By Tina Griego
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Ryan Turner, one of three self-described “bozos” who’ve made a name for themselves in Atlanta’s restaurant scene, was chatting with some fellow restaurateurs a few weeks back. The occasion was the Georgia Restaurant Association’s annual Grace industry awards and the crowd was, as you would expect, informed and invested and possessed by the optimism that comes from promoting an immutable truth: We all must eat.
Is it just me, Turner asks his comrades, or are we seeing an insane amount of restaurant openings? He hasn’t seen this kind of fervor since the mid- to late 90s. Experienced, skilled culinary staff is hard to find, he says, though the culinary schools are churning out the newbies bitten by the bug. In all, just shy of 150 people work for the company.
It’s not just Atlanta or Georgia. It’s Colorado and Texas and California and Florida and Oklahoma. It’s D.C. The leisure and hospitality industry – largely built upon restaurants – dug itself out of the recessionary job hole in half the time it took the larger economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s still adding jobs at twice the clip of the rest of the U.S. job market. Most of the jobs are the part-time, lower-wage work that makes up the industry, but in the restaurant world, a disproportionate hirer of teens and students, it has been ever so.
As with politics, all eating is local. Region matters. Demographics matter. Cities well-placed to ride the return-to-the-core wave and the rise of the millennials are seeing vibrant restaurant scenes. Denver is going gangbusters. In Atlanta, low occupancy costs, a recovering construction industry, an unsated Southern food, farm-to-table consumer appetite, more dual-income households and even lower gas prices have come together to contribute to the resurging restaurant climate, says Karen Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
Americans generally remain in “recession mindset,” the National Restaurant Association’s Grindy says. For most, the word “discretionary” has yet to find its rightful place before the word “income.” But, he points out, reasons exist to be hopeful. Trends in consumer confidence and spending bode well.
According to the U.S. Census, sales for “eating and drinking places,” has been steadily rising all year. In September, they topped $48 billion, the strongest monthly volume on record.
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