A Restaurant Community in Flux: Good or Bad?

High-profile closings—is this a crisis or standard churn?

Photo by Todd Buchanan

So, what’s going on? Are we losing our great restaurants—or are we just in a period of flux? Is it your fault? I shared my list of the openings and closings in 2017 earlier this week, and it’s easy to dwell on the closings. Lucia’s and Coup D’etat closing seems like the demise of restaurants for adults in Uptown (keep fighting, Barbette!). I miss going to the Strip Club and Saffron. I’m sad that we don’t have La Belle Vie, and that Piccolo is gone. It’s emotional! 

But is this a crisis? Is this because we’re not eating out enough, or we’re only eating burgers? I’m not so sure about that. Look at what’s opened recently on the higher end of the dining market: Spoon & Stable, Kado No Mise (and Kaiseki Furukawa!), Bellecour, Saint Dinette, Alma’s Café, Esker Grove. Bardo is new and great, Young Joni, too. We liked the Lexington, and it also seems to be thriving.

I’ve argued that we have too many restaurants for our population, and I still believe that to be true. My list of closings is only a few restaurants shy of my list of openings. I’m not counting seats, so we’ve probably lost a few. But we’ve also gained a few taprooms, and those are seats where people are hanging out instead of at restaurants. We’re also seeing a younger population of eaters that is happy to spend money on craft beer and cocktails but prefers to nibble at a number of different spots in one night, spending less on food. That’s a change—but I’m not sure it’s bad for the dining community or not.

Are we in trouble? I don’t think so. Are there restaurants on the edge? I think most restaurants are on the edge. Are we in danger of losing what makes our dining scene noteworthy and special? Always. But we’re also constantly adding new things, each with the potential to redefine “noteworthy” and “special” going forward.