Downtown Food Glut

September 25, 2012 at 1:35pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Downtown dining scene is absolutely exploding. On the one hand I wish I still worked Downtown so that I could give all the restaurants a try on a regular basis. On the other hand, the wealth of options would paralyze me every day at noon.

There’s no way I can remember all of the “recent” entrants to the Downtown food crowd, but here are a few that are open or have been announced:

  • Topper’s Pizza
  • Wahoo’s Fish Tacos
  • Firehouse Subs
  • Rodizio Grill
  • Raising Cane’s
  • PepperJax
  • Mr. Goodcents
  • Twin Peaks

...and those are just off the top of my head!

The glut of new food options is fantastic for those of us who love to eat, but it comes with a downside. There’s simply no way all of those places will last for any significant length of time. Not, that is, unless more customers can be brought into the Downtown area. Some of the extra demand will be created by the new Haymarket hotels and next fall’s opening of the Pinnacle Bank Arena. That’s not enough.

For long-term sustainability of all of this food, Downtown is going to need more retail, more residents, and more employees. All of that is happening to a certain extent, but the pace will need to pick up a bit. UNL’s goal of topping 30,000 undergraduates would be a big help ... if they were anywhere near actually meeting the goal. The Larson Building helps. Any residential activity that accompanies the arena will help.

Even if I did work Downtown and even once all these new joints are up and running, I know what would happen: I’d still wind up back at Oso, Lazzari’s, and Ali Baba’s. I’m all in favor of trying new and shiny things, but ultimately I’m drawn back to the classics. My impression is that I’m not alone in that regard. And thank goodness. Those mainstays are what make Downtown Downtown. The rest is just filler.

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The Comments

Fletch September 25, 2012 at 2:13pm

Once upon a time there was an announcement that a PepperJax was going to be the first tenant in a strip center at about 77th and Pioneers (where Farrel’s and Swimtastic are). That would be a nice place.

I would like to see a Raising Cane’s, a Fazoli’s, and a PepperJax come to the SE area. I’d dig another Chipotle, as the one at SouthPointe is awful.

As for downtown, I think the chains have a higher probability of success than mom and pop places. Of the list you presented, I would be most worried about Wahoo’s and Toppers making the cut long-term. I also think a Brazilian steakhouse would be better served elsewhere than downtown. Not sure what to make of Twin Peaks. I still can’t figure out how Hooters couldn’t make it in a college town. Downtown may be tricky, but clearly 80 blocks away was not a winning plan, either.

Mr. Wilson September 25, 2012 at 2:38pm

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Fletch September 25, 2012 at 2:43pm

What’s *not* wrong with that Chipotle? Quite often, the line would stretch to the front door, even as recently as earlier this year. That seemed better in the summer, so either the public has figured out how crappy it is, or they were all out doing Summer things.

The food quality has gone downhill. Very common to find bad pieces of meat in a dish.

Quantities are wildly inconsistent.

Prices seem to creep up slightly between each visit.

The place is not very clean. We almost always end up wiping our own table, the floor is filled with bits of food, and the trash cans are often overflowing. Sometimes my family of four can sit through a whole meal without a team member appearing in the dining area to do anything.

Binx Bolling September 25, 2012 at 2:50pm

I eat at the Southpointe Chipotle about once a week, and I love it.  I have the same thing every time, though, so maybe I’m not ordering the wrong thing.

Fletch September 25, 2012 at 3:10pm

I tend to dig it, too. That’s why we keep going back. But it’s nowhere near as consistent as it once was. Maybe we go at a bad time. But the management there is awful. Even the company’s regional manager agreed with me on that. I had quite a dialog with them. Of course he promised me some free food as a way of thanking me for my help, and that never happened either. LOL

Derek J. Augustine September 25, 2012 at 3:10pm

I’ve wondered the same thing, I do think people tend not want to wander to far from their office if they are workers, unless the food is substantially better than those around it. For example, Dozo is right out my office but once Hiro 88 is here I will very happily walk the couple other blocks for better sushi, service, and prices.

Wahoo’s is great, and I also don’t hope they leave. A Raising Cane’s downtown will be a hit I feel with the college crowd not too far away. Twin Peak’s actually has really good food and prices as I’ve been to the one in Omaha, it’s too bad they trash it up with the whole “Twin Peaks” thing.

I do feel like any extra sandwich shops will be shown the door quickly as we’re already pretty over saturated with sandwich places downtown.

CP September 25, 2012 at 5:25pm

+1 @Fletch

I agree 100% with your assessment of the SouthPointe Chipotle. I’ve been a regular Chipotle customer since they were just a burrito place on Evans, across the street from DU back when I lived in Denver. They’ve done a pretty good job of maintaining quality & personality as they expanded nationwide (thanks to McDonalds helping them out with the franchising model) but the SouthPointe store is consistently as described above. I avoid it.

CP September 25, 2012 at 5:32pm

I am also struggling with how a resteraunt’s business model can be solid when it is based upon alienating 50% of the population, as well as anyone with impressionable children or a desire to respect their spouse’s gender as being more than “eye candy.” That’s got to get you down to about 20% of the population before you even have a chance to build a relationship based upon quality of food or service.

What am I missing? Is the disposable income and repeat business of single males who enjoy that sort of ambiance large enough to outweigh the other 80% of the population?

There is a reason I am not an entrepreneur, I guess.

Mr. Wilson September 25, 2012 at 5:56pm

Flip it around and it starts to make sense. Think about how many other joints are competing in the same food space. A restaurant has to have some way too stand out from the crowd. In this case they went with boobs. Some places go with intentionally surly service. Some with house beers. You don’t have to be able to get everybody in the doors, just enough to keep the doors open and buzz buzzing.

CP September 25, 2012 at 6:02pm

Ahhhhh. Gotcha.

My lack of a business degree (or mindset) is evident.

beerorkid September 25, 2012 at 11:35pm

I am so excited for Rodizio Grill.  We hit Fogo De Chao in KC and it was the best dining experience of my life.  Like standing under a meat waterfall.

Plus can I get a woop woop for raising cane’s downtown…  I just wish they somehow could of made it a drive thru

Fletch September 26, 2012 at 11:50am

I think the other thing some of these places have going for them is they already have a name in town and are known commodities. For example, I liked Planet Sub - but it was in a crowded space within a block from Doozy’s, Jimmy John’s, and Subway. No one really knew much about Planet Sub. Mr. Goodcents, on the other hand, has 4 locations in town, including the country’s top-volume unit (70th and Pioneers). I think downtown is a no-brainer, and I would be shocked if it didn’t work.

I think the same holds true for Raising Cane’s and PepperJax.

Firehouse Subs on the other hand… I’ve seen their ads for a decade or more in trade magazines I read. Their sandwiches look great to me. However, if you polled 100 people in Lincoln, how many others have heard of them? They could face an uphill climb entering that crowded space.

It worked for Jimmy John’s - having the downtown locale for a few years didn’t hurt when they exploded to half a dozen other spots in Lincoln years later. But downtown is much more crowded with sandwiches and food places now. It will be interestig to watch.

JT September 26, 2012 at 1:09pm

So 10 years ago when there were half as many restaurants downtown were those places just making crazy money and the market is finally catching up?

Mr. Wilson September 26, 2012 at 1:53pm

The Downtown food scene waxes and wanes. A couple decades ago, for example, there were at least two full food courts Downtown. Those options were not immediately replaced after they closed. The market is accelerating because there is sufficient (and rising) demand for more choices—but I’m skeptical that there’s enough demand to support so many new options coming in so quickly.

meatball September 26, 2012 at 4:25pm

My personal experience only been a couple of visits to Fogo, but my brother tells me Rodizio ain’t no Fogo De Chao. Even it’s a notch lower than Fogo, I’ll take Rodizio. I just wonder if it can survive in Lincoln? It seems more like a place I’d hit once or twice a year when I crave a meat coma.

meatball September 26, 2012 at 4:33pm

Gimme a Qdoba on the south side of town—Chipotle problem solved.

Full disclosure: I refuse to eat Chipotle, except for when they send me a coupon for a free entree.

And while we’re at it, gimme a Granite City on the south side of town, too. If both wishes are granted, it will open an opportunity for a new Big & Tall store nearby. Who says there no such thing as trickle-down economics?

Mr. T September 29, 2012 at 2:19am

Just walked by the new Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and saw that it was open. Wondering what that place is like too.

Mr. Wilson September 29, 2012 at 2:44am

That’s the one on Centennial Mall and O,  right?

Mr. T September 29, 2012 at 3:59am

Yep, I believe the former Ba Lee / De Leon’s / Taco Bueno location. Will be worth seeing how they differentiate themselves from other mex-am chains.

Mr. T September 29, 2012 at 4:06am

Have to agree with you about Raising Cane’s. Its kind of hard to take a relatively ubiquitous staple like the fried chicken finger and make it very good, but they do that. Plus, they are very active in the community too. As a DT worker and resident, I am looking forward to their opening.

Zac October 1, 2012 at 1:28am

We’ve had a Twin Peaks in OKC for a few years now. For the first year, every time I drove by, for a few seconds, I’d get excited about the idea of a David Lynch theme restaurant. Then I’d remember it was just boobs and get sad again.

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