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Room at the Table for OKC Restaurants

Is the metro’s restaurant scene on the verge of eating itself?



 


 

Signs of increased volatility in Oklahoma City’s restaurant industry started last year with the closing of Urban Wine Works in the Plaza District. Late in January this year, Pete Holloway, owner of Park House in the Myriad Gardens, announced that the restaurant would cease day-to-day operations in favor of a more conservative schedule that involves being open for special events and Thunder games. By the end of January, seafood restaurant The Drake was preparing to switch to serving brunch and dinner only, dropping its weekday lunch hours.

As if those announcements were not indicative of a possible oversaturation of the market, longtime Bricktown restaurant Spaghetti Warehouse announced – without prior notice to staff – that it would cease operations Feb. 1. The company declined to offer an explanation at the time, but the Tulsa World reported a possible “real estate play” in the works, and industry insiders say we may see more of the same.

The precipitous drop in oil prices has created some economic turmoil in the state concurrent with the restaurant closings or curtailing of hours, signaling to some in the industry that another recession will affect our food service sector.

“I have lived through a couple of recessions related to oil prices,” Chris Lower says. Lower, who owns several concepts, including Big Truck Tacos and Pizzeria Gusto, said he would not be developing any new concepts in 2016 because the oil prices likely would trigger larger economic problems for the state.

“The economy isn’t diversified enough to handle a drop in prices like this one,” Lower continues. “I wouldn’t open a new restaurant now because I don’t think it’s the time to be aggressive.”

That’s not a unanimously held opinion, however. Beginning in late 2015, restaurants opening or slated to open before the end of 2016 numbered roughly 30 between North Memorial Road and the urban core. Chisholm Creek at Western and Memorial attracted several concepts, at least partly due to its proximity to Top Golf. One of those concepts will be a second location of A Good Egg’s RePUBlic Gastropub; owner and founder Keith Paul said he intends to go forward with plans to open three new concepts in 2016.

“We are not planning on slowing down,” Paul says. “I don’t know if this is a recession or just a stall on oil prices, but I do know that when I moved here 20 years ago, I couldn’t walk five feet without running into someone in the oil business. That’s not true anymore.”

“I wouldn’t open a new restaurant now because I don’t think it’s the time to be aggressive.” – Chris Lower


A Good Egg is partnering with Dave Wanzer to open Barrios, a Mexican concept, in the old Swanson Tires building in Midtown. Paul said they’re also planning to open a Tucker’s Onion Burgers in Norman and another RePUBlic in Tulsa.

While most of the concepts we looked at are local, at least one Tulsa eatery will be opening an Oklahoma City location: Asian fusion restaurant Yokozuna. Locally owned Asian restaurants are breaking out of their NW 23rd corridor following the success of Tamashii Ramen House in Midtown. Rachel Cope, owner of Empire Slice House and founder of new hospitality group 84HG, is also opening Goro Ramen + Izakaya just east of The Mule in the Plaza District this year.

“We’ll be opening two other concepts in addition to Goro,” Cope says. “We do have a smidge of concern about market saturation, but we like our business model, and as a new hospitality group, we can attract creative, energetic people who are looking for room to move up.”

Revolucion will be an “authentic as we can make it” taqueria and cantina 84HG is opening on Classen and NW 6th in the old Midtown Service Center building. The space will be shared with Sunnyside Diner, a new concept from Shannon Roper and Aly Branstetter (S&B Burger Joint). Wanzer, whose buildings in the urban core will house more than a dozen new food/beverage businesses, owns the facility.

“We don’t think Oklahoma City has reached the saturation point yet,” Wanzer says. “We’re being very bullish.”

The property owned by Wanzer and his partners also includes the Main Street Arcade (two concepts), Tower Theater (four concepts), spaces around the Farmers Public Market and the old Sunshine Cleaners. Wanzer said that a new-to-market brewery and restaurant would occupy one of his properties.



Trained staff is always hard to come by, so who will staff these places when there are so many restaurants?
– Kurt Fleischfresser
 


Western Avenue finally has finished its streetscape project, and the area is shaping up to be one of the city’s most stable in 2016. Only The Coach House is slated to change, and as of press time, negotiations were still ongoing with the possibility that owner and founder Kurt Fleischfresser would let the property go after the lease expires in June.

Calling this his fourth time through an oil bust, Fleischfresser said he believed the market has hit saturation in the current economy. “Quality will begin to suffer, if it hasn’t already,” he says. “Trained staff is always hard to come by, so who will staff these places when there are so many restaurants?”

“Trading down” was a phrase that Oklahomans tossed around a great deal in 2008. Even as the worst of the nationwide recession missed us, people still took steps to spend less on eating and drinking. Fleischfresser, Paul and Lower all cited the need to trade down on ticket prices to survive. In other words, opening fine dining in this climate might not carry the best chance of success, but burger joints such as Tucker’s have better odds, and tacos are exceedingly inexpensive compared to other entrees.

Health-conscious eatery The Fit Pig in Automobile Alley


Shaun Fiaccone, co-owner of Picasso Café and The Other Room, is opening Villa Paseo on the corner of NW 28th and Paseo. He said a neighborhood-based concept likely has a better chance of surviving in the oil downturn.

“The city is quickly approaching the restaurant saturation point,” Fiaccone says. “Still, though, our neighborhood surrounds and insulates us, and there is no Mexican concept in the Paseo district. Organic and fit-eating restaurants in these redeveloped neighborhoods should be OK.”

Speaking of healthy eating, Fit Pig opened in early January – and its deceptive name is based on a sandwich, not a category of eater. The food is superbly healthy, and like Provision Kitchen in Nichols Hills Plaza, the meals are packaged to be reheated at home. The Fit Pig is one of at least four new concepts planned – or already opened – along Automobile Alley. Cultivar, yet another taco concept, opened in February, and two diners are also planned for the area.

Whether we are at saturation likely will be determined this year. Park House may have suffered from location and parking issues, or it may have been the first victim of over-saturation in 2016. Rachel Cope was the hopeful voice for the bullish team, though.

“People are still eating in chain restaurants,” she says. “What we need to do is move them out of chain restaurants and into local joints.”

 

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September 2018

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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
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Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
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This year will mark the eighth time the John F. Kennedy Awards have been celebrated, honoring individuals making a significant contribution to Oklahoma, its communities and its people, while paying...

Cost: $300

Where:
Skirvin Hilton Hotel
1 Park Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Sponsor: Santa Fe Family Life Center
Telephone: 405-840-1817
Contact Name: James Timberlake
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More than 20 speakers in a one-track session designed for the digital marketing professional, marketer, business owner or anyone interested in branding, PR, advertising, social media, SEO, search,...

Cost: $250

Where:
Tower Theatre
425 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405.475.4185
Contact Name: Janelle Archer
Website »

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
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Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
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Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
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A fabulous art auction to raise money to help support Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO.

Cost: $100

Where:
CHK|Central Boathouse
732 Riversport Dr.
Oklahoma City, OK  73129
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Sponsor: Oklahoma A+ Schools at UCO
Telephone: 405.974.3791
Contact Name: Heather Bryant
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The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

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Join supporters in communities across the nation for the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This family-friendly event raises funds to support the...

Cost: $10 for adults or children six and older

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S. Lake Hefner Drive
Oklahoma City , OK  73116
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Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
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Let’s end childhood cancer. Together! This September, supporters across the country will unite to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer, an exciting, family-friendly...

Cost: $10 for Registration

Where:
Stars and Stripes Park
3701 S Lake Hefner Dr
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: ALSAC St. Jude Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405.403.7762
Contact Name: Emily Drover
Website »

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Price Tower Art Gallery in Bartlesville will host Women Artists of the West's 48th annual juried art exhibition, featuring over 200 original art works, created by women in all mediums, subjects...

Cost: Free 2018-09-21,22,23

Where:
Price Tower Art Gallery
510 S. Dewey Ave.
Bartlesville, OK  74003
View map »


Sponsor: Price Tower Arts Center
Telephone: 918.336.4949
Contact Name: Angelina Bourgou
Website »

More information

Escape the ordinary, and learn about OKC from a different point of view. Relax in the climate controlled cabin on one of our 65’ cruisers, or enjoy the breeze on the viewing deck and listen...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District and Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma sunset. Come...

Cost: $15 for Seniors and kids under 12, $20 Adults

Where:
Regatta Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd.
OKC, OK  73109
View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
Contact Name: Business Office
Website »

More information

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