ARLINGTON — A third restaurant in the College Park District permanently shut its doors within the past few weeks, with the owner saying the development “never materialized.”Digg’s Taco Shop was an original tenant in the 22-acre development, which opened in 2012 and includes student housing, restaurants, shops, lofts, garage parking and a state-of-the-art welcome center at the University of Texas at Arlington. The Dallas-based restaurant served tacos and other Mexican cuisine across the street from the 33,000-plus student campus before closing in late January. Digg’s Taco Shop opened across the street from UT Arlington in December 2012, the same time as the Grapevine-based restaurant Pho Xpress, which closed last month. Another restaurant in the College Park District, Grip Mediterranean Grill, also closed in December. “This entire development never materialized,” said Joey Milan, Digg’s Taco Shop owner and restaurateur. “I’ve been in restaurant industry for 35 years. I have never closed one in my life.” Milan said his Dallas location is thriving, and he plans to move his UT Arlington restaurant to Southlake in a few months. He is also finishing up the lease agreement for a Digg’s Taco Shop in the Lakewood area of Dallas.Grip’s is another restaurant with a thriving Dallas location, but the Adam and Jay Chanaa brothers, who also own Ali Baba and Terra Mediterranean Grill in Fort Worth, had no such luck in a university setting. The Chanaas closed their Grip locations near UT Arlington and the University of North Texas because there wasn’t enough foot traffic for dinner and during the summer and winter, said Natalie Gamez, marketing director for the restaurants. “It came down to sales,” Gamez said. “Realistically, to stay there we needed to do at least three to four times what we were doing.”Milan said Digg’s sales were only 50 percent of what they had projected because a lack of density in the area.“There is no nighttime business. I marketed that place for a year 10 times more than what I’ve ever done in my life,” Milan said. Gamez said that between making their fresh product affordable for students who might already have meal plans, and keeping up with business during the summer and winter, the fast casual concept struggled. “To get a student to spend $7-$10 on lunch as opposed to the University Center — that was a big struggle. I think most restaurants around UTA kind of feel the same way, too,” she said. Restaurants including Smiling Moose Deli and Blaze’s Sports Grill closed temporarily during the university’s winter break but reopened this month. University spokeswoman Kristin Sullivan said the development of the Arlington Lofts student apartment complex and Sapphire Inspired Living will provide “more of a customer base to support the restaurants.”She pointed out that free parking is available right across the street from the restaurants. Sullivan said that with more than 21,000 students in summer classes, and fall and spring enrollment exceeding 33,000, the demand is there and will increase as new residential communities are built near downtown Arlington. The university doesn’t have new tenants lined up, but Texas Trust Credit Union will open a branch at the College Park District in the spring. Milan said the rent is too high, and downtown Arlington does not exist yet.Gamez said that though UT Arlington is moving away from being a commuter school, it’s not there yet. “I think they just put too many restaurants in the area and really thought people would come to them,” Gamez said.
Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST