If Restaurants Go, What Happens to Cities?


That ecosystem is now in danger. Honey Butter Fried Chicken is hanging in there. “The fried chicken sandwich is kind of built for takeaway,” said Josh Kulp, who runs the enterprise with a partner, Christine Cikowski. But Parachute, which has a Michelin star, is straining to make it selling food to go. “$15,000 a week is break-even,” said Beverly Kim, who owns the restaurant with her co-chef and husband, Johnny Clark. “But last week we did $8,000; this week $6,000. We are bleeding money like crazy.”

Service is also limited to takeout orders at Lula Cafe in Logan Square, about a mile and a half to the south, and business is down about 80 percent. “No one is not losing money,” said Jason Hammel, a Brown graduate who moved to Illinois in the 1990s to learn writing from David Foster Wallace but ended up a restaurateur. “I can make it for two or three more months,” he said, “but without federal aid I don’t know if I can survive the winter.”

Versions of this story are being repeated in restaurant after restaurant across urban America. In Atlanta, Michael Lennox opened the Golden Eagle, an evening cocktail joint, and the daytime taco shop Muchacho in a former train depot in 2017, expecting an AMC theater in a new development across the road to drive business their way. But the theater opened two weeks before the pandemic arrived, and it has been closed since.

As restaurants fail, cities will lose economic output and jobs, of course — over two million restaurant jobs and 173,000 bar jobs were lost between February and August. But they also stand to lose their glue.

In a recent research paper, Sitian Liu of Queen’s University in Canada and Yichen Su of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas conclude that the declining value of urban restaurants is contributing to a residential reorganization in which suburban housing is in great demand while the market in the densest urban areas is dormant. In a nutshell, if you can’t go out to eat, why even live in the city?



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