Despite a recent string of closings, the restaurant industry is standing strong in the Midlands, area experts say.
In the last month, five local restaurants have closed, including Carrabba's Italian Grill in Northeast Columbia, O'Charley's on Two Notch Road, HuHot on Bower Parkway, and Bruegger's Bagels and The Farmer's Shed both in Lexington. But more than a dozen have opened locally in the past two months.
"The restaurant industry is doing really well here," said Robin DiPietro, a professor in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management at the University of South Carolina. "They open every day. It just happens to be bad timing with a few right now but the industry as a whole is doing well right now and will continue to until the economy takes a little dip."
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Among the locally owned eateries that have opened in 2017 are Tallulah on Devine Street, Mary's Arepas on Knox Abbott Drive, The Barn Bar and Grill on Harden Street and Brothers & Beer Mexican Grill on Columbia Avenue in Lexington. Other new restaurants locally are Hickory Tavern at the Shoppes at Woodhill, 1801 Grille (a Harper's Group restaurant) at the University of South Carolina's 650 Lincoln complex, and Dave & Buster's at Columbiana Centre Mall.
"We are very pleased that the Midlands is currently experiencing an uptick in exciting new restaurant concepts as more and more restaurants open their doors," said Katie Montgomery, director of communications with the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. "Like any other industry, there are a variety of reasons why some restaurant operators choose to close their doors from time to time ranging from location to staffing.”
While chains have the backing of a larger parent company, some chains are not faring well in Columbia because they aren't faring well elsewhere in the nation, said DiPietro of USC, who also is director of the International Institute for Foodservice Research and Education.
"What they are probably doing is closing their lowest producing . . . restaurants in order to stop the bleeding, but those chains across the nation are just not doing well in general," DiPietro said. "I don't think we need to jump to any conclusions about Columbia as a market. I think the market is strong."
Independent restaurants seem to be doing quite well locally and nationally, according to DiPietro.
"People are just getting tired of the same old thing. That's why craft beer is so popular right now as well. People are tired of the big brands," DiPietro said. "With the economy strong, we can be a little more picky and choosy. When the economy gets weaker, we'll start to go back to the more traditional, relatively inexpensive chains. It's nothing to be afraid of; it's just an indication of how those chains are doing overall There's nothing to be worried about here."
Midlands-area restaurants that have closed, or plan to close, in 2017:
▪ HuHot, 1260 Bower Parkway, Columbia
▪ O'Charley's, 10136 Two Notch Road, Columbia
▪ Bruegger's Bagels, 5525 Sunset Blvd., Lexington
▪ The Farmer's Shed, 2514 Augusta Highway, Lexington
▪ City Bar, 700 Gervais St., Columbia
▪ Carrabba's Italian Grill, 200 Grace's Way, Columbia
▪ Mr. D’s Steakhouse, 983 N. Lake Drive, Lexington
Midlands-area restaurants that have opened in 2017:
▪ Mary's Arepas, 904 Knox Abbott Drive, Cayce
▪ Quaker Steak and Lube, 2154 S. Beltline Blvd., Columbia
▪ Dave & Buster’s, Columbiana Centre Mall, Columbia
▪ Famous Toastery, 119 Sparkleberry Lane, Columbia
▪ Vista Union (formerly City Bar), 700 Gervais St., Columbia
▪ DaufusKEYS Gullah Bistro and Piano Bar, 1710 Main St., Columbia
▪ Tallulah, 2400 Devine St., Columbia
▪ Hickory Tavern, Shoppes at Woodhill, Columbia
▪ Upper Crust Pizzeria, 843 Polo Road, Columbia
▪ 1801 Grille, 650 Lincoln St. complex, Columbia
▪ Lima Peruvian, 3830 Rosewood Drive, Columbia
▪ The Barn Bar and Grill, 707 Harden St., Columbia
▪ Freddy’s Steakburgers, 457 Killian Road, Columbia
▪ Brothers & Beer Mexican Grill, 205 Columbia Ave., Lexington