Restaurants are on the front burner in Spartanburg, especially downtown where 18 eateries have opened or announced an opening in the last nine months, not one of them a chain hamburger joint.
It’s a trend that represents the re-emergence of Spartanburg, say city planners and restaurateurs, who recognize a symbiotic relationship among a thriving restaurant culture, a bustling downtown and a vigorous business and manufacturing community.
And with no disrespect to those who savor the meat-and-three, Spartanburg’s new restaurant owners are moving forward with menus that reflect the now and the future. At The Silo at RJ Rockers, Clay McDonough developed recipes using spent grains from the brewery next door. At Bar 1884, choices include duck breast with mushroom sauce. At Pokenori it’s ahi tuna or agedashi poke. Rick Erwin continues building his reputation for sophisticated menus by putting his latest restaurant on top of Spartanburg’s new AC Hotel, a high rise that opened in December in the city’s Grain District.
From the steps of the AC Hotel Spartanburg, visitors can see or take a short walk to construction projects currently underway for 153 new apartment units in three locations, bringing in more people to live, more palates to satisfy and more opportunity.
What Jansen Tidmore sees is momentum. As executive vice president of the Spartanburg Downtown Development Partnership, he sees the rise of a restaurant culture in the Hub City as a sign that things are falling into place for the city to take its place on the short lists of businesses looking for a location.
If location and tax breaks were key to attracting industry in the past, today it is talent, Tidmore said, and talent likes a nice place to live. And a nice place to live means a great restaurant scene
“Today’s economic climate is one that follows talent, and talent follows an experience,” he said. “This booming restaurant culture is one that offers an experience for all. I believe our restaurants help tell the story of our self-identity.”
Tidmore said the restaurant boom is a sign of change in citizen density. The kind of restaurants opening signal a faith from the restaurateurs that the citizens are ready to spend more time downtown. Restaurants, retail and residential units tend to move in a correlated cluster, he said. In Spartanburg restaurants lead the cluster.
“Once that density gains momentum, we can build a better case to attract office tenants and grow our entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he said. “When you see the success we are having in the restaurant scene, it demonstrates that our community is a thriving society that supports and embraces all genres of cuisine that ensure there is a taste for everyone. When you see the number of local restaurants open and opening, it shows that our community values authenticity – in their flavors and their lifestyle.”
It’s a field of dreams with a twist of lemongrass and a hand-crafted beer: create a community where people can stroll downtown, do a little shopping, hear some music, enjoy art and eat a great meal. Do that and the people will come and bring their talent with them. Accomplish that, and you make those short lists for business and industrial development. The people making those lists have all kinds of needs, but a talented workforce is a must for all of them.
“You see a trend across the nation. It’s a play for talent. They (potential industry) want to see a density of people who can do the work. And at the end of the day, if they can’t fill the jobs, nothing else matters.”
These restaurants in downtown Spartanburg have opened or announced an opening date since last summer: