Some Old Town residents see a need for more neighborhood eateries

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Folks from around Old Town can tell you all the time that having such a close community and successful small businesses are what makes Old Town so unique, different, and almost complete. However, there is one thing that a few residents wish to see in the nearby future.

Andrea Kerbuski, one of the few residents in Old Town believes there is a lack of restaurant options in the area. Sweetielicious is set to open and it is the type of place needed in the area to balance out the existing restaurants and provide residents with more options.

“It is hard to get into places like Golden Harvest and we need at least another five more food places to eat at to make it more diverse and more of an attraction to city residents and visitors,” said Kerbuski.

A bakery, a sandwich shop, another coffee shop, and another bar option such as Zoobies would feel complete in Old Town. Along the lines of between a dive bar such as the Unicorn Tavern or something more higher end such as The Creole, according to Kerbuski.

There are currently around 10 to 12 combined restaurants and coffee shops and all of them provide a different taste in the Old Town area, while being very successful since arriving.

Rick Preuss, Vice President of the Old Town Commercial Association explained that there is some really awesome restaurants that can go up against any other restaurant in the area and have a substantial pull from great distances. Being able to substitute quantity for quality every time is the best option.

Zoobies and Cosmos together put out the most unique pizza possible and it is packed with clients,” said Preuss. “It does not have any problem attracting people because it is in Old Town with a great model and that model centers around what people are really looking for and they are providing them with that.”

Preuss said he does not want to see any more restaurants come through to Old Town if they cannot be the unique and cool type of restaurants that are already here. It is hard to find that much concentrated quality restaurants in such a small space.

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Sir Pizza Grand Cafe is known for not only their delicious pizza, but the numerous amounts of events and unique opportunities provided. Photo by Joshua Chung

Danielle Admire, manager of Sir Pizza Grand Café, discussed that everyone in Old Town is always looking out for one another when it comes to business especially restaurants. Everyone wants each other to succeed.

“It would be great if more restaurants were brought in because we all have each others back and we are all neighbors,” said Admire. “We try to put business towards other businesses and they do the same to us and we basically advertise to help everyone out, which is really beneficial for everyone.”

If Old Town were to bring in more restaurant options, many do not prefer franchises and believe family owned restaurants should be the best priority, according to Maggie Vance, a staff member at Retail Therapy.

“Our culture in general is shifting towards shopping small and shopping local and I think that those family owned businesses are a part of that Old Town mentality,” said Vance. “I would be excited to see another coffee shop, but I feel each store has their own niche and I think it is a pretty healthy working neighborhood for businesses.”

At the moment, there is a balance between the number of current restaurants and the community. However, as it continues to grow it is possible there could be a shift in how residents feel on the amount of places to eat throughout the area, according to Vance.

Jenea Markham, manager of Curvaceous Lingerie, agrees that there is a lack of restaurant options in the area and should try to stay away from franchises as much as possible. Part of Old Town’s charm is that everything is very unique and locally owned.

“I would like to see small business owners try to come to Old Town to open their restaurants and more bars would be a great add as well,” said Markham. “I do not believe there is too much of a certain restaurant that is the same as someone else’s because there is a lot of collectivism.”

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The Creole is a charming and rural type of restaurant that provides New Orleans-inspired drinks and unique dishes such as gumbo. Photo by Joshua Chung

Restaurants are an excellent driver of economic development in a neighborhood. Not only do they drive visitor business, but they make neighborhoods more attractive to live in. The type of restaurants that get brought in depends on the specific characteristics of the population and visitors, according to Michael Von Massow, professor at the University of Guelph and an expert in restaurant revenue management.

“This being said, locally owned businesses tend to keep more of the revenues in the neighborhood so they are often preferred,” said Massow. “If you look at the trends with respect to demand, small independents which offer a unique experience are growing in market share with chains losing share.”

According to the Natural Restaurant Association, the top food trends for 2017 are new cuts of meat, street food-inspired dishes, healthful kids’ meals, house-made charcuterie, and sustainable seafood. Restaurants in Old Town make many of these types of foods and only adding more will gain more recognition for Old Town.

Restaurants often follow trends. Independent, locally owned, and family-based restaurants are likely better rather than a chain. They are more likely to succeed, as this is very much the trend in restaurant demand. It makes the local area more appealing for people to move in or visit, according to Massow.

Rhea Van Atta, owner of the famous Old Town General Store, discussed the cost of bringing in restaurants. A lot of the buildings that are vacant now need to have a commercial kitchen unit put in, which is very expensive. It is different if it already has one in at the moment, but that is very limited in Old Town.

“There is a lot of variety and different places, but I do agree that we could bring in one or two more restaurants,” said Van Atta. “Maybe a deli, something quick and easy to pick up. It will come in time as some of these buildings will be fixed and up for sale and that is the thing, there are not many buildings that are affordable.”

David Coleman and Darryl Svochak, lawyers and frequent visitors of Old Town, said that there is a good amount of restaurants in Old Town already for such a small area and provides all the different possible food options someone could want.

“I am trying to think of why someone would think that and what is missing from Old Town in the restaurant perspective,” said Svochak. “You only have enough people living and regularly here to support those restaurants. I mean if everybody had this time of day on the level of participation, it would be hard to stay in business.”

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The Old Town Diner is one of the most famous and oldest places to eat throughout the area that provides delicious breakfast and coffee and dinner. Photo by Joshua Chung

There are at least 10 restaurants within a six square mile. There is Zoobies, Ozone Brewhouse, Old Town diner, Pablo’s, Meat’s, Golden Harvest, Thailand, The Creole, Blooms Coffee, and you have everything that you can possibly want to try something new here. You have high-end good food, regular sandwiches, world-class coffee, and Old Town pretty much has everything covered, according to Coleman.

“You know, are there as many restaurants on Grand River, where you have 50,000 students that can just walk and find something whenever?” said Coleman. “No there is not, but if you are looking to visit a restaurant that you have not been to before with a friendly community, excellent underrated food, and basically just relax and enjoy your meal, then the restaurants here provide that.”

Each one of those restaurants should be proud of what they have created and brought to Old Town. There is not one of those restaurants that are not coming to them. They are busy and they are embracing what they are doing, according to Preuss.

“There is a certain signature characteristic to these restaurants and if anything would identify that would be being unique, passionate, creative, and just about all of these restaurants are all over things,” said Preuss. “When people come to Old Town and visit these restaurants it is more of the collective group becoming successful.”

If you look at some of these restaurants and the level of interest that the public has for them and how much they talk about them, how much they have accomplished that model of being unique, quality, and different, they have hit it. There have been restaurants in the past that have tried or not tried to hit this model and they have not succeeded. Old Town restaurants will only succeed if they follow the model behind the restaurants already here and not be like franchises, according to Preuss.

Old Town has many restaurants with many unique, creative, and different ideas that brings it all together to represent what Old Town is.

Old Town has many restaurants with many unique, creative, and different ideas that brings it all together to represent what Old Town is. Source: Google Maps Graphic by Joshua Chung