Maybe it’s the pre-Thanksgiving cravings talking, but we’re hoping 2018 continues growth in one corner of the Decatur economy near and dear to our hearts (or maybe that’s our stomachs) — dining out.
We’re not alone in this. In fact, we think more could be done for Decatur to capitalize on the so-called “foodie” movement.
Here’s why: Across the country, communities are tapping into a growing consumer base passionate about locally-owned, high-quality food and drink establishments with regional flavors and ingredients — and are willing to travel far to experience it.
Places like Paducah, Kentucky; Traverse City, Michigan; and Marfa, Texas, for example, have turned dining-out culture into major economic engines. The list goes on and on. Champaign, Bloomington and Springfield have notable destinations worth exploring as well.
You can thank celebrity chefs and cooking-focused television networks with bringing terms like “mise en place” and “amuse-bouche” out of what of the dark corners of the PBS landscape (we’re looking at you, Jacques Pépin). Consider that Instagram has 74 million posts tagged "foodie."
In Decatur, the natural food sections of local grocery stores and the intense popularity of farmers markets and food trucks prove the trend is already here.
More importantly, we already have restaurants doing this exact thing. Places like Taproot, The Gin Mill, Paco's Sol Bistro and Decatur Brew Works in downtown may be the first seeds of a movement. The R Bar & Grille, a new steakhouse, is scheduled to open next month on West Main Street.
In our view, if there's ever a time for Decatur — especially downtown Decatur — to capitalize on a trend, this is it. The downtown streetscape investment has made the area inviting. Central Park lit up for the holidays and Merchant Street ooze charm.
Of course, a cynic would say such endeavors are not the kind of high-paying, high-tech jobs we need in this community. Those people are only partially right. We must have those jobs, too. But we shouldn't stop there.
We also acknowledge restaurants are unquestionably risky endeavors. What we hope — and this is where consumers can help — is that these restaurants experience heavy traffic not only on weekends, but throughout the week.
Let’s realize the unique opportunity we have here.
We’d like to see those “foodie” seeds blossom in 2018 and beyond.