Thursday, March 01, 2007

Charles Phan, Soma Grand and guerilla marketing

SocketSite today reports as rumor that Charles Phan of Slanted Door is in talks to put in a restaurant at Soma Grand, a luxury San Francisco condo development that just opened a sales office.

It's actually not a rumor: Phan is indeed in talks. I heard the same gossip a week or two ago and called Charles. He told me there were talks but that they were preliminary and he had not decided whether to do anything yet. His publicist confirmed for me just now that this continues to be true.

I'm not holding my breath on this one. But I *am* fascinated by this rumor, because it's giving a significant amount of of free publicity and word-of-mouth to Soma Grand just as the development is offering units for sale.

SocketSite is a scrappy Web publication that doggedly follows the local condo market and the economics therein. The Phan/Soma Grand chatter has become pretty widespread and could certainly affect sales prices of units in the building, but if I were a buyer I would not spend an extra penny on the chance that this deal will happen, simply because it is so preliminary.

Even if it does happen, is Charles' hotness and quality level up to this point, no matter how high both might be, worth a premium?

Isn't there a significant risk that even if this deal goes through (again I'm not holding my breath) Phan, like any other chef, could
  1. leave after his lease expires in five or ten years;
  2. delegate to people whose quality isn't up to snuff;
  3. create noise issues from tightly-packed, cocktail-swilling diners;
  4. be on the unhappy side of a new dining fad
  5. ????
-- I'm not saying this stuff will happen but there's enough of a risk that it makes you question whether there should be any premium paid by a condo buyer to be in Phan's building.

In the final financial analysis, when you are talking about an investment of upwards of $700,000, risks from interest rates, local economy, building quality, crime, and the school district, to name just a few, are of much higher importance than who is running the ground-floor restaurant.

And of course most buyers will probably not make their decision based on who is running the restaurants.

But the Phan rumor, as it spreads among individuals and from media like SocketSite, does help the developers of Soma Grand get people in the door on the cheap. It spreads the name of the development and lodges it in people's memory. It adds a halo of hipness and legitimacy.

This isn't just a restaurant rumor, it is free publicity in an increasingly cutthroat condo market. And it will make an excellent case study for a guerilla marketing class at some point, whether that was the intent behind the rumor or not.

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