Revisiting Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization
An early blog entry from 2005 is about restaurants and revitalization, "Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization." Later I updated it, in "Richard's Rules for Restaurant Driven Revitalization (Updated)." And I revisit it from time to time.
The current issue of Washington City Paper has an article, "The Tavernization of Wisconsin Avenue NW: Why two upmarket restaurants reinvented themselves as comfort-food joints," on the second tries of two more "upscale" relaunched as neighborhood tavern type places. I think the story illustrates Rule #1 very well:
Relatively appealing cuisine that isn't too specialized; food that is attractive to a large number of people--Italian, Mexican, and "American," seem to work best. You want at least 100 customers/nite. These days Thai food is moving into this category. Chinese seems to have lost its appeal. Restaurants like Indian, Caribbean, etc. are just a bit too specialized, and therefore don't get the weekly or at least a couple times/month patronage that such restaurants need. (Think Banana Cafe, La Loma, La Lomita vs. Capitol Hill Tandoor as examples.)
An upscale Latin fusion concept is not likely to work in places outside of the core of the city, where you have more urbanophiles. And the idea of a American-only wines wine bar is a great one, but again, locating it an "upscale" area but one with only medium amounts of population is not a good one.
You need to have frequent repeat business in locations that lack high population density or other location deficiencies like being in an emerging commercial district whose benefits are edginess and low rents, rather than a healthy commercial district, along the lines from the story:
This tavernization, if you’ll excuse the phrase, of former destination establishments seems like the obvious by-product of an economy in recession since December 2007, and I say exactly that to veteran consultant Joe Spinelli, who’s opened more restaurants than I’ve probably dined in. Spinelli is a kind man; he suffers fools with half-formed theories. Sure, he explains, the current economic climate has rained down on fine-dining, white-tablecloth restaurants, forcing them to cling to life preservers. But most eateries fail, he says, not because their concepts are flimsy or their food flaccid but because the owners, looking for cheap rents, pick the wrong location.
The American Wine Bar is a great concept. The key is to put it in the right place where it can work. It's maybe not the restaurant for a location that is reliant solely on neighborhood residents for success, unless your neighborhood is Dupont Circle, where you might also get visitors from outside the neighborhood, or abutting or in downtown or Georgetown, where you definitely will.