Article by: Jessica Iannetta, Managing Editor, Baltimore Business Journal

A national restaurant chain backed by Oprah Winfrey is coming to Annapolis Towne Center by the end of the year, the latest move for the suburban retail complex as it looks to reinvent itself.

True Food Kitchen will take over a 8,000-square-foot space previously occupied by Brooks Brothers, said Anthony Henry, general manager for the center. The health-focused chain has more than 40 locations across the country, including one in Bethesda, and focuses on seasonal and organic food with lots of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. Winfrey made a “significant equity investment” in the chain in 2018, which helped True Food expand further on the East Coast.

True Food did not respond to a request for comment.

Henry described True Food as a “feel-good concept” that will fit in well with the center’s new direction.

We just felt that with the direction of how retail is going and the direction we’re going with the center making it more of a destination, that True Food’s vision fit with that,” he said.

The decade-old complex at 1906 Towne Centre Boulevard has been undergoing a reinvention of sorts ever since Greenberg Gibbons sold its majority stake in the center to PGIM Real Estate in fall 2018. Texas-based Trademark Property Co. was brought on soon after to oversee significant upgrades to the center.

The most noticeable changes are in the common areas, Henry said. One outdoor area was expanded, including removing a fountain and adding turf, Adirondack chairs and other seating with plans to hold concerts and other events there. There is also a new seating area near Target and Restoration Hardware with coffee tables, comfortable seating and a fire pit.

The center has also expanded its events programming in the last year, including adding a fall fest, a winter Fire & Ice festival and a Santa’s Cottage event, Henry said.

All these changes have resulted in a “high single-digit percentage” increase in foot traffic at the center from 2018 to 2019, Henry said. The center’s retail and office space is 94% occupied, with other tenants including an anchor Whole Foods as well as Bed Bath & Beyond, Ethan Allen, Restoration Hardware and 24 Hour Fitness.

The center has more leases in the works, but for now, Henry said the focus is on getting the word out that the center isn’t just about shopping.

“This is more than just retail, it’s a lifestyle destination,” he said.