Is Eastern Massachusetts’ restaurant scene becoming oversaturated?


New restaurants are opening every day in the state, with the majority of them being fast-casual.

Can the current market support the number of new restaurants?

Anthony Marino, Culture Co-Owner Flip the bird chain, says it’s hard to say.

“With the limited staff, rising food prices and limited parking, I think some people will be guessing. Either they’ll close up shop or they’ll try to sell. »

Having a unique menu has been the saving grace of Flip the Bird, which has two locations in Beverly and others in Salem, Swampscott and Danvers.

“In this general area [in Salem], there are four Mexican restaurants and there is another one opening. It’s kind of the same,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”

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Staffing shortages are impacting how restaurateurs view their business as a whole.

“Honestly, that makes me doubt the expansion,” Marino said.

Cook Omar Hernandez prepares the Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Sandwich in Flip the Bird's kitchen in Salem on Thursday, July 14, 2022.

“We’re lucky to have five stores right now and to be able to provide a few people who we know are good, who are willing to go and help where we need it,” co-owner Victoria Farnsworth said.

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Massachusetts Restaurant Association CEO Steve Clark doesn’t have specific numbers, but he said there appear to be a number of applications for new locations.

“There is no formal process that tracks new statewide openings,” he said.

Do the research

Maria Mahoney and her husband, Jack, own Wicked Bagel, based in Lexington. The couple recently opened a second location in Woburn.

“In Lexington, I’m right next to a Dunkin Donuts, which hasn’t affected my business,” she said. “Here, [in Woburn], I’m across from Starbucks. I’m not going to compete with Starbucks for coffee. But my product is not shipped. My product is made here. It’s fresh every day. It is made with good quality ingredients.

John Jung hosts a platter of all seasoned bagels in the kitchen at Wicked Bagel in Lexington on Thursday, July 28, 2022.

Expanding to a new location and finding the right fit is something Mahoney said she and her husband take very seriously.

“It took us a year to find this place,” she said. “We didn’t just decide that we were going to open. We did market research. My husband and I sat in parking lots. We used to come here, before the store was there, while we watched the space and watched the traffic. »

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With so many other restaurants in the area serving up breakfast fare and bagels, Mahoney said, ultimately the market will dictate when the industry gets too saturated.

“It’s like in any industry,” she says. “The good will survive. …I’m here for the long haul. I’m not going anywhere.”

Wicked Bagel opened its second location in Woburn in July.  The original Wicked Bagel is located in Lexington.

Mahoney said she plans to open more Wicked Bagel locations in the future.

“I wouldn’t open next to Bagel World,” she said. “But we have an idea of ​​where we want to go.”

Clark thinks the market will find its own level. But he also criticizes the industry for not doing what Mahoney did, solid market research.

Customers place their order at Wicked Bagel in Lexington on Thursday, July 28, 2022.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time when one restaurant closes, another moves in,” he said. “If a shoe store closes, very rarely another shoe store moves in.”

Partners Jason Kleinerman, Michael Kasseris and Karim El-Gamal are also considering expansion, but not as quickly as Flip the Bird.

Ice cream spinner Jay Koehler fills three-gallon tubs of Oreo cookie ice cream at the New City Microcreamery in Hudson on June 27, 2022.

The trio own the Hudson-based company Rail Trail Flatbread Co.a clandestine bar called Less than Greater than and New City Microcreamery, which has offices in Hudson, Sudbury and Cambridge. They were well into planning to build a second Rail Trail in Milford when the pandemic hit.

“We had submitted a request for loan approval before the pandemic started,” Kleinerman said. “And we just thought there was no way they were approving anything during that time.”

But in mid-summer 2020, the bank approved the loan. Although the road to completion was not easy, Kleinerman said the bank’s faith in them made them realize that they would not only survive the pandemic, but come out of it stronger.

In Hudson, Rail Trail Flatbread Co. server Abby Hedlund Catie delivers a flatbread pizza to the new dining room, July 15, 2021.

But, at this time, they have no plans to extend Rail Trail beyond Milford. Kleinerman said they are committed to service and hospitality and he thinks it will take them a few years to get the restaurant where they want it.

“Just like I did, it takes us a long time to build the restaurant, build the kitchen and do all the plans. It’s going to take us a long time to really get this thing running like a well-oiled machine,” he said. -he declares.

But New City is another story.

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The trio are building an ice cream factory for the franchise, which has seen its own expansion into the wholesale market. Whole Foods’ decision to offer the local ice cream brand also came amid the pandemic.

“It was like when the bank comes in and says, we’re ready to give you that money. We believe in you to do it,” Kleinerman said. “Whole Foods is coming back, and we’re still not out of it. This means that they must really be serious about us, or why would they waste their time? So now we’re set to launch in mid-September in 42 stores, all over New England.

The plant, coupled with the fact that it takes fewer people to run a microcreamery, “should allow us to open a few more scoop shops,” Kleinerman said. “They are much easier.”

Executive pastry chef Alyssa Lieberman at the New City Microcreamery in Hudson on June 27, 2022.

stay optimistic

Like Kleinerman and his associates, Jeremy Sewall, chef and owner of three Row 34 restaurants, is optimistic, despite the post-pandemic challenges. In fact, he’s so optimistic that he’s opening a fourth restaurant in January in Kendall Square in Cambridge. He joked that it could be considered brave, even stupid.

“I always love what I do,” he said. “I think it’s as difficult as ever, but I love it as much as ever.”

Shore Gregory, left, Managing Partner, and Jeremy Sewall, Chef-Owner, posed for a portrait before the doors opened for the soft opening of Row 34 on May 7, 2021.

Sewall said that ultimately he also believes the market will find its own level.

“I think, you know, good operators are going to have to improve and bad operators are going to have to learn how to perform better or they’re going to go away,” he said.

That said, he fears that if the economy continues to slow, restaurants will often be the first to feel the pain. But he also thinks people, especially post-pandemic, understand the value of good restaurants and still want to go out and celebrate with friends.

“So we’ll see how we survived that…I think we all have to understand that business is changing,” Sewall said. “When, where it ends, who knows, but you have to be a sharper operator these days to kind of navigate through it.”


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