Megan Curren, 35, an owner of the Graceful Ordinary, a fine dining restaurant in St. Charles, Illinois, said that while many Chicago restaurants are still struggling financially because of the pandemic, St. Charles’s is recovering faster. Spaces like hers have plenty of room for outdoor dining, she said, and people are moving into — not out of — the area.
Yet this seemingly symbiotic relationship between restaurants and diners has its complications.
Because suburbs are home to more diverse businesses that enrich communities, that success could grab developers’ attention, said Willow Lung-Amam, an associate professor of urban studies and planning at the University of Maryland. The resulting developments can drive up costs, forcing the same entrepreneurs who made the area more attractive in the first place.
Mikey Ochoa opened his Latin restaurant, Oculto, in Castro Valley, California, last December. But he can’t afford to live nearby. In Castro Valley, he said, “the price of a one-bedroom apartment is more than my two-bedroom apartment” in Hayward, just three miles away.
Mr Ochoa, 31, added that Castro Valley is not well equipped for an influx of restaurants. Many of the spaces for rent don’t have refrigeration, extractor hoods or grease traps, he said, and building a restaurant there could end up being more expensive than in the city. He opened Oculto in the Castro Valley Marketplace, a dining room where he could negotiate an affordable lease.
The design of some suburbs makes it even harder for independent restaurateurs to succeed there.
While not all suburbs are created equal, suburban planners are generally not well versed in how best to support independent restaurants, said Dr. Samina Raja, a professor of urban planning at the University at Buffalo. Not understanding that these companies often have shorter financial runways than large restaurant groups or chains, planners are less likely to provide economic development grants or relax zoning restrictions.
Restorers also have to navigate numerous local government departments, including health, planning, and zoning, which may not be as well prepared for the needs of independent owners as cities.
“I haven’t come across any suburbs that do a great job of streamlining the process,” said Dr. raja.
dr. Lung-Amam, the professor of urban studies and planning, said many suburbs lack public transportation and are not earmarked for mixed-use development, so homes and businesses cannot exist in the same area. Restaurants therefore have few local residents who do not have to drive there to eat.