Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Don’t Call It A Comeback…

by BIZ Magazine

Locally-Owned Restaurants Are Filling The Void the Chains Left Behind

It’s been called the new “Youree Drive curse” (by a few on social media), perhaps a bit hyperbolically, but there’s no denying the pattern of recent restaurant meltdowns over the past few years. Macaroni Grill closed in 2015 but was replaced by Walk-Ons. Other victims have not been so lucky — Krispy Kreme, Ruby Tuesday’s, Freebird’s, Cheddar’s, Smashburger, Sake Sushi, and most recently, TGI Friday’s.

According to Chris Lyon from Heliopolis, “The official statement from Cheddar’s National [and Ruby Tuesday’s] was declining sales. Genghis Grill…Smashburger, and Sake Sushi closed due to rent increases…reported as much as $14,000 per month in some locations.”

Rent and declining sales are already a one-two punch; but could there be another factor at play? Although the economy is known to be a fickle beast with downturns lurking around every corner, there also seems to be a heightened interest in the #supportlocal movement, with small businesses both old and new managing to navigate murky business waters to stay afloat. Some are even thriving.

Christopher Jay, public relations and social media manager for the Shreveport Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, is a self-described “loca-vore,” who “really [likes] to eat local and talk to others about it!”

One of his biggest projects revolves around writing, photographing, and helping to design the annual food guide published by the Tourist Bureau called “Eat here.” During his slivers of spare time, Jay is also co-producer and co-host of “Stuffed and Busted,” a podcast which celebrates local culinary creatives.

Jay also has the task of touring journalists and visitors around the best of local Shreveport-Bossier restaurants, sometimes thirty to forty of them in a short of amount of time. Safe to say – he is well acquainted with the local food scene and its entrepreneurship.

So do the big chain closures have anything to do with the boon of local restaurants opening?
“It’s a combination of a national movement driven by food television and media as well as the fact that we have incredible local food ambassadors who won’t let their friends eat at chains,” says Jay. “It has become very [mainstream] to show your support for local businesses – not just by going but by broadcasting where you go. That would have been a bizarre sentiment to hear from a friend eight to nine years ago.”

Jay sees a delicate balance between keeping the classic local restaurants in rotation while supporting the new.

“I look at a business like Ki Mexico, which was a folding table at the Farmer’s Market, and the fact that the community responded so enthusiastically they really had no choice but to open a brick and mortar location.”

Another factor that could be helping shift the spotlight to small businesses is relevance.
“I think some of those [large chains] bear blame for not refreshing their image and their relevance. For example, TGIF had a promotion for unlimited cheese sticks. I think the segment of society that is excited about never-ending cheese sticks is limited and probably shrinking. We are learning that what we put into our body matters.”

That could explain the success of Well + Fed, a vegan eatery and cold-pressed juice shop that seems to really have connected with the community. Many patrons who come in develop a relationship with the two owners, Lindsi Martin and Ashley Everage, both nurses and health advocates.

“The common theme is people, which is what makes this food community special,” Jay notes. “When you walk into Well + Fed, you don’t just buy a juice, you end up talking to them about your last run or how it’s going with your yoga class. It’s not a transactional culture. Here we get to hang out with our favorite chefs and restaurateurs.

That sentiment is certainly reflected both in the success of newer places like Well + Fed and El Cabo Verde as well as in older establishments like Lucky Palace, a gourmet Chinese restaurant located in Bossier City which boasts an extensive wine list.

“Quan Lim [owner] is a genius when it comes to pairing Chinese food flavor profiles with wine, not to mention he will win you over with his charm and hospitality.”

Jay’s knowledge and enthusiasm for local restaurants is infectious, and when learning more about the people behind the businesses, one discovers the true ingredient behind sustainability: investment in people.

“If you love something you eat here, you can stick your head in the kitchen and say, ‘Hey Chef Tootie, those spring rolls were great!’” Jay quips, referring to the head chef at Abby Singer’s Bistro.

Skyrocketing-without-warning rent prices have no doubt hurt local businesses, chains or not, but it is notable that the sense of personal connection does set the local scene apart from the Youree Drive chains, which is reflected in the community.

“Marilynn’s place, Herby K’s, Shockley’s in Elm Grove…[we have a] really fascinating food community. If you are willing to spend the time to explore places off the beaten bath, you will be rewarded, hands down!”

— Jaya McSharma

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