International Meal Company is investing $22 million over the next three years to open between 12 and 15 new restaurants in Puerto Rico, split between Margaritaville, Carl’s Jr. and Red Lobster. In total, the new operations will create 1,200 jobs in 36 months, IMC CEO Javier Gavilán said during a news conference Thursday.
The first of the planned eateries, Margaritaville, is already open for business inside the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport’s Terminal D, where it is taking up a 6,000 square-foot location formerly occupied by the Playa del Sol and Casa Caribe restaurants.
IMC invested $3.5 million to open the famed franchise, while creating 60 new jobs and retaining 50 employees who worked for the shuttered restaurants.
Two more Margaritaville restaurants are planned for the San Juan metropolitan area, which, in contrast to the one at the airport that is accessible only to passengers, will be open to the general public.
IMC entered the local market in 2008, upon acquiring the assets of Empresas Santana, the airport’s largest concessionaire. It has under its wing the management of 26 restaurants at the airport, including the Aeroparque facility, which has been closed for more than two years. It also operates the airport’s meal service division, catering to airlines and the facility itself.
News is my Business learned that Carl’s Jr. Restaurant, a California franchise specializing in burgers, will take over the recreational facility that provides a front-seat to airplane traffic, and is slated to open sometime this year.
“Yes, Carl’s is moving into the Aeroparque but we’re still determining out how the space will be reconfigured,” Gavilán told News is my Business after the news conference. “We’re contemplating adding a drive-through at the restaurant, to encourage people who are not necessarily coming to the airport to come eat.”
In all, IMC will open between eight and 10 Carl’s Jr. restaurants, initially in the San Juan metropolitan area and later to other towns.
Meanwhile, this media outlet also learned that IMC on Friday will sign the franchise agreement contract with Orlando-based Darden Restaurants to bring to its Red Lobster restaurant concept to Puerto Rico.
While Gavilán would not reveal details Thursday of IMC’s plans for the much-anticipated seafood eatery because the agreement had not been finalized, News is my Business confirmed that the first Red Lobster will open before year’s end in San Juan, and at least two more will follow.
IMC’s regional operations hub
Since arriving to the island in 2008, IMC has turned Puerto Rico into its hub for Caribbean and Central American operations. Gavilán said IMC oversees from here its investments in the Dominican Republic ($15 million), Panama ($7 million), and Colombia ($15 million). This year, IMC will inject an additional $2 million and $10 million into its Panama and Colombia operations, respectively.
Although IMC is an international company, Gavilán said it has “established significant roots in Puerto Rico, and our development in Puerto Rico is guaranteed if the growth possibilities are there.”
Its long-term plans also call for opening other restaurants under the international brands that it manages, including La Mansión, Casa Ávila, Fonda Criolla, Vienna, and Frontier Sport Bar. This year, IMC expects to generate more than $900 million in sales, up from the $750 million reported in 2011 in activity from its 214 restaurants in Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Panama and its airline meal service division.
During the news conference, Gov. Luis Fortuño said “it’s not every day that we can announce the creation of 1,200 jobs.”
“We could limit ourselves to saying that this investment is another indicator pointing toward economic growth. But for me, this announcement represents 1,200 opportunities for college students who want to pay for their studies and get their diploma; 1,200 opportunities for single mothers who want to provide for their families; or 1,200 opportunities for those who have been affected by the economic recession and want a new life, renewed by stability and progress,” Fortuño said.
IMC expects to create 500 jobs this year and in 2013, and the remaining in 2014, “if not more,” Gavilán said.
To move its expansion plans forward, the government granted IMC the renewal of tax incentives it already had. However, Economic Development Secretary José Pérez-Riera noted that IMC did not request payroll incentives.