine club members. We’ve got over 600,001 club members right now.
So yeah, I think it’s the largest wine club in the United States and some thing like, you know, 99% of those folks pick up their wine in the restaurant. So it really creates a really different dynamic of how we design the restaurant. And you know, all the moving parts and pieces. There’s all the typical stuff to sit down dining restaurant. But then you’ve got the added component of the wine and the wine shop, and the retail shop and wine tastings and all those sorts of things.
So it’s just it’s, it’s, it’s been a great progression, it’s hard to believe. I’ve been doing it as long as I have, because it doesn’t feel that way. But but you know, it’s always new. It’s always fresh. Every even though you do a lot of transactions, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s really similar about a lot of them.
It’s always, almost always different people and the different people are what keep it really interesting and really saying, huh, never did that before or never heard that before. And it just keeps it very fresh and very, very exciting.
For sure. It certainly does. One of my favorite lines in the never heard that before. Never done that before recently. someone’s like, you know, we don’t do that. We’ve never did that before. My comment was, there is a first time for everything. I agree. Yeah.
Life changes, you know, things, things change, you got to go with the flow.
For sure. So I’ve tried to really, as it relates to the show move past, talking about things COVID however, however, I do think it would be interesting, given one of the sectors that got the most headline news about COVID was casual dining, sit down restaurant formats, so and we’d have to spend a lot of time on it. But I do think it would be interesting for you to talk about how Cooper’s Hawk kind of dealt during COVID. And what your guys strategy was and how you got to the other side.
Yeah, sure. Yeah, it was a very difficult time, because as you remember, in the beginning, I mean, the restaurants were basically shut down. That was very challenging. You know, prior to COVID, Cooper’s Hawk really did not, we did carry out, but it wasn’t a big part of our business. You know, Cooper talk is about engaging in the restaurant, and you know, having meals and wine with friends and family and connecting. So it was so.
So for us having we had a pivot really quickly, to be able to do delivery on a large scale, which the team here did. Amazing. I mean, I know, you know, it’s, it sounds easy to say, well, you know, you just pack up the food, you put it in a brown bag with your name on it, and you hand it to people very complicated to do and the team did a really great job of that. And I think for me, what if there’s a silver lining to all of it, you know, when I came to Cooper’s Hawk, there were already 20 restaurants.
And when COVID hit, we were probably in the high 40s restaurants. So there were a lot of our landlords from the first 20 Something that I really didn’t know, because I didn’t do those deals. And you know, once you open, if everything goes right, you don’t need to talk to your landlord, you know, they’re doing their thing, you’re doing your thing, everything’s good. So I think if there was a silver lining, it was I got to know, a lot of our landlords that I didn’t know.
And I would say, you know, 95% of those interactions were incredibly positive. I just felt like they were on our side, you know, it wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t our fault. You know, we wanted to come up with a plan. We were very transparent. I answered every phone call from a landlord, I answered every email, even if I didn’t have new news to tell them. I tried to be as available and open as possible.
And I would say, you know, overall, our landlords all work with us in different ways. You know, I mean, obviously, what what they can and can’t help you with are different based on the landlord themselves in their situation. I mean, so many them, they’re like, hey, you know, it was I mean, I think that there was another group that was impacted.
Was that group we were impacted? That’s for sure. Yeah. So
So I mean, I think overall, and you know, we came out of it. Great. You know, we every restaurant that was open free COVID is open now. We didn’t close anything, or kudos to you. Oh, yeah. And, you know, the results are very, very good and very, very strong. And I think our guests really have rallied around us once we were able to open to, you know, 50% capacity and then 75%, and then 100%.
And, and all that sort of thing. And, you know, maybe the other silver lining is we figured out carry out too, so that’s great, great job of that. So, yes, and people did buy a lot of wine during COVID.
That’s true. That’s true. The, and how many restaurants is Cooper’s Hawk at now. We’re 53 53? And what is the growth plan look like? Are you opening new locations now?
Oh, yeah, yeah, um, last year, we opened seven new restaurants. And so you know that growth rate kind of it fluctuates a bit, you know, you, you don’t want to grow too fast, because you know, the base of the base restaurants are the ones that provide all of the management for the new restaurants.
So you don’t want to grow so fast, that you’re stripping the existing restaurants of their management teams to open these new ones. So it kind of ebbs and flows. But, you know, and, and some of it, too, is based on just, you know, opportunity and locations, you know, you, you don’t want to go do a location to hit a number that never works out. So, you know, trying to be very disciplined and be sure that we’re, you know, growing smarter, not just fast.
And for those who aren’t familiar with Cooper’s Hawk, no one ever likes this question, but I’m gonna ask it from Who do you consider like competition? Who who’s like, in your lane of casual dining?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say, you know, nobody’s exactly in our lane, because there really isn’t a national brand that makes its own wine wine club, like our so from that standpoint, there probably isn’t anybody. But I would say, you know, there are a number of casual plus dining companies out there that you know, have the level of food service and wine service that we did, I mean, seasons 52 comes to mind, I mean, great brand, great food, great execution, great, great wine program, you know, they would be one.
But that said, you know, you we go into trade areas, and you know, you, you want to see those restaurants, they’re being successful. So, so, so pretty much restaurants that have a high profile wine program, that’s probably who we consider our competitive. So in a lot of markets, actually, that’s not a national brand that you would know, that’s probably somebody who’s small, local, does a great job with wine tastings and wine bar, and you know, food and all that sort of thing.
But it nationally, it’s really hard to come up with a lot of things. Now, there’s a lot of restaurants that are just in our space, that and you know, people who come to us, you know, they’re gonna go to yard house, and they’re gonna go to lazy dog, and they’re, you know, they’re gonna go to these different restaurants, but it’s a different occasion or different experience for sure.
And are you a believer that food begets food? So if, if seasons 52 was in a market, you’re not gonna go, we’re not doing that market?
Right now? Yeah, we’re not going to do that. But I think the thing where we are sensitive is going to market that have too many states, you don’t want to be the last one in in one of those markets, because people can only eat so much, I’m sure, you know, we go out a lot as Americans, we dine out often, but at some point, it becomes a market where there’s just a lot of average unit volumes, versus above average unit volume.
So we are sensitive to overall seats in a market, but not necessarily, you know, that I wouldn’t want to be where there’s a, you know, a yard house or Fleming’s or Capitol grill or seasons 52 You know, that sort of thing. That that’s not a that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing.
And I’m curious because of the your wind component, but are your au V similar to those au V’s of those brands you’ve mentioned,
I’m, I’m not positive on this on some of them were higher. On some were probably a little lower. The wine component is a big part of our, the volume of our restaurants, I mean, we do sell a lot of wine and I think that’s partly because, you know, when people are in the mood for dinner and a glass of wine or lunch and a glass of wine, you know, they’re coming to us because they know we have all these options and choices.
So that is a pretty big component of our business but but the food is still a big component as well. You know, we have a scratch kitchen. We’ve got a very, very diverse large menu, you know, everything from ahi tuna sushi, to sashimi sorry, to, you know, rigatoni to milky.
So we’ve got quite an eclectic, diverse menu plus a really nice selection of what we call our life balance part of our menu, which is basically a lot of the same items but done in a little bit simpler way so that from a calorie standpoint, they’re a little lower in calories, but you’re still enjoying In the same interesting food, and then section that’s kind of the gluten free part of the menu and then a bit of a vegetarian. So really something for everybody.
That’s great. Yeah, yeah. You mentioned you mentioned the 20 landlords, you didn’t know Cooper’s Hawk is private, it’s growing, it’s grown. Are there but you have a lot of experience with landlords, you know, a lot of people in the industry, did you? Are there a decent amount of like, local landlords, I’m using air quotes or smaller landlords that don’t own a lot of real estate that are Cooper stock landlords?
Yeah, yeah, there’s a number of them that, you know, we just did a deal in Sarasota. And it was with stock development. Now, there are a huge landlord of apartment buildings and Housing and Residential, but they don’t do a lot of retail. And I think maybe this project might have been one of their earlier forays into it. They were a pleasure to deal with brand new landlord for us, we were brand new for them.
You know, so So there are the landlords out there that, you know, outside of the big guys, you know, you know, the top 1015 20 of the big guys. There’s plenty of, and even regional, you know, like somebody who might just be big in Chicago? Sure, maybe isn’t much outside of Chicago.
Got it? Well, really appreciate that. That overview. And one of the things you all have is you have some new concepts. You guys are entrepreneurial, you have new concepts, and I’m excited about them. And why don’t you give us some color? There’s, there’s two and you kind of gave me some insights earlier. So I’ll just shut up now and let you give some insights on these.
Sure. So So one of the concepts is Esquire by Cooper talk. It’s our it’s kind of our, our tribute to wine around the world. It’s it’s a look, it’s downtown. It’s called escorted by Cooper talk because the building itself was the Esquire theater. So it’s a historic building, with a historic blade sign out front called Esquire that you can see from about a mile away. It’s fantastic. And there, what we’ve been doing is it’s it’s, it’s got a cooper talk menu, and we sell Cooper’s hot wine.
But what we’ve been doing there is just to do something a bit different. And because it’s a downtown location, we’re doing a visiting chef series there. So so we invite chefs who, who don’t have locations in Chicago. So it’s really a great opportunity for a chef who maybe doesn’t have experience in Chicago to come to Chicago.
And it’s a great opportunity for us to, to to say to the city of Chicago, hey, if you’ve ever wanted to dine at a Tom Colicchio restaurant or a Tyler Florence restaurant, you know Tom Colicchio is going to we’re going to have his menu on our menu. And you know, he comes in and teaches the chef’s how to do everything. So it’s really kind of a cool idea. And then the other thing is because it’s a really unique one of a kind space. We do sell wine from all over the world.
And it’s an extraordinary wine list. There’s a four story wine tower in the building that you can go to walk up and tour and see all the wines that we’re carrying there. It’s really, it’s really a one of a kind. So you know, I’m not sure that’s not really something that you’re going to, you know, put everywhere. Like, that’s like a that’s a flagship. Sure, super awesome.
And you know, the opportunity again, for our wine club members and citizens of Chicago or even people who come into town for business. You know, if you haven’t experienced these chefs, it’s a great opportunity to do it. That’s really cool. It’s a really great way to be really unique and different. Because, you know, downtown Chicago, there’s a lot of choices.
So yes, so you know, you really need to do something special down there. Now, the other new concept we’ve got that we’re super excited about is Piccolo Buco. Piccolo Buco’s original location is in Rome. If you go on the internet and go to Piccolo Buco, Rome, you can see the original one. Our CEO Tim McHenry partnered with Luca Eisah, who is the owner of Piccolo Buco in Rome to bring it to the United States. So
What a cool concept.
Oh my gosh, it’s the food is amazing. The pizzas are amazing. Just everything about it.
And how many locations the PICO Buccos? How many? How many you have? No, there’s only
one we opened the very first one in June of this year. It’s an Oak Brook. So so that is something that we think can be you know, not quickly But you know, we want to be sure we’ve got everything. T’s crossed, and I’s dotted before you go crazy and open a bunch of them. But that would be something that we think we can build, you know, anywhere, any, any Metro market that we could put a Cooper’s Hawk in. We feel like we could do piccolo buco there too.
And the idea for it really was, let’s give our 600,001 club members another place to experience you know, even if you love a brand, you’re not going there every night, right? You’re your favorite of all favorite restaurants. You’re not going there every night. So the thought was, let’s put Piccolo Buco in markets where we have brand recognition for Cooper’s Hawk, where we have a good number of wine club members, where we can give those folks another experience.
And, and we’re putting them in places where like I couldn’t so Oakbrook I couldn’t put a Cooper’s Hawk there, it would be too close to three other restaurants that we’ve got didn’t have these other restaurants so close. So So trying to find those places to look at so that’s really that’s kind of front and center. So
I’m working on now. I’m curious. So pico buco really really interesting. A lot of press about it. If you Google it, they got this thing everywhere in the press Peak low Buka. So in so it’s an Oak Brook Illinois know the market well, Oak Brook center, we used to have one of our regional offices in Oak Brook. So I stayed at the Marriott a bunch and we own we own. We own the center in Oak Brook across from it was a small one where Panera is across from Denise, I’m sure.
So we sold that six, seven years ago. But we owned that for a long time. So I know the market well. When you’re an established brand, like Cooper’s Hawk, and you’ve got a lot of brand recognition, when you’re going to a landlord, and you have a new concept. Piccolo Buco. Is it welcomed with, you know, open arms? Or is there a little resistance there?
I would say it depends. I’ve had both reactions. I have I have landlords who call me and are, you know, what, what do I need to do to put you in my shopping center, right, and then I have others that usually it’s its landlord, too. They know about Cooper’s Hawk, but they really don’t know our whole story.
So sometimes it’s just talking a little bit more about Cooper’s Hawk as a company, and then getting them excited about the Piccolo Buco brain, but I would say for the most part, it’s been very well accepted.
And I think, you know, in general, landlords want something new and different and fresh, you know, when you can say there’s only one in the whole United States that usually and and it’s part of a company that’s already got 53 restaurants, that usually gets a landlord’s attention, but there are a few where they’re like, Well, tell me about it.
And you know, who bid who maybe don’t, don’t are don’t don’t look at all of the social media stuff, and don’t pay as much attention to all that some of those folks, you need to educate them a little bit. And I think to some landlords like because it is a you know, its its prime, its primary focus is pizza. There’s just some landlords that, you know, can’t work with us because they’ve already given somebody a pizza exclusive. Sure. push us back a little bit.
So is the from a real estate strategy? I’ve seen a million Cooper’s Hawks. I think a lot of people understand what that looks like what that feels like, give us some context of like, the size, you’re thinking about these pico Buccos, what they’ll be in the types of real estate, they’ll go in?
Yeah, so so they’re about 7500 square feet. I feel like the kind of the kind of markets that we would pick, they would be very similar to what you would pick for a Cooper’s Hawk, meaning it’s, you know, maybe not a regional market, but a pretty strong suburban market. It’s not an urban concept, at least at this point in time. It’s a suburban concept.
We do need density, we do need above average incomes, because it is a little at the higher end of the, you know, the spectrum from a little bit like a Cooper’s Hawk, you know, pricing wise, it’s, so you’ve got to look for folks with disposable income. It does. I mean, I think you’re the first one it Oakbrook ma Well, you know, great, I’m not sure it necessarily has to have that kind of retail backup and that kind of CO tenancy.
There are plenty of other really strong suburban markets around the country where you don’t have to be where the regional mall is, but you know, you might be, you know, where there’s a whole foods anchored center or where there’s a river really good retail center, but not a mall, kind of a thing. So I think that’s part of a new brand, is we need to try it out in different kinds of locations.
So you know, you know, a Lifestyle Center, grocery anchor, high, an upscale, grocery anchored shopping center. So I do feel like, you know, we need to try some of those things, because we need to know that it can work in a lot of different kinds of markets, but I think that they still need to be pretty densely populated.
They need to be Suburban, we need parking. We’re going to need some co tenancy because it’s a brand new brand, you know, so you do want reasons for people to be there other than just the restaurant.
Yeah. So it opened in June of last year. Right. So piccolo buco, Oakbrook, June of 22. How’s it doing? How are people internally at Cooper’s Hawk thinking about this now?
I think everybody’s very excited. It’s early. So you know, you don’t want to get you. You don’t put the cart before the horse. Totally. But But I mean, we are green lighted to pursue more of them. So it’s, it’s it’s exceeded expectations. Everyone’s super happy about it. Everyone’s super excited about it.
And I think it is a great it’s a great second concept for us to continue to be able to, you know, Piccolo Buco is going to help Cooper’s Hawk and Cooper’s Hawk is going to help Piccolo Buco one other thing that’s different about Piccolo Buco, you know, in all of our Cooper’s Hawk restaurants, we only sell Cooper’s Hawk wine.
If people are Bucco, we sell Cooper’s Hawk wine. But we also have Italian wines on the list. Because, again, you know, you want to be authentic to this location in Rome. And there’s going to be folks who want to drink Italian wine with their pizza or their, their pasta. So we have both available there, which that is something that’s a little bit different than a Cooper.
That is, that is really interesting. Are people picking up their mind at Piccolo Buco? Like they do at Cooper’s Hawk?
They can they can do that. I’m really not sure if that’s happening. And I just haven’t asked that question. But I know they can do it if they want to do it. And that’s true of Cooper’s hawks everywhere. I mean, you know, you could pick up your wine in Orland Park, Illinois, or if you’re spending the winter down in Naples, you can pick it up there too. So, so pico will be part of that part of that benefit to wine club members that you can pick up wherever you wish.
Very cool. Well, thank you for sharing the piccolo buco story The Cooper’s hawks story. Anything else about you think about the restaurant industry or Cooper’s Hawk we haven’t touched down yet.
I would just say I think I think for us, you know, continuing to grow this brand is really important. You know, we we just we decided to go into Arizona a few years ago, we’ve opened and you know, that’s, that was the bit that was a big leap from where we are. So that’s our furthest west market.
And, you know, we’ve opened in Scottsdale, and in Chandler, and we’re under construction and Gilbert and in surprise, so in the not too distant future, we’ll have four restaurants in the Phoenix market. So, you know, I think, you know, going to these new markets is super exciting.
And I think, you know, kind of proving out that the brand can be very successful outside of its home turf has been a really important, you know, important message so that no matter where, because, you know, as you go to these new markets, you are talking a lot to your point earlier, you’re talking to landlords who really don’t know much about you, because you’re now now now the, the our landlord in Chandler, that was base rich.
They know who Cooper’s Hawk is, but some of the other landlords are, they know who we are, but they’ve not experienced them because they’re not in their market, you know, so, I think there is a little bit of education that we tried to do, but I think for the most part, you know, we’ve really proven that we can, you know, succeed and succeed in a lot of different kinds of markets.
So I’m gonna, we’re just about done. I’m gonna ask one question that just kind of dawned on me. And I’m going to take you back to the middle of our conversation. It’s going to be super random, but it’s it’s a it’s a burning burning questions burning a hole in my pocket right now. I think everyone’s asking so you mentioned before.
You don’t want to have too many seats in the market. I feel like this is like this number that Every one whether it’s entrepreneurs, landlords, restaurant tours, municipalities, everyone tries to wonder like, what is too many seats in the market. And so I’m curious. Science and Economics aside how Joelle Quinlan thinks about too many seats in the market.
It is a lot about numbers. So what you’re looking at is, you know, how big is the trade area. So you know, a trader that’s got a half a million people in a 15 minute drive time is different than one that’s got 250,000 people in a 15 minute drive time. So really, it is kind of math. So So you’re looking at how many people in this trade area? How many seats are there?
And is there enough for everybody and a little bit of that, that tells the tale on that are the volumes of those restaurants, so you can start to tell when there’s maybe too many, because you’ve got a lot of restaurants that are underperforming their averages, and that’s. So there’s two things one is the math, like how many seats versus the people? And then the second piece is, how are people performing? versus their average? So So those are the two things that
were kind of is there? Is there like a you know, like, age old and this is so different, everyone’s like retailers, they try to be within you know, occupancy cost of 10% of their sales, right? Is there some math where like, you know, a markets pretty good at like, 1000 seats per 100,000 people? Is there like a metric like that that restaurants? Use? I
don’t I don’t think it’s probably that precise. Yeah, you have to kind of look at the the trade area itself, how many people? What’s the income, how many of them are like our psychographic profile? And then you get it. So it could be in some places. 20 restaurants might be fine. It could be other places. 10 might be too many. So it’s a little more granular maybe than just on average. Hey, this many, you know you out there. So
well, Joelle. This has been fantastic. I want to take you to the very last part of our show. I got three fun questions for you. Are you ready? Question one, what extinct retailer Do you wish would come back from the dead?
Here one imports?
Got it. Question two. I miss gem store. Yes. Question two. What is the last item over $20 You bought in the store? So that’s
Kind of easy, because it was just Christmas. So I went to I bought my niece a bracelet a Tiffany. Not an expensive one, an affordable one. But I brought my favorite Nice. That’s what I know. My favorite name. Or middle name is my name. So yes, she’s definitely my favorite. But But I did actually go into the store and buy it
So perfect. Last question. Joelle. If you and I were shopping at Target, and I lost you what I would I find you in
Greeting cards, greeting cards. Wow, birthday cards, thank you notes. You know.
I got it. This is why, you mentioned people knew where would I find you? It’s a great question. So I would so at the moment, I think it changes from time to time. At the moment, I’d be looking in the home section because now with my home office. I’ve been like tweaking with things in my home office and trying to mess around with it.
So that’s where you find me right now. Okay, good to know. Yes. But I will say we’ve done hundreds of episodes. You are the first person who said the greeting card section. And that is amazing. There you go. Well, listen, Joe. Well, this was fantastic. Thank you so much. Happy to be connected.
It’s been fun. I’ve watched, I’ve listened to some of the podcasts and I think they’re awesome. So thank you so much. I think it’s a it’s a value to our industry. So thank you.
Thank you really appreciate it. Have a good one. You too.
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