The big city chef next door.
During the pandemic, people flocked from cities to suburbs at a rate unlike anything ever seen before.
There were a number of factors that drove this exodus, including low mortgage rates, widespread availability of remote work, and concern that some city amenities wouldn’t come back for years–if at all.
But what about the restaurants that they left behind?
Unfortunately, many of them closed. About 110,000 restaurants across the US shut their doors permanently by the end of 2021.
In a phenomenon that is being called, “the great culinary migration,” many top-notch chefs are leaving cities for the suburbs. Take David and Melissa Root, a chef and pastry chef husband and wife duo who once owned The Hairy Lobster–a popular restaurant in Portland. After they were forced to close in early 2020, the Roots decided they would move wherever they found work. For David, that meant the executive chef position at the Breckenridge Distillery in Breckenridge, CO. Melissa ended up closer to the Blue Ridge Mountains starting a new pastry program at the Farmington Country Club.
Now, with most pandemic-related restrictions lifted, many are wondering if these chefs will return to the big cities.
As a long-time investor in the restaurant industry, I see why some might find it odd that chefs wouldn’t return home to cultural epicenters. However, the pandemic gave many chefs, who work in high stress environments, a new appreciation for the quality of life that can be found in the suburbs and exurbs.
For one, because operating costs are much lower, every table does not have to be filled every night. There may also be less competition in the area, making room for more creativity or to become the big fish in a small pond. And, given how many people left urban areas in the last two years, there is likely increased demand for quality restaurants outside of cities.
All in all, I believe this culinary migration has brought great benefit to chefs and diners alike. Everyone deserves the opportunity to love what they do and experience delicious food–no matter where they live. And if there is a silver lining that can be found in the tragedy of the last two years, it is that now more people can do both.
Danilo Diazgranados is an independent investor in the global food and wine, financial services, real estate, and the hospitality sectors.