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Chili's cooks up Citrus sizzle

The chain plans to open a restaurant along U.S. 19 in Crystal River next year.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002

CRYSTAL RIVER -- The motto for Chili's Grill & Bar brags it's "Like No Place Else," but the popular chain is everywhere.

And soon, that will include Citrus County.

A spokesman on Thursday confirmed Chili's plans to build a restaurant in front of the Home Depot on U.S. 19 in Crystal River, with the hope of serving its first platter of baby back ribs in summer 2003.

Chili's parent company, Dallas-based Brinker International, is in the process of buying the outparcel lot and plans to start construction in November or December, company spokesman Tim Smith said. The 5,500-square-foot restaurant would seat about 215 people and employ 100, he said.

Although Chili's has been looking for a possible site in Citrus County for some time, Smith said, the decision to build next to Home Depot was made within the past month.

"We have had very, very good success in Florida overall, and certainly we'll continue to grow the brand and take it to new areas that are growing and have good local economies and what it takes in terms of demographics," Smith said. "Obviously, the commercial corridor along U.S. 19 makes sense as we expand the brand into areas we are not yet into."

Chili's has been working its way up U.S. 19 with restaurants in Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Port Richey and Spring Hill. There's also Chili's to the north in Ocala, Chili's to the east in Leesburg and about 80 Chili's throughout the state.

If there is a manifest destiny for sizzling fajitas and icy margaritas, Citrus County is the next logical stop.

Chili's has not yet submitted any site plans to the county, but the land is already zoned for commercial use.

The chain often opens restaurants outside home improvement stores, Smith said, although in this case Chili's will be going head-to-head with an Applebee's that opened last year.

"We actually have a lot of restaurants in front of Home Depots or Lowe's because we have a lot of overlapping demographics," Smith said. "We find that we complement each other."

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