NOTE: Mayor Benjamin did call us to say that between counts by The Vista Guild and Experience Columbia, there are 130 restaurants, bars and breweries in Columbia. And while, we don’t doubt that count for the city overall, their count includes more businesses over a wider area. We focused on restaurants only, and only those within one block on either side of Gervais and Main streets in Columbia and North and South Main in Greenville, and tried to include restaurants that have been announced as coming to Columbia but have not yet opened. The moral of the story? There are a lot of good places in both Greenville and Columbia. Go eat!
A remark by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin that Columbia now has more restaurants in The Vista and along Main Street than Greenville’s Main Street recently appeared on Twitter.
That’s a big brag, and we wanted to check it out to see whether it were true. So we counted.
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For Columbia: We started at Edventure on Gervais Street, up to the intersection of Gervais and Main streets, down Main Street, crossing Elmwood Avenue to North Main Street and stopped at the intersection of North Main and Anthony Avenue in Cottontown (although, technically, North Main runs another couple of miles). TOTAL DISTANCE: 2.43 miles
For Greenville: We started at the intersection of College/Beattie and North Main (the Hyatt Regency), followed North Main to South Main across the Reedy River and stopped at the intersection of South Main and Vardry Street in Greenville’s West End district. TOTAL DISTANCE: 1.30 miles
The count: We counted the number of restaurants in both areas, within one block of each city’s main corridor, and noted which restaurants were local and independent and which were national chains. A locally grown business with locations in both cities — such as Liberty Tap Room or Takosushi — was counted as a local business rather than a chain. We think there’s a big distinction between a restaurant with a single owner — or group owner — with several locations in the same state, as opposed to a mega chain with more than 100 locations nationwide.
What we found:
Total number of restaurants
So, if you’re talking strictly numbers, Greenville has us beat. BUT, there are a lot of intangibles here.
Carl Sobocinski, the Greenville restaurateur behind Table 301 Restaurant Group, owns eight (yes, eight) restaurants along three blocks of Greenville’s Main Street. He says when he started in the restaurant business nearly 25 years ago, a master plan for Main Street in Greenville laid the groundwork for future success for ongoing development. The plan provided guidelines for:
▪ Growing businesses not only north and south along Main, but along blocks east and west of the main corridor
▪ Prioritizing the promotion of Greenville as a tourist destination
▪ Placing an emphasis on a concerted effort by city council and developers to work together to make the changes happen. Because of all of this, Sobocinski says, Greenville now reaps the rewards.
One noticable takeaway: When it comes to diversity in current brick-and-mortar menu choices, Greenville is ahead once again.
Within just two blocks of Greenville’s Main Street, you’ll find places like Handi Indian Cuisine (Indian), Sushi Murasaki (Japanese), Trappe Door (Belgian), Tupelo Honey (Southern), Cantiflas (Mexican and vegetarian), Jamaica Mi Irie (Caribbean) and Sully’s Steamers (bagels).
But despite its meat-and-potatoes reputation, things are happening in Columbia. Kristian Niemi, who owns Bourbon on Main, is still working to bring North Main’s Revival concept to life. Chef Sarah Simmons is invested in bringing two restaurants to downtown and opening The Cafe at Richland Library, and Sean Moore just announced that he is opening a French restaurant in the old Columbia Fire Department Headquarters in The Vista — next door to a new Thai restaurant.
Also in the Vista, a new Korean gastropub will be moving in next door to Nonnah’s at 929 Gervais, and Columbia’s Soda City Market brings in a wide range of foods to Main Street — Indian Palace, Fuperman Potstickers (Taiwanese), Mary’s Arepas (Colombian) and Wurst Wagen (German), for instance — even if only on Saturday.
So while Greenville has us beat (for now), Columbia is rising. Fast.