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FREDERICKSBURG: Changes are on the menu at Applebee’s

SO LONG TIFFANY LAMPS and striped awnings.

Goodbye pop art decor.

The Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar in Central Park has been totally revamped with a sleeker, more contemporary look that offers a nod to its hometown—plus a bevy of new

menu items.

“It brings it up to the expectations of the guests today,” said Steve Burgess, chief operating officer of Potomac Family Dining Group.

The company, which owns 69 Applebee’s, closed the one off State Route 3 Sunday evening for renovations. They included oversized, contemporary awnings, as well as pendant lamps and photographs of historic and contemporary Fredericksburg. The restaurant reopened Thursday.

“The response has been very positive,” said Rita Witte, the restaurant’s manager. “Our regulars showed up at 11 and waited until we opened at 1. We have some very patient customers.”

The grand reopening celebration, called “A Night with the Stars,” will be held from 4–8 p.m. today. Customers can walk the red carpet to the front door, then have their pictures taken with life-size cutouts of celebrities and movie characters like Elvis Presley, Spiderman, Elsa from “Frozen” and Will Ferrell from “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”

There will also be giveaways, including gift certificates for nearby businesses and one grand prize of free appetizers for a year, in addition to tastings and music by a live DJ, who will run karaoke starting at 8:30 p.m.

People can also like the ApplebeesPlankRdFreder

icksburg Facebook page by 11:59 p.m. June 15 for a chance to win another free-appetizers-for-a-year giveaway. The winner will be selected and notified June 16.

This is the first time Potomac Family Dining Group, which also owns Applebee’s restaurants in Stafford Marketplace and Southpoint II, have done such an elaborate reopening. Witte said she wanted something special for her store, and collaborated with marketing manager Sara McElroy.

The renovation is part of a revitalization program that Kansas City-based Applebee’s International Inc. began rolling out at its approximately 2,000 locations in 2012. The 34-year-old company has made changes in the past, but these are the most extensive to date, said Burgess.

The exterior of the Applebee’s in Central Park now has stone around the entrance way instead of brick, a new overhang and LED lights that make the awnings and signs glow at night.

Customers who step into the foyer are greeted with wall-to-wall photos of Fredericksburg scenes, and more photos of city landmarks such as the University of Mary Washington and special events such as the Marine Corps Historic Half grace the restaurant’s interior.

There’s even an Our Teams Wall featuring photos of local sports teams including the James Monroe High School Yellow Jackets and the University of Mary Washington Eagles.

“One of the hosts said, ‘I know those people!’” Witte said. “These are fun memories for the kids right now.”

One of her favorite changes to the restaurant is the bar area, which got a slate black Corian top and a back that sparkles with red and gold mosaic tiles. In the center of the bar back is a large TV—one of eight in the eatery.

The majority of the seating arrangements remain the same, with the exception of new banquette seating along one side of the bar. It replaces a section of booths, gives the restaurant a more open feel, and provides more space for special events such as karaoke on Friday nights, Witte said.

Applebee’s International has also updated the menu for all its restaurants. The most popular item at the Central Park location is the grilled Vidalia onion sirloin, a 7-ounce steak served with smashed red-skinned potatoes and garlicky spinach for $12.29, said Witte. It’s served with a Hawaiian barbecue sauce that she described as “sweet and hot.”

According to Witte, shrimp scampi linguine is the second most popular dish. It features grilled shrimp and zucchini served over linguine and tossed in a tasty citrus scampi sauce and topped with pomodoro sauce, cheese and basil. It sells for $12.99.

The drinks menu also has been updated with 10 new drinks, including the Skinnybee Blueberry and three other margaritas. The Skinnybee features DaVinci Skinnilicious mix and has 130 calories.

Next up for Potomac Family Dining Group is the renovation of its Applebee’s in Southpoint II, which is newer than the 17-year-old location in Central Park. That work is planned for 2015. It remodeled the franchise location in Stafford Marketplace last year.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407