Independent Restaurants On The Coronavirus Chopping Block

Nevin Barich

Nevin Barich

September 1, 2020

Every time I drive by Michael’s Burger, I hope against hope the place is still there, instead of a sight of boarded-up windows with a sign that says “Available for Lease” or “Future Home Of Chipotle!”

Michael’s Burger is a family-owned fast-casual restaurant located in Canoga Park, a suburb in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. It’s one of those places that has everything: Burgers, sandwiches, burritos, fries, gyros, onion rings, fried zucchini. Ask what’s good there and you’ll get the same answer from all the regulars: Everything.

But as good as it is, places like Michael’s Burger are in danger of closing because of the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurant dining rooms are closed, as many people are still afraid even now to venture far beyond their homes for takeout, and so they opt for third-party delivery services that will highlight bigger chains over family-owned establishments. My wife and I are just two of the many Americans who are doing what they can to support their local businesses, but recent information from the Independent Restaurant Coalition indicates that such support likely won’t be enough.

According to the U.S. trade group formed during the COVID-19 pandemic by independent restaurateurs and chefs, 85% of independent restaurants in the U.S. may permanently close because of the pandemic by the end of 2020. Independent restaurants, which comprise 70% of all restaurants, rely more heavily on dine-in revenue than chains and don't have a corporate safety net or support system to fall back on.

Which brings me back to my earlier fear about “Future Home Of Chipotle!”

Now, I have absolutely nothing against Chipotle. I enjoy its food very much and I’ve always found its setup—which combines the efficiency of an assembly food line with the customization opportunities that today’s customers crave—to be nothing short of genius. That said, according to its website, there are 10 Chipotles not far from me. I don’t need an 11th, and I certainly don’t need one to replace a family-owned restaurant that I’ve come to love.

Alas, such a scenario is very likely. Major chains such as Chipotle, Domino’s and Dunkin’ are looking at the struggles of independent restaurants as possible real estate opportunities should these smaller places go under. For the major chains, that’s their silver lining in the midst of the pandemic.

And look: I get that. At the end of the day, major chains have the financial backing to both ride out the crisis and snatch up properties that become available. Business is business, after all. That said, there’s something about the look and feel of a smaller, family-owned or mom-and-pop restaurant that a large chain can’t duplicate. Those are the places that make an impression on you the most. Those are the places you think back on with the fondest memories.

But those impressions, those memories, are things that future generations might not get to have.

Nevin Barich is the Consumer Products Analyst for Industry Intelligence, which can help YOU better address your own industry challenges. We invite you to come take a look at our service. Call us today at 310-553-0008 and we’ll schedule you for a 15-minute demo.

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