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RaisaB

Mom-and-Pop Restaurants In The Suburbs

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I live out in Western Prince William County. When I want to go out to eat and stay closer to home, I have the choice of IHOP, Glory Days, Uno's, Ruby Tuesday, and the only half deccent one is BoneFish. These places are always packed!

Why do chefs and investors keep opening up in the district where they have so much competition? We have the population and the income for certain. Your average townhouse around here goes for half a million. And there aren't many of those. AVerage home close to $1m. So we can afford to go out and we need to as we gotta pay those mortgages and work!

This question is for those of you in the industry. Why don't you all look in the suburbs? If you are good they will come!

Edited for spelling and grammer.

Edited by RaisaB

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I live out in Western Prince William County. When I want to go out to eat and stay closer to home, I have the choice of IHOP, Glory Days,  Uno's, Ruby Tuesday, and the only half deccent one is BoneFish. These places are always packed!

Why do chefs and investors keep opening up in the district where they have so much competition? We have the population and the income for certain. Your average townhouse around here goes for half a million. And there aren't many of those. AVerage home close to $1m. So we can afford to go out and we need to as we gotta pay those mortgages and work!

This question is for those of you in the industry. Why don't you all look in the suburbs? If you are good they will come!

Edited for spelling and grammer.

A friend in the real estate industry once told me that apartment density is necessary for restaurants to survive in a neighborhood. Apparently, (generally) people who own their own homes eat out once during the week and perhaps twice on the weekends. I can't remember the exact numbers but apartment dwellers eat out much more often. Plus in the suburbs you do not have business diners who support restaurants at night. Just my theories...

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I don't think they're avoiding you. There are some areas closer in, like Ballston, that are completely devoid of such establishments (save the recent addition of Willow, but from what I read here, that place is a mixed bag). The major restaurants in Ballston are IHOP, Flat Top Grill, Rio Grande, Tara Thai, and a Chevy's, which is fairly close to the options to have in your area. I think that most of Arlington (specifically, the Wilson blvd. corridor) is like this, devoid of quality, chef-driven restaurants, saved only by Ray's and Tallula. Even Adams Morgan, with the exception of Cashion's, doesn't appear to have a lot going on in the good restaurant department.

It seems, for better or worse, that these types of restaurants open up in specific neighborhoods known to be part of the dining and entertainment scene: Penn Quarter, Dupont, Georgetown, and "Downtown," for instance. Even then, many of these are owned by "restaurant groups" or hotels, so they're not exactly "Mom & Pop" places, but many of them benefit from having a strong, dedicated chef at the helm instead of an accountant.

That doesn't directly answer your question, or diminish your plight, but it does show that this issue isn't strictly limited to the outlying suburbs.

Edited by Capital Icebox

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Your answers are all probably correct, but then I look at what we have here and like I said they are full every night. They do not have the lunch crowd that I admit. But is Ray's or Talulla's or Evening Star open for lunch?

My husband has even said he'd be willing to finance a place if I were truly interested in opening a place, but you would have to be crazy to want to open a restaurant! :P:lol:

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Your answers are all probably correct, but then I look at what we have here and like I said they are full every night. They do not have the lunch crowd that I admit. But is Ray's or Talulla's or Evening Star open for lunch?

My husband has even said he'd be willing to finance a place if I were truly interested in opening a place, but you would have to be crazy to want to open a restaurant! :P   :lol:

Your last sentence is the answer to your question. Or, there is a shortage of crazy people in your neighborhood. The truth these days is, to open a "nice" restaurant anywhere costs $1-4 million. Add to that operating costs for the first year and it is a frightening amount of money to risk, especially if it isn't your own money.

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Evening Star is open for lunch, but Tallula and Rays are not.

At one point we were open for lunches on Friday, although from time to time it did ok, it was the same issue that Whiteys exeperienced, hit and miss.

Mom and Pop places are a dying breed as many new restaurants that come into the area are driven by 'non-restaurant' people. Investors who want a place to eat at a moments notice, wine lovers to store their wine, and 'cookbook' chefs.

I love the old places where you could sit in the restaurant over the years and watch the children took over as the years went by, but in this day and age, the idea of 'growing up in the industry is being phased out by development.

Maybe the saving grace in it all will be the notion that chefs and owners will get back to the concept of small neighborhood restaurants, where the warmth of the place envelops the customer.

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Your last sentence is the answer to your question. Or, there is a shortage of crazy people in your neighborhood. The truth these days is, to open a "nice" restaurant anywhere costs $1-4 million. Add to that operating costs for the first year and it is a frightening amount of money to risk, especially if it isn't your own money.

Adding that many of those people out where you live would rather go to those 'chains' than a good 'Mom & Pop' place. If the general public did not like the food then they would not be crowded, right? Or are people just willing to eat whatever is available?

I probably should listen to JPW and avoid this thread... :lol:

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Let me pose this as a question instead of a potentially incendiary statement:

Do you think that the proportion of people who "care" enough about their food to seek out non-chain, chef-driven restaurants (and avoid their converse) is so much higher in the city than in distant suburbs that it is a far riskier proposition to open such a restaurant in the distant suburbs?

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I think that one reason there's probably a correlation between apartment living and eating out is that apartment dwellers don't have a $1,000,000 mortgage hanging over their heads...therefore, the distant suburbs are probably full of people who couldn't afford places closer in but who bought where they could, and thus don't have the dosh to eat out as much as someone who's renting for far less either in the city or pretty close. I'm not sure it's fair to correlate whether or not people care about food with how close they are to the urban center. My opinion is that where people live is largely dictated by their location in life -- so people in the suburbs generally have larger families, more need of savings (retirement, college funds) plans, larger outlay (mortgage, insurance, repairs), and less openly disposable income.

Just a thought!

(ETA: curses, pushed the button too soon!)

Edited by Walrus

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In reply to a few of the replies.

A top end restaurant is not really what I was thinking when I posed the question. Rabbi1969 has the right idea, I am looking more for a place with decent food, not food service frozen stuff.

Nothing in the scales of 2941, Citronelles or the like.

I think when Evening Star Cafe was opened in Del Ray, that is more or less what my thoughts were.

As to people eating out, I haven't officially surveyed or censused, but most everyone I know eats out about 3 evenings a week here. Some have hired personal chefs to come and cook as it gets old after a while.

As for people seeking better food, or too stupid to know the difference, well you may have a point there.

Edited by RaisaB

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I think that one reason there's probably a correlation between apartment living and eating out is that apartment dwellers don't have a $1,000,000 mortgage hanging over their heads...

Does the correlation have to do with renting versus owning or multi-unit living versus stand-alone house living?

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Let me pose this as a question instead of a potentially incendiary statement:

Do you think that the proportion of people who "care" enough about their food to seek out non-chain, chef-driven restaurants (and avoid their converse) is so much higher in the city than in distant suburbs that it is a far riskier proposition to open such a restaurant in the distant suburbs?

Yes.

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Will people seek out a chef driven restaurant? Yes, I think they will. But they will only return if the chef is good. Case in point, The RailStop in The Plains. It is in the middle of nowhere, yet it is always packed. The food had been consistantly good and market driven. (I say had because we have had a few bad experiences lately but that is another thread).

How about Four and Twenty, It's About Thyme, talk about being nowhere. (Nowhere is relative)

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Let me pose this as a question instead of a potentially incendiary statement:

Do you think that the proportion of people who "care" enough about their food to seek out non-chain, chef-driven restaurants (and avoid their converse) is so much higher in the city than in distant suburbs that it is a far riskier proposition to open such a restaurant in the distant suburbs?

Ok, the ratio may not be any different, but I believe the total is far higher. The fact that cities have a higher population density combined with businesses, hotels, and visitors make the number of potential customers worth the risk of opening a place. If the risk and return on investment was the same wouldn't there be more places scattered around?

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Even Adams Morgan, with the exception of Cashion's, doesn't appear to have a lot going on in the good restaurant department.

Not exactly true. While there is a dearth of really high-end, fine dining in AM, this place has always been the neighborhood where refugees and immigrants came to open up just the Mom & Pop places under discussion. AM was the place to get Cuban food in the 60's and 70's, the place where the first Ethiopian restaurants opened (remember The Red Sea?), not to mention the later arrival of Central American, Vietnamese, African, and even Afghan restaurteurs.

The reason for this is obvious: housing was relatively cheap (until this latest housing boom, that is), the neighborhood was always diverse, and new-comers find could find fellow countrymen and social services not easily found in the 'burbs.

While we have all the usual fast-food chains (McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc.), there is no Ruby Tuesday, Applebee's, Chili's, Outback, or Red Lobster here. There are, however, many other little family-owned joints selling tacos and Caribbean food, along with several ethnic markets. We DO have the hilarious Sunday Drag Queen Brunch at Perry's. :lol:

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I know that I for one chose to live in the middle of the city mostly due to my proximity to good restaurants. Sure, I would love a big house and a yard in which to sit and drink margaritas, but I decided that was a sacrifice I was willing to make in return for being walking distance from dozens of restaurants that I enjoy.

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Does the correlation have to do with renting versus owning or multi-unit living versus stand-alone house living?

"Wealthy Prince William County home buyers are heading west in search of land, but that land isn't cheap.

Homes sitting on large lots helped drive up the median sales price of townhouses and single-family homes in the county by 26.3 percent, to $303,000, in 2004 from $240,000 in 2003, according to a Washington Post analysis based on county sales records. " -- WaPo 3/23/05

I'd guess that the correlation has to do with household size and age. Apartment-dwellers would be more likely to be young and single, to construct their social life around getting the hell out of the apartment, and perhaps less worried about saving for a rainy day (being young and childless). Homeowners would be more likely to have kids (making restaurant dining challenging and expensive), less free time ("just call Dominoe's") and more likely to have a good kitchen and things to do and people to see around the house.

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I know that I for one chose to live in the middle of the city mostly due to my proximity to good restaurants.  Sure, I would love a big house and a yard in which to sit and drink margaritas, but I decided that was a sacrifice I was willing to make in return for being walking distance from dozens of restaurants that I enjoy.

Agreed. (Well, maybe not "mostly" because of good restaurants, but that's a big part of it.) Our dinner plans for tonight and tomorrow both involve walking to local restaurants with our dinner-mates. (And we live in the dining wasteland of Capitol Hill!)

And the fact that so many people make that choice means that cities are more hospitable places for good restaurants.

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Let me pose this as a question instead of a potentially incendiary statement:

Do you think that the proportion of people who "care" enough about their food to seek out non-chain, chef-driven restaurants (and avoid their converse) is so much higher in the city than in distant suburbs that it is a far riskier proposition to open such a restaurant in the distant suburbs?

Yes - definitely.

(Edited to mention that this sentinment had already been versed by Banco. Must read more carefully!)

Edited by Keithstg

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"Wealthy Prince William County home buyers are heading west in search of land, but that land isn't cheap.

Homes sitting on large lots helped drive up the median sales price of townhouses and single-family homes in the county by 26.3 percent, to $303,000, in 2004 from $240,000 in 2003, according to a Washington Post analysis based on county sales records. " -- WaPo 3/23/05

I'd guess that the correlation has to do with household size and age.  Apartment-dwellers would be more likely to be young and single, to construct their social life around getting the hell out of the apartment, and perhaps less worried about saving for a rainy day (being young and childless).  Homeowners would be more likely to have kids (making restaurant dining challenging and expensive), less free time ("just call Dominoe's") and more likely to have a good kitchen and things to do and people to see around the house.

Hey are you calling me old!? :lol: Yes there are millions of kids, but they eat too! And some of them are actually very well behaved!

Edited to clear up triple spacing. Did I do it Don?

Edited by RaisaB

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Hey are you calling me old!? :lol:   Yes there are millions of kids, but they eat too! And some of them are actually very well behaved!

Edited to clear up triple spacing. Did I do it Don?

I would never discuss a lady's age. :P

Even well-behaved kids add expense and can be a pain. They have conflicting schedules. They have conflicting tastes. They're good for an hour, but not an hour-and-a-half. They're unadventurous (yeah, I know, we all know/have kids who will eat anything, but I find them to be the exception) and grease-addicted. The don't want to put on a shirt with no stains and jeans with no holes. They tease one another. And, often, they'd just as soon have a pizza as mu shi pork.

I'm not saying kids make restaurant dining impossible or undesireable. But the sure as heck add new variables to the go out/stay in equation.

Edited by Waitman

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Yes you are right to most of what you said waitman. But the restaurant, in my mind, would not be a fancy schmancy place. Think Dolce Vita in Fairfax, Bombay Bistro, Two Amy's, etc...

BTW, I pay extra for those jeans with the holes in them!

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Just to echo Waitman's sentiments. My brother, for instance, is raising a family on one income--sort of rare in this day and age. As a consequence, going out to dinner is a special event, just as it was when he and I were kids. The thing about chains (DON'T HIT ME, WAITMAN) such as Olive Garden, Chili's, et al., is that they are considerably cheaper than the sorts of places most of us consider worthy of our $$$. Plus, there isn't a lot of guesswork involved in choosing something to eat. When you look at some of the restaurants mentioned on this website which have proved disappointing, to whatever degree, and you look at the average cost of dinner at these places, then I can't say I blame people for thinking a dinner at the Olive Garden is good deal. My brother knows from good food and is knowledgeable about wine as well, but dinner at Citronelle is an indulgence he just can't afford. Also, his kids just aren't adventurous enough eaters to be happy exploring ethnic joints in and around Baltimore. I don't think he and his family is an aberration, either, which explains the ubiquity of the chains.

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