Mayor Ken Branner raised some eyebrows last week when he publicly listed several national restaurant and retail chains he believes will soon be coming to Middletown.

Mayor Ken Branner raised some eyebrows last week when he publicly listed several national restaurant and retail chains he believes will soon be coming to Middletown.
“Everybody knows we’re getting a movie theater here [in November],” Branner told about 200 local business officials at the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce’s spring luncheon on May 15. “But I understand Texas Roadhouse will be opening at the same time right next door.”

The other businesses that the mayor said are considering a move into Middletown included Grotto Pizza, Belk department stores, Michaels arts and crafts stores, Best Buy, Staples, Petsmart and a Brazilian steakhouse similar to restaurants located in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

While construction of the 12-screen Westown Movies theater is slated to begin next week, company officials with several of the businesses identified by Branner suggested the mayor might have spoken too soon.

“I know we have looked for a while, but we do not have anything slated for 2013, and it’s not on the list for 2014 either,” said Travis Doster, the public relations director for Texas Roadhouse, the Kentucky-based steakhouse chain that currently has three locations in Delaware. “If we were going to open in November, we would likely have a lease signed, as it takes three to four month to build.”

According to Branner, Grotto Pizza is planning to open its next new location “in front of Home Depot,” a description that would seem to refer to the 73-acre Middletown Park property owned by Silicato Development, which has a long-standing relationship with the Rehoboth Beach-based restaurant chain.

Vinnie DiNatale, the director of marketing for Grotto Pizza, confirmed this week the company is at least interested in making a second try in Middletown, where it previously operated a restaurant from 2003 to 2007.

“It’s definitely on our radar and we hope to have a new location with a sports bar and private dining area opening there by 2015,” he said. “It’s a great community with a lot to offer, but there’s nothing in place yet. Right now, our focus is on our new Dover location, which just opened last week.”

Meanwhile, company officials with Michaels, a Dallas, Texas-based retail chain with four locations in Delaware, reported having no immediate plans to open a new store in Middletown.

Company officials with Belk, Best Buy, Petsmart and Staples did not return phone messages or emails this week.

A person familiar with the 42-acre commercial development phase of Westown Town Center off of Route 301 – where Texas Roadhouse, Michaels and several of the other businesses listed by the mayor are rumored to be heading – said negotiations with several well-known national chains are underway, but added that nothing has been finalized.

“There are certain types of users that are being pursued, including a restaurant, but no leases have been secured,” said the source, who asked to not be identified. “There’s going to be some good stuff over there that changes that side of town, so hopefully everyone can be patient.”

Tony Martina, president of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, said he’s still hopeful Branner’s predictions turn out to come true.

“We’d be ecstatic if all those businesses ended up coming to Middletown and I think Middletown would be a great place for them with all of our growth,” he said. “The mayor is usually pretty cautious and I’ve known him to quash rumors that have no substance behind them, so when he says something is coming, it usually turns out to be true.”