Doug Evans will be happy to quote this statistic: approximately 80% of restaurants fail within five years. In fact, 60% of them don’t even make it to their first birthday.
But he doesn’t expect whoever he’s involved with is one of them.
L’s Kitchen at 17 and Van Dorn streets is a collaboration between Evans, former councilman Roy Christensen and Lawrence de Villiers, a native of France who ran another restaurant, The Normandy, at the same location.
The restaurant, which opened in April, specializes in “gourmet comfort food,” Evans said, including many familiar dishes with new flavors.
Each focuses on his area of expertise: Evans on marketing, Christensen on finance and de Villiers on food.
Because of that, Evans said, “we can find a way to make it work.”
It looks like a number of restaurateurs are figuring out how to make it work, with a good number of restaurants continuing to open in Lincoln despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, inflation, supply chain issues and a shortage. labor.
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Research by local commercial realtor Robin Eschliman showed more restaurants opened than closed last year in Lincoln, the first time this has happened since at least 2018.
The pace of openings has fallen slightly to just 26, compared to 28 in 2020 and 31 in 2019, but the pace so far this year appears to have picked up.
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As of May 1, more than a dozen new restaurants had opened in Lincoln so far this year, and at least half a dozen were in development or under construction.
They range from mom-and-pop locations, to expansions of local operations, to new locations for national chains.
One of them was Firehouse Subs, a sandwich chain that opened its second location in Lincoln in March.
Local franchisee Tom Mejstrik, who opened his first location at East Park Plaza in 2016, began work on another at Edgewood Mall in 2019, but then the pandemic arrived and temporarily put his plans on hold.
But one thing he noticed throughout the pandemic was “demand continued to be strong.”
Mejstrik said his take-out and restaurant business had exploded, leaving him with no qualms about opening a second location, particularly one in South Lincoln, where many of his customers live.
“It’s still a good time to open restaurants,” he said.
Zoe Olson, executive director of the Nebraska Hospitality Association, agrees.
“It’s a good industry, and I think people see it,” said Olson, who noted that the restaurant industry is no different than most other industries: there’s constant turnover. business openings and closings.
But the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the industry, she said, and there’s been a lot of media coverage about the difficulties it’s facing.
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“I think the vast majority of the hospitality industry has come to the forefront of national news, local news and state news because of COVID,” Olson said.
It also meant a spotlight on restaurant closures, though Olson said she thinks in most cases the pandemic isn’t the main reason for those places closing.
But it’s no secret that the industry has been losing customers, whether from emergency health measures that restricted in-person dining or customers hesitant to eat out due to the risk of contracting it. disease.
Research suggests those fears have eased and people are returning to restaurants this year after avoiding them for the past two years.
A report from TOP Data, a company that provides business, consumer and marketing insights, shows restaurant visits increased nearly 21% in Nebraska in 2022 compared to 2021, the seventh highest increase among states.
“Business is back and we’re learning how to deal with that,” Olson said.
One-way restaurants are coping with increased business and shortage of workers by using more technology.
Examples of this are menus accessible via QR codes and order and payment terminals at tables, Olson said, and customers will continue to see more innovation, she said.
But restaurants still need bodies, and Olson said workers are starting to return to the industry.
In March, there were 7,300 people employed in Nebraska restaurants, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the most since the pandemic began.
Some local restaurants that closed during the pandemic cited the inability to find enough workers as one of the reasons they closed.
Both Evans and Mejstrik said their restaurants had managed to find enough workers, and Evans said he thought talk of a labor shortage was a “false narrative”.
“All you have to do is pay people a fair wage and they will come to work for you,” he said.
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