Urban Renewal

I had dinner with a friend last night at a great new little Mexican restaurant, Cabo Cucina. When I met him for dinner a year or so ago, we ate at the same restaurant…well, not actually the same restaurant. It was the same building but a different concept—it was a great little Italian restaurant (the third of three “great little Italian restaurants” which had been in the same space over the last ten years). In this case, the failure was more due to the location than the economy because the site has its challenges. However, over the last year or so, many great little restaurants and even great restaurant brands have gone by the wayside in this economic downturn.

In a way, it is a kind of “urban renewal” within our industry. I have heard a number of people in-the-know talk about the over building of the industry…waaaaay too many seats for the market. (It would have been nice if there had been a big national tote board measuring the population of the country TIMES three meals a day VERSUS the number of restaurants we were building so that, as an industry, we could have known how close to saturation we were getting and put the brakes on development.)

• But the alternative is the wake-up call of this economic downturn. The fallout from the downturn has created a clearing of the underbrush in the industry.
• The fallout is more intense in certain segments and in certain markets.
• I just noticed that the TGI Friday’s near where I live has just closed. There was a time when I never thought I would ever see that happen, but we are seeing it more and more.
• The good news for our industry is that it doesn’t seem to have been a forest fire; the bad news is the loss of some of our longstanding favorites (including ones we have all worked with over the years).
• But on the bright side, the time is right for green sprouts.
• I just drove by a nearby shopping center which is currently being redeveloped. What had once been the original Victoria’s Secret in Columbus, Ohio is now MCL Cafeteria. Seriously… I kid you not.

You could even make a case that the departure of some will allow new quality growth in their wake—new brands that connect in a more powerful way to today’s consumers or even brands that are getting their MOJO back after taking the smart, strategic moves needed to make them “rebuilt to last.” As hard as it is to let go of our favorites, I love it when I try a great new little restaurant.
Until next time…I’d love to hear your thoughts.