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Does a Sports Figure's Name on the Restaurant Marquee
 Guarantee Success? Apparently Not
By Sarah Talalay, South Florida Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 14, 2008 - The second D. Wade Sports Grill named for Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade closed its doors over the weekend.

Retired Florida Marlin Jeff Conine removed his name from the Clubhouse Grille in Hollywood last year.

Florida Atlantic University football coach Howard Schnellenberger did the same with his moniker on three Original Steakhouse & Sports Theatres.

Does a sports figure's name on the marquee guarantee success? Apparently not. But even a short-lived relationship doesn't necessarily signal a bad restaurant. The key, restaurant and sports experts say, is the right mix of good food and atmosphere, location and experienced management.

"For athletes who have created a name for themselves in a community with a sector of the population, there's only so much time to maximize that value of the use of it," said John Offerdahl, a Dolphins linebacker from 1986 to 1993.

Each situation is unique. Some athletes lend their names and likenesses in exchange for a percentage of food and merchandise sales. Some become investors and have a say in the decor and menu. Others, such as Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula (Shula's Steak Houses) and former Dolphins Offerdahl (Offerdahl's Cafe Grills) and Bob Brudzinski (Bru's Room Sports Grills), enter the restaurant business.

"It's location, location, location for the rule of thumb for any real estate deal. And after that, it's food, food, food," said Tom Prakas, of The Prakas Group in Boca Raton, which specializes in restaurant brokerage. "The name adds the kicker, and gets them in the door."

Entering the business isn't easy, those who have done it say.

FAU's Schnellenberger had his name on three Coach Schnellenberger Original Steakhouse & Sports Theatres in Plantation, Boca Raton and Miami. They were successful for about five years, Schnellenberger said. But he pulled his name about a year ago, he said, when food and service began to suffer.

"It became obvious we weren't putting out a good enough product as we needed to be," said Schnellenberger, of the restaurants once decorated with mementos of his storied coaching career at the Dolphins and University of Miami. "Now I've got a big warehouse full of memorabilia. In triplicate."

D. Wade's Sports Grill at Glades Road and Dixie Highway in Boca Raton closed this spring after only a couple of months because its lease was expiring. The investor could have renewed or bought the building but chose to do neither, said Prakas, who handled the lease for the investor.

The one in Fort Lauderdale on Federal Highway remained open a few months longer, but it, too, shut its doors over the weekend.

Wade's representatives declined to comment on the restaurants.

Meanwhile, Dan Marino's Fine Food & Spirits in Coral Springs, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando closed because of issues with their locations, said Jim Upchurch, vice president of marketing with L.T.P. Management, which operates the lone Marino's restaurant in South Miami.

Conine took his name off the Clubhouse Grille when the restaurant was sold and the new owners chose a different concept, said Bob McCarthy, who partnered with Conine on the restaurant. McCarthy and partner Howard Shiller have opened restaurants with other NFL players.

"They don't have to be Hall of Fame players, they have to be Hall of Fame people," McCarthy said.

One model of success is Offerdahl.

He opened the first Offerdahl's Bagel Gourmet in Weston in 1990, while he was still playing for the Dolphins. He and his wife, Lynn, eventually sold nine stores to Boston Market in 1995. In 2000, they launched what became Offerdahl's Cafe Grill.

For a time, the Pete Rose Ballpark Cafe in Boca Raton drew big crowds. It closed seven or eight years ago, when Ocean Properties converted its hotel to a Holiday Inn Express. The one at a Holiday Inn in Boynton Beach is still open.

"There used to be an hour-and-a-half wait," Warren Greene, Rose's agent, said of the Boca location. "Pete was there every day."

But Greene said he typically doesn't recommend athletes try restaurants.

"Even if you put the biggest name in sports on the building, you can only fool the customer one time," Greene said. "If you don't serve good food, the customer's not coming back. No matter how many jerseys you have on the wall."

Sarah Talalay can be reached at or 954-356-4173.

Watch Former Miami Dolphin John Offerdahl talks about the food business and sports in a video report at Sun-Sentinel.com/business.

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To see more of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com/.

Copyright (c) 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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