The McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant and brewery stood like a fortress for more than 20 years at the corner of Main Street and Gillette Avenue in Irvine. “They built a solid wall with not too (many) windows—so as to lock in clients,” said Michael Robinson, a partner at Robinson Hill Architecture Inc.
“It was a protected environment that didn’t really embrace the community. It was its own little box that had no connection to anything.”
Since that restaurant closed in 2019, the property’s owner, Emmes Group, picked RHA to design a new concept for the property at 2000 Main St., which is at the entrance to the Centerview office complex near the John Wayne Airport.
The architectural firm has split the 11,820-square-foot space into four restaurants, ranging in size from 2,681 to 5,098 square feet. Notably, each restaurant has outside patios around 1,000 square feet. “Patios are becoming the most important part of restaurants,” Robinson said during a tour given to the Business Journal. “We’re embracing the outside.”
Irvine Co. Connection
Costa Mesa-based RHA ranked No. 23 on the Business Journal’s August list of architectural firms, reporting about $5 million in billings for the year ended June 30, and counting 22 employees.
Principals Robinson and John Hill initially met while working at one of the area’s largest local firms, LPA Inc. The pair in the 1990s formed their own company, becoming incorporated in 1997.
They began as consultants to Irvine Co.’s retail division, starting on small projects like kiosks, growing to ground-up projects, and then expanding into hotels and restaurants.
“We’ve had something to do with the renovation of every [Irvine Co.] retail center in Newport Beach and Irvine,” Robinson said. The pair are now licensed in 21 states and expanding to projects such as a 750,000-square-foot mall in Guadalajara.
One of its most recent renovations was Newport Beach’s Balboa Yacht Club where it lowered the slabs and rebuilt the legs to permit the 72-year-old facility to use all of its three floors.
In the commercial space industry, they see pending changes such as storefronts fading in prominence and the importance of connecting to outdoor spaces.
They believe the coronavirus will cause numerous sales of commercial properties like resturant spots and the new owners will take advantage of the low occupancies to do renovations.
“Commercial properties are looking at repositioning themselves,” Hill said. “If you’re going to have a property shut down, that’s a rare opportunity to convert it.”
In addition to the restaurants, RHA redesigned the Centerview office complex’s plaza area by installing palm trees and adding new lighting and custom-made Tensile shade canopies.
“You can walk out of the office and come sit down and be comfortable,” Robinson said.
The nearby Main Street restaurant project, previously known as the Concourse Restaurants and which will be adapting the name Eighteen Main, is a ground-up project for four restaurants.
The contractor is Driver SPG and the landscape architect is Land Creative Inc.
While such prime corner locations in the past might have gone to banks that pay around $3 a square foot, restaurants are more willing to pay $5 to $6 a square foot, Hill said.
While moving from the “Old Irvine” to the “New Irvine,” autos can still find room to park at the Centerview Complex, but it’s more open to pedestrian traffic, said Robinson, who noted the spurt in apartment and for-sale residential complexes nearby in the Irvine Business Complex.
“It was critical that we broke through to communicate with the sidewalk,” Robinson said. “Each patio is designed to create its own environment.”
The restaurant project is scheduled to be ready by the end of this month.
While potential renters have expressed interest, it’s not yet leased, Robinson said, citing the uncertainty of the pandemic causing a tough time for restaurants. The company noted about 35,000 cars use Main Street daily.
“Before we had a building with a berm,” Robinson said. “It was a restaurant at the side of a garage that was part of this high-rise building. Now, it’s becoming more of a destination center.
“If you’re driving on Main Street, hopefully you’ll see it. I think it will be a beacon.”