Staff photo by Mike Pare / Applebee's Grill + Bar is planning to move from Northgate Mall into a former Ruby Tuesday site at the Target shopping center on Highway 153.

This story was updated at 2:43 p.m. on Thursday, July 29, 2021, to clarify leasing details of the former Ruby Tuesday site.

After nearly three decades at Northgate Mall in Hixson, Applebee's Grill + Bar plans to move out later this year into newly remodeled space off Highway 153 near Target.

Wade Crawford, director of marketing for Applebee's franchisee Quality Restaurant Concepts, said the company is leasing the former Ruby Tuesday restaurant location.

Crawford said the company has been leasing space at Northgate Mall for many years.

"We'd been there so long. We had a wonderful relationship for a long, long time," he said. "Over the years, things change a little bit. You have to make a decision of what's best for the company."

Crawford said the opportunity to move a couple of miles away to the outparcel in the Target shopping center came open. He said the company has 59 locations across the Southeast and some are in shopping malls.

"A lot of malls are struggling," he said, though he added that the location at Northgate isn't.

Stacey Keating, a spokeswoman for Northgate Mall owner CBL Properties, said Applebee's had been located at the center since 1993.

CBL, the Chattanooga-based company that's one of the nation's biggest mall owners, filed for bankruptcy protection last Nov. 1 after the company was hit by the coronavirus pandemic along with the shift by many shoppers to online retailers.

The pandemic hit revenues at its centers due to last March's lockdown, store closings, and a slow return to face-to-face shopping. But even before the outbreak, CBL was grappling with the changing tastes of shoppers when it comes to malls and department stores along with more online buying.

Still, the longtime company said its centers would remain open and "business as usual" as it reworked its debt load in bankruptcy court.

Northgate lost some retailers last year such as Victoria's Secret and Pink. Even before the pandemic, major retailers Sears and Penney already had shut department stores at the mall.

Applebee's has several locations in the Chattanooga area, though it closed its downtown restaurant in 2017. Also, last year a seafood restaurant opened in a former Applebee's near Hamilton Place mall.

Crawford said the Hixson restaurant will be "a complete remodel."

"We're doing everything but taking it to the ground," he said. "It's significant. It's to be a brand new store."

Applebee's typically seats from about 130 to 170 patrons, Crawford said.

He said business for the restaurant company has changed a lot since the onset of the pandemic. Crawford said the eatery has car-side service where employees bring out the food, and there is third-party delivery available.

One Applebee's in Texas also is testing a drive-thru service, he said.

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