Feel like the restaurant industry is failing? It may just be moving

People filled inside a busy bar
Bar and restaurant Howard's in Stillwater opened in 2023 and has drawn crowds from across the metro area.

The gut punch of losing a favorite dinner spot and the constant drum beat of restaurant closure news can make it feel like the industry isn’t doing well. But a new report suggests that might not be entirely true.

According to an article from Axios, while the pandemic was brutal to downtown restaurant scenes, those in surrounding areas are seeing an increase in neighborhood haunts.

“Restauranteurs are having to adapt and find customers where they are now,” said Axios reporter Nick Halter. “If there were 150,000 people working in downtown Minneapolis, those people are somewhere else now. And where are they? Neighborhoods.”

In 2019, the number of liquor licenses for Minneapolis restaurants was just above 700, Halter said. That number dropped during the pandemic but is nearly back to where it was before, suggesting that the industry is more or less at pre-pandemic strength despite its shift to neighborhood joints.

However, it isn’t a perfect measure, Halter said, because it doesn’t account for the loss of businesses in skyways in downtowns that are only open for lunch and don’t serve alcohol.

“I think that that number coming back to near where it was sort of gives you an idea of where people are in terms of full service restaurants,” Halter said.

And while the health of the restaurant industry may be healthier than it appears in headlines, Halter emphasized it doesn’t mean that operating these businesses is easier for restauranteurs.

“It is really hard. It’s never been a super high margin business to begin with,” Halter said. “But ultimately, like, I think this sort of shows the creativity of our of our local culinary scene.”

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